Let’s face it—coffee has gotten complicated. Hearing someone place an order at a coffee shop can often sound like a foreign language. But the seeming complexity of coffee nowadays isn’t stopping Americans from drinking it. According to the National Coffee Association, in 2018 the U.S. per-capita coffee consumption was just over 2 cups per day. And the sales of specialty coffees have been increasing about 20 percent per year, with half the U.S. population consuming beverages such as espresso or iced coffee. When you look at the variety of coffee options, how does it change from preparation to preparation? And how does the preparation affect caffeine levels? Here is what you need to know about some of the most popular coffee preparations, including how they are made and how much caffeine you can expect from each style.
While there are several types of brewed coffee, the basic technique involves pouring hot water over ground coffee beans and then filtering the hot water to remove the beans. Drip coffee, which many people make at home in their coffee machines, is a type of brewed coffee because it involves the basic steps of adding hot water and filtration. French pressed coffee is another method in which coarsely ground beans are steeped in hot water, then filtered with a mesh filter to press the grounds to the bottom of the container, leaving behind the filtered coffee. Pour-over coffee is another way to achieve brewed coffee without a machine. A ceramic funnel is lined with a paper filter and placed on top of the mug. Then the ground coffee is added to the funnel and hot water is slowly poured over the grounds to extract the coffee into the mug to be enjoyed. However you prefer your brewed coffee, a typical cup of brewed joe contains approximately 95 milligrams of caffeine, but can range anywhere between 75–165 mg per eight fluid ounces, depending on the specific brewing method.
Espresso, which means “express” in Italian, got its name because it is intended to be made and served immediately upon ordering. Unlike traditional brewed coffee, it’s made by forcing boiling water or steam under pressure through finely ground coffee beans. This process, called extraction, takes about 25 seconds to brew a typical one-fluid-ounce shot, and requires a specialized machine that is specifically used for making espresso. Espresso has a higher concentration of caffeine than brewed coffee, at around 60–80 mg per shot. It has a deep reddish-brown color with a potent aroma and sweet taste that has a flavor similar to that of a strong cup of freshly brewed coffee. Espresso shots can be consumed alone or combined with milk to make cappuccinos and lattes. The menu of espresso-based beverages is a language of its own! The most important factor to note is how many shots of espresso are included in the recipe of espresso-based beverages. For instance, a coffeehouse may default to two shots of espresso per latte as a standard recipe. In that case, the small latte you’re ordering could have between 120–160 mg of caffeine.
Cold brew is another popular coffee beverage. Unlike brewed coffee and espresso, which have been traditional staples in the U.S. and Europe, cold brew coffee has surged in demand only in the last several years. While cold brew is typically served iced, it is not how it is served but rather the brewing method itself that makes it cold brew. To make cold brew, ground coffee is first steeped in room temperature or cool water for 12–24 hours. Next, the grounds are removed through straining, producing a beverage with a much higher concentration of coffee to water than brewed coffee. Finally, this concentrate may or may not be diluted with more water to make the final beverage. The additional water can be either iced or hot—although, once again, it is most commonly iced. Because the oils and acids in coffee are not as soluble in colder water, cold brew tends to produce a flavor that is smoother and less bitter compared with other methods. While the initial concentrate may have more caffeine than a typical cup of coffee, it may have less if it is diluted with water. For example, one major coffee company says its regular brewed coffee contains around 130 mg of coffee per 8 fl oz serving, while its cold brew contains around 100 mg per 8 fl oz serving.
Regardless of how you enjoy your coffee, what you drink will vary in terms of roast type, coffee-to-water ratio, grind size, steeping time, temperature and pressure. All these variables affect how much caffeine is in your finished cup. If you’re monitoring how much caffeine you’re consuming, most major retailers and restaurants have this information available in a brochure or online. If all else fails, enjoy your coffee in moderation!