What is caffeine, anyway?

Those crazy chemists call it C8H10N4O2, and doctors think it’s hip to refer to it as trimethylxanthine.  But to everyone else, caffeine is a popular mild stimulant. Essentially it keeps a person awake for a while, and causes an increase in heart beat speed and metabolism speed.  Caffeine is a drug, of course, and it is possible to overdose.  However, unless you’re a baby or have severe health problems it’s pretty difficult to die from a caffeine overdose.

How much caffeine is in espresso?  How about drip coffee?

That’s a tough question.  First of all, before roasting, a coffee bean has a caffeine content of somewhere between one percent and one and a half percent.  So there’s some variation to be expected.  However, you can expect to find about 100 mg of caffeine in a shot of espresso, and about 130 mg of caffeine in a cup (around 8 oz) of coffee.  The caffeine content in drip coffee varies more than espresso because espresso is generally made with a very dark roast, whereas the roast, grind, filter, etc. tend to vary with drip coffee.

***Keep in mind that many lattes have between 5 and 10 shots of espresso in each venti size cup!

What does caffeine do to the taste of coffee and espresso?

Caffeine is an alkaloid, so it adds a very bitter flavor

Is caffeine detrimental to one’s health?

Unless a person suffers from heart conditions, probably not.  Even then, it’s unlikely to cause problems if consumed moderately and evenly over time.  An article in the November 2002 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association suggests that it may not be caffeine that causes a rise in blood pressure when drinking coffee, because drinking decaf also causes a rise in blood pressure.

Is caffeine addictive?

Caffeine is generally not thought to be physically addictive, because the withdrawal symptoms are relatively minor.  Still, if you want to reduce your caffeine intake or even (*gasp!*) quit altogether, you are probably better off reducing your intake slowly over a period of time to avoid possible headaches.

How much caffeine does it take to overdose?

The amount of caffeine required to have an unpleasant experience varies significantly from person to person.  However, it has been estimated that it would take 10 grams of caffeine or more (around 100 cups of coffee) to kill a healthy adult.

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