Health Alert: How Much Caffeine Is Too Much

| May/June 2003

Sidebar: Decaf with Swiss Water 

If you are sipping a double latte or enjoying a cup of green tea while you’re reading this magazine, you’re not alone. An estimated 80 percent of Americans regularly consume caffeinated beverages. We brew more than 45 million pounds of coffee beans every year, to say nothing of the green and black tea, chocolate, yerba maté and all of the soda pops, herbal products and over-the-counter and prescription drugs that contain this fascinating chemical.

Consumers of herbs need to know about caffeine, its effects on the body and the plants that contain it. Caffeine-containing herbs often show up in products marketed for weight loss and energy enhancement. Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require labeling of caffeine content in products, you may not realize you’re using it. And even if you know how many espressos you need to get through your day, do you know all the ways your favorite drink might be affecting your health?

Caffeine-containing Plants

Coffee (Coffea arabica, C. canephora). The fruits of this evergreen shrub are fermented, washed, hulled and roasted prior to use in beverages. Coffee beans contain hundreds of other substances in addition to caffeine, including volatile oils and aromatic compounds that contribute to its fragrance and appealing taste. The amount of caffeine in a cup depends on the species used, the processing techniques and how the coffee is prepared. Here are some estimates for a 7.5-ounce cup:

Drip coffee: 115 to 175 mg caffeine
Brewed coffee: 80 to 135 mg caffeine
Instant coffee: 65 to 100 mg caffeine
Decaffeinated coffee: 3 to 4 mg caffeine

Tea (Camellia sinensis). This plant has been used as a beverage for as many as 500,000 years, according to archeological data. Green tea is made from unfermented young shoots, which are pan fried or steamed to stop the fermentation process. Green tea contains approximately 25 mg of caffeine per cup. Black tea is created by fermentation and oxidation of the rolled leaf. Brewed for three minutes, black tea contains 30 to 45 mg of caffeine per cup; brewed for five minutes, it contains 60 to 90 mg per cup.

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