Now that we've announced our new skinny iced coffee, we've been getting a lot of questions about it. Specifically, a lot of you want to know about the caffeine content of the coffee. Does instant coffee – iced or otherwise – have more caffeine than regular coffee? The answer is: it depends. It depends on quite a few different factors, in fact, so let's run through them all.
A General Answer
To start with, we'll try to give you a bit of a general answer. Be aware that this answer is ignoring a lot of nuances, and you'll need to adjust your expectations based on your own experiences.
In general, instant coffee is going to have slightly less caffeine in it than a regular cup of traditionally brewed coffee. This is, however, only measuring with a couple of methods and a couple of varieties of coffee.
For one thing, do you know how instant coffee is made? There are two primary methods:
- Spray-drying. Coffee is brewed as a traditional liquid (or a concentrate). It is then brought to a hot, dry room, where it is sprayed into the air. The hot air sucks the moisture away, and the remaining dehydrated coffee settles to the ground. This is, of course, a sterile room designed for specifically this process, we're not talking about an open warehouse in Nevada or something.
- Freeze-drying. Coffee extract is brewed and then frozen, and the frozen coffee is chopped into small pieces. At a cold temperature, the coffee is run through a vacuum environment to suck out the moisture and leave a dried coffee product. This is basically how astronaut ice cream is made, as well as many freeze-dried fruits and treats.
Both of these methods use a standard coffee brew or extract as their base. Thus, the instant coffee you're using depends on the strength of that coffee base.
One critical piece of information that might be relevant to know for the rest of this post is that caffeine is a temperature-dependent, water-soluble molecule. What this means is that water can extract the caffeine from where it normally resides (like in coffee or tea) and that the hotter the water is, the more caffeine will be extracted.
This is relevant to the brewing process, but not to the drying process. If both spray-drying and freeze-drying are used to make instant coffee from the same coffee extract, the resulting instant coffee will have similar compositions.
The Strength of the Brew
So, the main question you need to ask yourself is about the strength of the coffee you're brewing. Instant coffee will tend to have a particular level of caffeine. This level is regulated by the standardized process used to brew the coffee. Food manufacturers have defined consistent processes so that their end result products are also consistent, which allows them to label them accurately.
Different brands of instant coffee will have different levels of caffeine. This is due to several factors, including the coffee beans used in the brew, the style of brew used, the recommended serving size, and the process used to create the coffee. For example:
- Waka Columbian contains 70 mg of caffeine in 8 fl. oz. of coffee beverage.
- Starbucks Via contains 135 mg of caffeine in 8 fl. oz. of coffee beverage.
- Taster's Choice contains 98 mg of caffeine in 8 fl. oz. of coffee beverage.
- Bizzy's Cold Brew contains 300 mg of caffeine in 8 fl. oz. of coffee concentrate (though the recommended serving size is closer to 2.5 fl. oz. and only contains 125 mg of caffeine.)
The variance goes both ways for your comparison. You can know roughly how much caffeine is in the beverage you mix up from an instant coffee packet or crystal, but it can be slightly harder to estimate how much caffeine is in the coffee you brew yourself. Again, the caffeine content can vary depending on how hot the water is, how much and what kind of coffee you use, and other factors as well. A "typical" cup of coffee has about 95 mg of caffeine in 8 fl. oz. of coffee beverage, but that's just a baseline.
Diluting Your Coffee
Another consideration you might have is diluting your coffee. Some people don't like their coffee strong and add in a lot of creamers, sugar, or just water to their coffee. In particular, you might use less coffee and more milk in a beverage, whereas an instant coffee drink will have the same amount of caffeine no matter how much water you use. You can mix one packet into 8 oz. of water and it will have the same caffeine content as if you mixed it with a gallon of water, assuming you drink the whole thing.
Iced coffee tends to have this problem when you use something like a cold brew or a day-old coffee brew to make the iced coffee. The ice takes up space in your cup and adds liquid to your coffee, and that dilutes the coffee. You end up with less coffee per coffee, and that means a reduced caffeine content. That said, you're generally looking at a difference of 10-20 mg of caffeine, which isn't all that much when a typical coffee beverage can have 100 mg or more, caffeine pills have 300 mg, and energy drinks can have even more.
Keep in mind that the recommended daily intake of caffeine for the average person is 400 mg before you start experiencing health issues. That's around 3-5 cups of coffee, again depending on how large the cup, how strong the brew, and any additives in the mix.
Whether or Not You're Buying Decaf
Alright, this one might sound like a bit of a joke, but it's a real thing. Now and then, we've encountered people who are drinking coffee and finding that they aren't getting any energy from it, and are disappointed with the brand. They start to switch brands, drink more, or just investigate further, and find that they've accidentally bought decaf coffee.
Now, decaf coffee isn't purely caffeine-free. See, in order to remove caffeine from coffee, it needs to be processed in a series of solvents and acids. These acids will leach out and then break down the caffeine while leaving the phytonutrients and tannins in the coffee largely intact. This is actually done very early in the process, while the coffee beans are still green before they've even been roasted.
There's only so much that this chemical treatment can do, and some caffeine will always slip through the cracks. Still, you're looking at a cup of coffee that has under 5 mg of caffeine in it, compared to a cup that has 95 mg.
If you're interested, you can read more about the decaffeination process here. It's actually quite interesting!
How Much Instant Coffee You Use
Another factor that you need to consider is how much instant coffee you use in your beverage. This is easy to regulate if you're buying individual, carefully measured packets of instant coffee that you can pour into a glass of water or chilled milk and mix up into a beverage. Our 28-day fat burner is a good example of this. Each packet is measured to be precisely the same amount of instant coffee in every package, so you always know what you're getting.
This can get a little tricky when you're using something like our new skinny iced coffee, which comes in a larger tub with a scoop. How much you mix into your liquid will change the caffeine content of your resulting beverage. Slightly under-filled scoops, a single versus a double scoop, heaping scoops, packed scoops; they can all vary up or down in the amount of caffeine you're adding to your beverage. More, of course, means more caffeine.
If the Instant Coffee Has Additional Caffeine
While the strength of the originating coffee has a significant effect on the resulting caffeine content, some beverages also add additional caffeine to the mix to give it that extra kick. If you look at the ingredients list of a coffee beverage, you might see some of these:
"Cacao Nibs, Kola Nut, Cola Seeds, Natural Cola Flavor, Mate, Yerba Mate, Ilex Paraguariensis, Guarana, Paullinia Cupana, Camellia Sinensis, Green Tea Extract"
These are all names for ingredients that contain caffeine. They are often added to foods and beverages that are meant to give you energy, without having to disclose that they contain caffeine. There's a lot of dishonesty in the world of foods, particularly healthy foods, so it's a good idea to keep an awareness of how things work and read labels as much as possible. You can read more about this phenomenon here.
Additional Ingredients that Enhance Caffeine
Another factor to consider is that caffeine does not operate in isolation. There are several different ingredients that can enhance, balance, or level out the effects that caffeine has on your body.
For example, one of the major side effects of caffeine is the spike in energy levels. You may get a brief spike in energy, followed by a crash. Some people also experience jitters during the high spike of caffeine, as the energy overloads their systems and doesn't have a ready outlet.
One ingredient in particular that you often see added alongside caffeine in energy-boosting and fat-burning beverages is l-carnitine. L-carnitine is a "quaternary ammonium compound" which is involved in the metabolic process in most organisms, including mammals, plants, and bacteria. It's chemically similar to amino acids your body uses for energy regulation.
Experiments with l-carnitine show that adding it to a beverage that contains caffeine has a positive effect on both your energy levels and your body's ability to burn fat with that energy. This means you're less likely to get jitters, your energy levels will be sustained for a longer period, and you'll be able to burn more fat and lose more weight when using it than you would without it.
Other ingredients that may interact with caffeine include Garcinia Cambogia, a popular supplement and weight loss aid from India and the Asian subcontinent. There's a lot of misgivings about this particular ingredient, but studies range from inconclusive to positive, so we like it. You can read more about it here.
Picking a Coffee to Suit Your Needs
At the end of the day, the specific caffeine content of a given beverage only matters if you're being told by a doctor to keep your caffeine intake under certain levels, or if you think you're taking more than the recommended 400 mg per day that the FDA indicates is safe. Otherwise, it all comes down to what you want out of your coffee beverage.
Instant coffees will typically have a little less caffeine in them than a comparable brew of standard coffee. They are also very consistent. If you need to know exactly how much caffeine you're getting from your beverage, using single-serve packets of instant coffee or measured scoops of coffee like our fat burner is a good idea.
If you just want the energy boost in the morning and don't care as much about how much caffeine you're getting, specifically, brewing a hot cup of coffee is a good idea. Iced coffee can be made with leftover hot coffee, and will have more caffeine in it than a cold brew coffee. Cold-brew coffees can have a lot of caffeine in them if they are highly concentrated, but the amount of caffeine that can be concentrated down into the cold brew depends on how the coffee was brewed initially.
If you're looking to lose weight, you want caffeine, but you don't want too much of it. Too much caffeine can lead to resistance, and to withdrawals, which can make it more difficult to exercise. Keeping your caffeine at a moderate level, and regulating and enhancing it with l-carnitine, Garcinia Cambogia, and other ingredients is your best bet. That's why we engineered our fat burner instant coffee to have everything you need to make a good weight loss beverage. Check it out!