You may have heard that an espresso shot is filled to the brim with caffeine. Some people even refer to the espresso as "a shot of caffeine."
However, have you ever wanted to find out the truth about espresso and how much caffeine it contains? How unhealthy for you is espresso, really? And if espresso is so unhealthy then why don't the government take it off the market?
So what's the truth? Let's try and separate the myths from the truth. Even though espresso can contain quite a lot of caffeine in one shot, here is how it stacks up to other popular beverages:
Espresso Versus Regular Coffee
There are a few things to consider when comparing the amount of caffeine in an espresso shot compared to a regular cup of coffee. Firstly, there are many espresso options. You have true espresso, that we produce in a domestic or commercial espresso machine. Then there are stove-top mocha pots, which create an espresso-like shot, then there are George Clooney-type pod machines.
In this article though, I'll take the term "espresso" to mean one plain shot of espresso that has no extra flavour or frills. And "coffee" means a regular black cup of Joe that many people wake up to in the morning. That being said, it may surprise you to find out a regular black cup of coffee actually contains a lot more caffeine one shot of espresso.
It's true that a typical espresso does contain more milligrams of caffeine per ounce, but espresso shots are typically only consumed in 1-ounce shot glasses. Espresso can contain about 50 milligrams of caffeine per ounce and coffee contains around 20 milligrams in an average full cup. However, many people only usually consume one shot of espresso at a time, whereas others can consume multiple cups of coffee throughout their morning.
All Espresso Is Not Equal
We make coffee from two types of coffee beans - firstly Robusta, which is cheaper and has less character. And secondly Arabica, which typically has loads of regional character from the soil, climate, altitude and sun from the region where farmers grow it.
As well as being better tasting, Arabica beans are significantly lower in caffeine than Robusta beans. Like many people, I use only roast and use Arabica beans at home.
Espresso served in cafes often has a significant proportion of Robusta in their blend. This is not only because it's cheaper - it does give a better crema, and some people like the rougher taste and hit of caffeine.
Coffee Brewing Method Influence
The espresso process means that with a coffee and water contact time of only around 25 seconds, the caffeine extraction is a lot lower in espresso than other brewing methods.
At the other end of the scale, French Press coffee typically has a brewing time of up to five minutes - or longer. This longer contact time means that much more of the water-soluble caffeine ends up in your cup. Filter coffee has a lower contact time than French Press, but it's still a lot longer than with espresso.
So if you brew espresso at home, you can use 100% Arabica beans and know that the amount of caffeine will be significantly lower than either with a drip filter brew or a French Press.
Espresso Versus Coca-Cola
What about a comparison with other drinks? What would be the better choice: having a can of Coca-Cola in the mornings to get your kick start or continuing with your espresso routine? As mentioned above, espresso shots usually contain about 50 milligrams per 1-ounce shot glass. On the other hand, a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola usually contains only about 35 milligrams of caffeine. Setting aside the many teaspoons of sugar in the coke, if you want to limit caffeine, soft drinks have less of it. Although if you truly want a kick-start in the morning then the espresso shot would be the way to go!
As you can see an espresso shot is not that much more harmful to you than a can of soda - and significantly less than with a regular cup of coffee. In the whole scheme of things one can probably say that espresso is about average when it comes to the amount of caffeine in a single serving, but now you know just how espresso shots stack up!
But bear in mind that if you ensure you use only Arabica beans and only espresso you will minimise your intake of caffeine.