In part 1 of this series we talked about some of the nutritional properties of that smooth dark concoction of the gods! In this article “The Magic Elixir-Coffee II” we’re going to breakdown what affects the caffeine content of coffee. We go over how roasting times, preparation methods and bean types determine how strong your cup of joe is by the time it hits your lips. So pour a cup in your favorite mug and check it out.
We Drink A Lot Of Coffee
Rumor is Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day. If you’re counting, or not, that’s more than a cup per day for every woman, man, and child who lives in the good ole US of A. I bet you’re wondering how much caffeine that is. The FDA estimates an 8 ounce cup of coffee contains between 80-100 mg of caffeine. Too much math, we really like the stuff.
Some Factors That Determine The Caffeine Content Of Your Coffee
The Types of Beans (No, I don’t mean Pete’s or Starbucks)
Arabica beans originated in Ethiopia where they were crushed and mixed with fat for a pick me up (pretty good if I say so myself). They were given their present name after they went from Ethiopia to lower Arabia in the 7th century. It is there where our beloved coffee was born! Arab scholars would write about how this brewed beverage would help prolong their work for hours! Sound familiar? The Arabica variety represent about 60% of the global production of coffee beans. These beans cost more to produce and consume even though they contain about half the caffeine. The reason for this is the relative difficulty to grow compared to Robusta beans.
Arabica beans have less caffeine and are more aromatic than Robustas. They tend to be a little acidic and slightly bitter (a good bitter). Really good Arabica beans taste slightly sweet (higher sugar content) with hints of chocolate, caramel and nuts. Many coffee drinking aficionados consider them to be the superior bean.
Robusta coffee beans are a hardy crop and easier to grow. Grown primarily in Southeast Asia and Africa in lower altitudes. They represent the remaining 40% of the global production of coffee beans. Robusta beans are typically what’s used in instant coffee and espresso blends (usually to add bulk). So what do they taste like? Earthy, often described as bitter with a peanutty aftertaste. More caffeine and less sugar than the more popular arabica. Actually the higher caffeine content is one of the things that make this an easier crop to grow. The high caffeine content produces a bitter flavor and bugs don’t like bitter! 🐛 Not to mention the antimicrobial properties of caffeine.
Think earthy, peanutty, a little woody and bold for the better Robusta and burnt rubber for the lesser bean 🤮.
This might be the cheaper bean but the higher quality Robustas are what’s prized in Italy for putting that nice crema on your espresso.
Before I started writing this series I thought I knew a silly little fact most people are surprised by. “What might that be you ask?” Light roast coffee is stronger (caffeine not taste) than dark roast. Come on silly, don’t you know that heat reduces the caffeine level of your coffee beans? While there is some truth to lighter roasts being stronger it’s not as straightforward as I thought (the older I’ve gotten the more I realize this goes for most things) and it really doesn’t have anything to do with the heat of the roasting process affecting the actual caffeine molecule itself.
When studies compare the caffeine content between light and dark roast beans they find that light roasts have more caffeine when the tested beans are measured by volume. “Aha! See I told you! Order the light roast for a bigger boost to start your day.” Not so fast. Remember I said it’s more complicated than just light or dark?
Let’s Take A Look At What Happens To The Structure Of The Bean Itself During The Roasting Process
Coffee beans lose about 15-18% of their weight due to the loss of water and other compounds during the roasting process. Even though the beans lose weight they almost double in size after they are roasted (not a trade off you would want if you’re trying to get those vacation pounds off 😜). As the beans roast, the cellulose structure expands which facilitates the release of water if the form of steam.
So what does this have to do with caffeine? We’re getting there.
Since the longer you roast the bean the more it expands, darker roasts tend to take up more space. Bean for bean light and dark roast are equal in caffeine content but when measured by volume, like those studies I mentioned earlier, coffee made with light roasts have more caffeine (more beans per cup let’s say). If you were to measure by weight things even out. So it’s not that lighter roasted beans are stronger it’s that they’re smaller. The grind and preparation method matter more than the actual roast level when it comes to the caffeine content of “that cup you sup to keep you up”.
Thanks Raven’s Brew Coffee for the cool mug and great coffee!! (Not affiliated)
Grind and preparation? This article is getting a little long so we’ll get into what grind and which preparation methods give you a stronger cup of coffee in our next installation of “The Magic Elixir-Coffee”.
Thanks for reading The Magic Elixir-Coffee II! You can get part 1 of this series here