Caffeine amounts in espresso and drip coffee

Caffeine Myths: Espresso vs. Drip

We compare the amount of caffeine in espresso to drip coffee.
Posted on December 10th 2013 by Maddie

We’re challenging caffeine myths once again; another juicy exposé to share with friends and family this holiday season.

Last week we learnt that given dark and light roasts of coffee, we will notice only a minimal change in caffeine depending on how we measure our brew.

This week we’re out of the Roasting Department and into the Café.

Can different brewing methods impact our caffeine consumption?

Common assumption seems to be that a shot of espresso has more caffeine than an average drip cup of coffee. I mean isn’t that why you only ever find hardcore coffee aficionados ordering straight up shots of espresso... and Europeans.

However, when you get down to numbers the amount of caffeine is greater in a drip cup of coffee.

One 2 oz double espresso shot has about 80 milligrams of caffeine.

Whereas a 12 oz brewed coffee has about 120 milligrams.

So actually there is more caffeine in an average cup of drip coffee than in espresso. But, that doesn’t seem like a fair comparison given the difference in volume.

Let’s examine caffeine concentration per ounce.

A single shot of espresso has an estimated 40 mg per ounce whereas a brewed cup only has around 10 mg in each ounce. By concentration we see espresso having more caffeine. The difference in the serving size is where the discrepancy lies; less caffeine in espresso from a beverage perspective.

By now we know caffeine affects us all in our own way. I even find different effects dependent on the day. My current mood can alter my reactions to caffeine. If I’m already in a good mood caffeine generally ups the ante. However, if I’m feeling edgy caffeine only leads to more anxiety. Maybe I’m a special case though, which my family would agree.

Along the same lines, espresso may have less caffeine, but how quickly do you consume a shot versus an entire mug of brewed coffee? You generally drink espresso much faster. Caffeine can be more rapidly assimilated when taken in concentrated dosages; hitting your central nervous system differently than if you sipped a drip cup over the course of an hour.

So there is some truth in the assumption when considering concentration and time of ingestion. 

What causes the difference in caffeine levels with Espresso and Drip?

Since there is a finite amount of caffeine to extract in coffee, what can cause this difference in caffeine concentration? Moreover what does it take to extract caffeine from coffee?

We know from earlier entries that caffeine is water soluble. Caffeine is extracted into the brew by hot water acting as a solvent. Since all brewing methods don’t yield the same percentage of caffeine, let’s see what else can affect the buzz.

Saturation

The grinds need to be 100% saturated to extract all the caffeine available.

Temperature

Above we mentioned hot water acting as a solvent. The ideal water temperature is near-boiling, 95-105°C. Temperature is going to make a big difference in how quickly caffeine is withdrawn from the bean. A cold brew will take hours longer. 

Time

Roughly all of the available caffeine is released during the first minute of extraction. The brewing time of an espresso shot is from 20-30 seconds. 

Grind

Grind can influence how quickly caffeine is extracted. With a finer grind you have the ability to extract caffeine faster. Water reaches the surface area and saturates the grind with ease, as there is a greater contact area.

Under-extraction will happen with espresso when the grind is too coarse; whereas you will have over-extraction if the grind is too fine.

All these factors influence how quickly caffeine is extracted from coffee. Essentially, you could take a whole bean and saturate it with water, eventually the caffeine will be removed, but how long do you imagine it will take?

Espresso is prepared using pressurized water, more ground coffee than used for drip, all of which result in a higher concentration of caffeine than drip.

Since caffeine is easily extracted from coffee, your best bet for obtaining more caffeine is simply to use more ground coffee.