I love it when the coffee kicks in and I realize what an adorable badass I’m going to be today

~Anonymous

 

Let’s be honest, most of us drink coffee for its effects.

Coffee-you-can-sleep-when-youre-deadThe fact that it can be consumed as a delicious beverage, is just cream on the top!

And about those effects, you know, that boost you get right after drinking a double espresso when you even feel more productive than ever?

Pretty cool, right? But you’ve got questions, like;

Is coffee a drug?

Is coffee addictive?

What are the benefits of coffee?

 

Is coffee bad for me?

Ah, the burning question that we, as coffee lovers, are asking… Is coffee good or bad for me?

The answer?… it depends on how much you consume.

To better answer these questions, let’s focus on coffee’s most famous effects and the alkaloid that causes them; caffeine.

Caffeine is the world’s most frequently used psychoactive drug. It’s known to reduce fatigue, improve reaction times, focus concentration, and increase motor skill coordination.

Of course, like almost anything, too much can have negative effects. The Mayo Clinic has reported that consuming up to 4 cups of coffee a day (around 400 milligrams) considered safe for most people.

Using more can be beneficial for some people, but also increases risk factors. Insomnia, irritability, and anxiety are a just few of the potential unwanted effects.

caffeine-knowing-neuronsHow does caffeine affect the brain?

Ok, now that we know some of the risks, and how to mitigate them, what about the benefits of caffeine?

You probably know from experience that drinking coffee creates sensations of being alert and energized. It’s also possible that you’ve been drinking so much coffee for so long, that you don’t really feel much effect.

On the other hand, if your system is not used to caffeine, an espresso shot might make you wanna get out of the house and run a few blocks while yelling; I’m on top of the world!

In technical terms, caffeine antagonizes adenosine receptors. With the receptors blocked, an adenosine neurotransmitter present in the brain that normally causes us to feel sleepy is temporarily prevented from activating.

Who said being a coffee geek wouldn’t help you learn a little chemistry?

 

Performance Boost

One of the primary effects of caffeine in coffee is that it improves concentration, especially when monotonous tasks are involved.

College students studying together by TonyTheTigersSon - Twenty20 from - TheStoryofCoffee

photo by TonyTheTigersSon

So it’s no coincidence that we find this stimulating beverage strategically placed in office lounges. And that coffee shops are frequently located near college and university campuses.

All this is great for intellectual endeavors but research shows that caffeine has more than just a cognitive effect.

The performance gains for athletes using caffeine before competition or training have shown to be very real.

In fact, before 2004 the World Anti-Doping Agency included caffeine on its list of banned substances because of its known performance increasing abilities.

Loads of studies have shown how caffeine can be effective for boosting performance, especially for endurance athletes, by as much as 24%!

 

How much caffeine is in coffee?

coffee-effect-space-buzz-the-story-of-coffeeOk, so you like the boosts that caffeine can provide, but you want to know just how much you get with that pumpkin spice latte.

Let’s break it down.

Of course, the exact dose of caffeine depends on several factors… starting with the beans themselves. If you happen to use a robusta bean (instead of arabica) it will contain almost double the amount of caffeine. Around 2.7% for robusta compared to 1.5% for arabica.

Next up, you’ll need to factor in the volume of ground beans used to make your go-to favorite drink.

For a drip-style cup of coffee, most will recommend using around 2 tablespoons (about 8.5 grams) of ground beans per cup.

If you ask a barista, what’s the amount of coffee to use in espresso? Most will say 6-8 grams.

Grinding coffee beans-espresso - Twenty20 - by coomberjustin - TheStoryofCoffee

photo by by coomberjustin

Then there’s the grind of the beans themselves. A finely ground bean will release more caffeine than a coarsely ground bean, all else being equal.

Which takes us into factors like what method are you using to brew the coffee? Brewing method matters since it affects the amount of time the beans are in contact with hot water. The longer the brew time, the more caffeine extracted.

To sum it up, that 12-ounce cup of joe you pour in the morning will contain around 150 mg of caffeine, while surprisingly, the average espresso will have less, at right around 65 mg of caffeine per shot.

This site has a great breakdown of caffeine content in the most popular coffee drinks in the US.

Time to bust a coffee myth!

You might have heard that a dark roast coffee has more caffeine than a light roast.. right?

Well, not bean for bean.

It turns out, caffeine is a very stable molecule so heat doesn’t affect it much. Though the roasting process does change the beans.

With dark roasted beans, more heat is applied so that the beans lose water and size.

Which is key in this whole, caffeine content puzzle

If we use the exact same volume of beans, with the only difference being roast level, the dark will have slightly more caffeine. This is because when you measure out 2 tablespoons of a dark roast, it will contain more beans than an equal volume measurement of a light roast. 

Should coffee time be anytime? Not so fast

best-time-to-drink-coffeeIf you’re into the beneficial effects of coffee, you might think it doesn’t matter when you drink that first cup.

If so you’d be surprised to learn that the U.S. Army has discovered a scheduling algorithm for caffeine intake that shows some pretty stunning facts.

A group of researchers from the United States Army has published their findings in a study at the Journal of Sleep Research.

It shows the results of an algorithm that schedules the best times to consume caffeine for optimal levels of alertness.

All while consuming the same amount of coffee.

The research increased the alertness of subjects by 64%.

“Our algorithm is the first quantitative tool that provides automated, customized guidance for safe and effective caffeine dosing to maximize alertness at the most needed times during any sleep-loss condition.” -Jacques Reifman (lead research scientist for the study)

What IS the best time to drink coffee, already?!

While the algo was developed for army soldiers, rumors are, it will soon be available for public use in an app called 2B-Alert. The tool will optimize caffeine consumption by scheduling it based on sleep time as a reference.

 While most of us probably assume, waking up to coffee in our cup, is best.

Research has shown that drinking coffee as soon as we wake up is not the best time for optimal effectiveness. And might even result in some of the unwanted effects of caffeine.

The YouTube science channel ASAP Science has found that the best time of day for greatest effect is between 10 am and noon, and from 2 pm – 5 pm. 

So there actually is a best time to drink coffee!

 

If you don’t have any Coffee, just imagine you do!

customer-at-coffee-shop-considers-optionsResearchers from the University of Toronto have found that just thinking about a hot, comfy cup of coffee can produce reactions in the brain similar to the effects of ingesting caffeine.

The psychological effect is called priming, in which our brain responses are directly impacted by visual cues, even if non-physical.

“People who experience physiological arousal – again, in this case as the result of priming and not drinking coffee itself – see the world in more specific, detailed terms.” -Sam Maglio (researcher & associate professor, University of Toronto)

The study found that people exposed to coffee-related cues thought in more concrete and precise patterns.

So, the next time you crave a cup of cof fee, know that your imagination is more powerful than you realize!

 

What’s next?

The effects of caffeine are only one aspect of coffee’s full spectrum of offerings.

In future posts, we’ll cover topics like; compounds in coffee that even decaf drinkers benefit from.

To explore coffee’s potential health benefits, check out our post on how to use coffee for beautifying skin and hair, plus loads more.

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About the Author

Jonnie Coffee

Hi, I'm Jonnie Coffee. As a researcher and artist with a massive passion for all things related to coffee, I started this blog as a "digital homage" to my favorite beverage. Feel free to contact me if you have any comments, questions, suggestions, or even, just for some coffee talk.

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