It was a long night. Or a short night, depending on how you look at it. Whatever the case, that alarm clock had a particular degree of evil in its sound this morning. On a day like this, the normal brew just won’t do. This will require coffee with an extra bit of something to awaken the senses and return to the land of the living.
But what to do? Where is the line between your normal, effervescent self and a hopped-up mess of jitters? Will a shot of espresso do the trick? Or are you better off with the caffeine kick from coffee? Which drink gives you more energy?
For answers, we turn to some science, and some self-evaluation.
Few people understand the difference in caffeine content of a cup of normal brewed coffee relative to a shot of espresso. Fewer understand why the difference exists, so let’s start there. Many assume the nature of the roast determines the caffeine content. And since espresso’s bitter flavor is normally associated with a dark, bold roast, most conclude it has the higher caffeine content. Turns out, like most of life, it’s a matter of the grind.
Coffee grounds release their oils and chemicals (including caffeine) when they’re hit with hot water. Think about the difference in the grounds used for the normal cup of coffee compared to espresso. The coffee is generally more coarse, a function of the espresso grounds being used in a very small mechanism on a machine that shoots pressurized water through them to create the drink. That water would shoot right by coarse grounds, thus limiting the reaction causing the caffeine release. With espresso, the water hits all of the tightly packed crystals, so there’s nowhere for that sweet energy-driving nectar to hide.
Does that mean a shot of espresso has more caffeine than a cup of coffee? Well, no. But it does mean an ounce of espresso (about the amount of a shot in most coffee shops) has more caffeine than an ounce of coffee. Of course, we know that coffee is served in a range of cup sizes. To make simple: a shot of espresso can contain up to 50 mg of caffeine, while a 12 ounce cup of coffee could have up to about 120 mg. (Obviously, there’s variance based on how your local barista is manning the grinder.) Casual coffee drinkers may find espresso intimidating or even snobby, but don’t realize in most cases, they’re consuming more caffeine in their regular size coffee than the hipster who’s pounding the double shot.
If you’re a regular coffee drinker, you probably know how much you need to get an energy boost, and how much before you’re over-caffeinated. (For the record, experts suggest that up to 400 mg of caffeine consumed per day is safe for most healthy adults.) If your normal 12 ounce coffee normally suffices, try adding a shot of espresso. It’ll increase your caffeine content by more than 40%, with only about 8% of the liquid. From there, do the math: a triple shot of espresso (the way a certain coffee chain makes its Americano beverages) clocks in at about 150 mg of caffeine. For most folks, that’s plenty to get the engine running.