What’s in a Shot: How Much Caffeine Is in Espresso?

Espresso drinks are popular among those who regularly drink caffeinated beverages. But how much caffeine is actually even in espresso? Keep reading to find out!

Two people cheers with mugs full of steaming coffee drinks.

As the world leader in coffee consumption, Americans often question what the level of caffeine is in an average espresso drink. Whether you enjoy your espresso straight up or mixed with flavor and topped with milk or foam, it is important to know what exactly goes into this elusive and small extraction of coffee and the amount of caffeine intake that’s in this morning beverage.

Inventing Espresso

Though the history of coffee can take us back many thousands of years to a very energetic goat, our journey will begin in Europe. Europeans had embraced coffee as a morning and midday-break beverage since the early 19th century, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Coffee popularity grew, even though a single cup could take around five minutes to brew.

Legend has it that Italian workers were in need of a quicker method for acquiring a cup of coffee to drink during their break period; they just didn’t have time to wait around for the drink. Necessity, as it is often referred to, is the mother of invention, and there was a great need! In 1884, inventor Angelo Moriondo conceived a large boiler that created a steam pressure capable of extracting a smaller amount of coffee in mere seconds.

Two men, Luigi Bezzera and Desiderio Pavoni, later came along to perfect and mass produce this machine, and by the 1920s, this form of expressly made coffee was a widespread phenomenon throughout Europe. The new process allowed baristas to serve up around 1,000 cups of coffee per hour.

After World War II, Achille Gaggia streamlined the steam process and increased the pressure from 2 bars to between 8 and 10 bars of pressure. A “bar” is a unit used to measure pressure; most household high-pressure showerheads run on about 1 bar of pressure from a domestic boiler. For espresso, this created a consistent pour which was full of flavor because of the two distinct layers of a heavier body and a beautiful light and creamy top called “crema”.

Pits and All

Coffee beans in a grinder.

When we talk about the caffeine content of a bean, it is great to start with the knowledge that a coffee bean is technically a cherry pit. The end level of caffeination will depend on where the cherries are grown and how ripe they are when picked.

There are two primary types of coffee beans: arabica and robusta. Due to their desirable flavor and aromatics, arabica beans are most commonly used by American and global specialty roasters today. Robusta was used in a lot of traditional Italian cafes because of its caffeine content, which is twice that of arabica beans. Robusta beans come from a heartier tree, and they are typically larger-sized beans grown at very low altitudes and composed of about 2% caffeine by volume. Arabica, on the other hand, has between 1.1 to 1.5% caffeine, depending on the altitude and geographic location where the tree is grown. At higher altitudes, beans can find brighter flavors due to the lower water and oxygen levels, which also results in a lower caffeine content.

The Great Debate: Light vs. Dark Roast

A view into a bag of coffee beans.

Photo By Justus Menke

The roasting process loosens and releases water, sugars, and acids from the densely packed green coffee beans and brings to the surface all of the wonderful flavors, smells, and caffeine. When beans are exposed to heat for a longer period of time, they become darker and even less dense. This longer period of roasting still retains the same amount of caffeine by volume; as a result, a lighter roasted coffee will have fewer beans per 10 grams than a darker roasted coffee.

If splitting hairs, it can be said that a dark roasted coffee will contain a slightly higher milligram dose of caffeine, but it is hardly noticeable. The important thing about the beverage is that you enjoy it!

Just how much caffeine does coffee have in it anyway? On average, a single bean of arabica coffee will have 6 and 12 milligrams (mg) of potential caffeine per one gram (g) of coffee. When brewed, the caffeine that is extracted will be a fraction of the potential amount stored in a coffee bean. For example, 25g of ground coffee could have the potential of 300mg of caffeine. After final extraction, an 8 or 12-oz cup of liquid coffee typically has 95-150mg of caffeine.

What’s the Deal With Decaf?

You may have heard a cheeky barista say the phrase “Death before decaf,” or you may be someone who is sensitive to caffeine for medical or other reasons. There is no naturally occurring decaffeinated coffee, similar to how there are no chocolate-milk cows, so there have been a few different methods developed to reduce the caffeine levels in a coffee bean.

To create a decaffeinated coffee bean, it all starts before the roasting process. Sometimes the green coffee beans will be soaked in water to aid this process. Additionally, solvents such as methylene chloride or ethyl acetate may be introduced into the water either directly or indirectly.

There are more natural processes, like the patented Swiss Water Process, or one that uses carbon dioxide, which releases the caffeine stored in the green bean before it makes it to the roaster. This will remove about 2-3% of the caffeine contained within the beans and make them lighter in weight and a darker gray color. Afterward, the beans are rinsed and dried. Further washing and roasting will remove additional caffeine.

An average cup of 8oz decaf coffee will contain 2mg of caffeine, a considerably drastic difference to the nearly 100mg range of its fully caffeinated sibling. You can find decaf roasted at many different profiles, though it is typical to find that most appear to be darker due to the loss of chemical makeup. This darker profile is from the washing process, and even a medium roast profile will reach a higher temp during roasting.

Dosing

A man holds a portafilter filled with ground coffee beans.

Photo by Sonalika Vakili

To brew any cup of coffee, it is necessary to have a recipe, and within that recipe will be a brew ratio of coffee to water. There is a phrase known as the “Golden Ratio” for each particular brewed coffee. If making a pour over or brewing in a coffee maker, the ratio of coffee to water is 1:18. This means for every 1g of coffee, you want to have 18g of water. Therefore, when portioning an 8oz cup of regular coffee, you want to weigh out 20g of ground coffee. This will require using 360g of hot water to extract with. Once tried and tested, it is easy to tailor the ratio to your personal preference.

The “Golden Ratio” for espresso is going to be 1:2 for a perfect extraction. A single shot of espresso is 1 ounce of liquid weighing 29-30g, which is liquid plus dissolved solids. Using this ratio, you will want to use about 14-15g of espresso, though some recipes may also use anywhere from 10-15g of finely ground coffee. The first step is to know your espresso machine, as the size of the portafilter and basket will determine how much coffee you can weigh or ‘dose’ out.

The standard size for an at-home or cafe portafilter is a 58mm diameter basket. In most cases, you will have the option to brew a single or a double shot, as the depth of the basket will be the deciding factor into how much coffee you will be able to grind. A single-shot basket will hold 10-15g, and a double-shot basket holds 17-21g of coffee ground for espresso.

For total accuracy, you could weigh the shot after brewing or ‘pulling’ it. A 1oz shot should weigh 29g, and 2oz shot should weigh between 36-42g. When pulled properly, the perfect shot of espresso should have a nice thick, syrupy body. The crema will add a layer of primarily air to the shot of espresso. This delectable and tasty fluff atop your espresso will take up volume but should have little effect on the ending weight.

What Does That Mean for Your Cup?

A cup of coffee sits on a table.

Photo by Di Bella Coffee

  • Single Shot of Espresso: 65mg
  • Double Shot of Espresso: 150mg
  • 12oz Drip: 100mg

Milk-based beverages, like a latte, will have a double espresso shot with the personal preference of milk and topped with a little foam. Cappuccinos traditionally have equal parts espresso milk and foam. Whether you are adding syrup, sugar, or chocolate for a mocha, your coffee should have the same amount of caffeine in your drink as if you were to drink a shot of espresso straight up.

Espresso can seem a bit mystical, like a magical substance that will send you on some crazy caffeine high, but understanding the basic makeup of coffee and how espresso is made brings these common misconceptions to light. The amount of caffeine or lack thereof in espresso may shock you if you have been in the camp of lattes or americanos over drip. If you enjoy a large coffee, it might serve you to go with a 20-ounce drip over a 20-ounce latte or americano, or tailor your coffee and go for that third shot to get the energy boost you are craving!

All in all, coffee is meant to be enjoyed, so while enjoying it, knowing what is inside your beverage will help you figure out just how much caffeine you are consuming. If you are curious about other ways espresso compares to a drip please feel free to drop a question to one of our Coffee & Espresso Experts, such as me! We can’t wait to talk about all things coffee!

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How it All Got Started In 2010 my senior year of high school an opportunity came along to intern at a local coffee roaster. Little did I know that I was going to soon fall in love with Coffee and gain a whole new appreciation for the process it goes through to get into my cup every morning. Where I'...

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