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Do Darker Roasts Have More Caffeine?

This post was updated on November 20, 2015 and October 14, 2015. Read on to bust the myth behind coffee roast levels and caffeine. (Originally published March 28, 2015).

Darker roasts are generally viewed as “stronger” than lighter roasts, and are accordingly presumed to have higher caffeine levels. The bold flavors of dark roasts shouldn’t be mistaken as indications of their caffeine content, though. The intense flavors arise from the bitterness produced by roasting, not from caffeine. Darker roasts actually don’t have more caffeine than lighter ones — they have about the same amount of caffeine.

Darker roasts don’t have more caffeine than lighter ones — they have about the same amount of caffeine.

 

Very little caffeine, if any, is lost in the roasting process

roast levels do not affect the amount of caffeine in coffee

One of the most common myths about coffee is that dark-roasted coffees have more caffeine than lighter ones. Another common myth claims the exact opposite: darker-roasted coffees have less caffeine. So, which is true?

The truth is that, while some caffeine does dissipate in the roasting process, the amount lost is negligible. By the time a light and a dark roast are brewed, any difference in caffeine levels that are a result of roasting will be imperceptible. Both roasts will have enough caffeine to affect your brain.

The myth that darker roasts have more caffeine comes about by associating caffeine with flavor

The first myth, that darker roasts have more caffeine, largely comes from people mistakenly associating caffeine levels with flavor. The bold flavors of dark roasts are thought to be stronger, and therefore, contain more caffeine. Caffeine isn’t the chemical that produces the bolder flavors, though. They come from the roasting process.

The myth that lighter roasts have more caffeine is created by associating caffeine with bean size

The second, that lighter roasts have more caffeine, is a result of how many people and cafes prepare coffee. During the roasting process, coffee beans expand. The longer they’re roasted, the more beans swell. Therefore, darker roasted coffee beans tend to be larger than lighter roasted ones.

As long as coffee is prepared by weighing out grounds using a scale (as we recommend), the difference in lightly roasted and darkly roasted beans’ sizes will not impact the final brew. When people and cafes scoop beans, however, the size difference will impact the brewed coffee. Because darker beans are larger than lighter ones, when beans are measured out by volume, rather than weight, brews made with darker beans will not have as many grounds. Therefore, not as much caffeine will be in the final cup. The difference in caffeine content between a light and bold selection comes not from the amount of caffeine in the beans but the amount of coffee used in brewing.

 

Robusta beans have a lot more caffeine than arabica, but they don’t taste good

There is a significant difference in caffeine content between the two main coffee species: coffea arabica and coffea robusta. Arabica, which is the only species of coffee we carry, is sweeter and produces more nuanced flavors than robusta – and about 50 percent less caffeine than robusta.

Robusta, in contrast, has high caffeine and is bitter. The bitter flavors of robusta don’t primarily come from its higher caffeine levels, though. They are a result of the species’ inferior quality, which is more suitable for gas stations than coffee shops. No purveyor of gourmet coffee uses robusta beans.

On a per serving basis, cold brew has the highest amount of caffeine, followed by drip and then espresso

espresso has less caffeine than brewed coffee

Because tastes doesn’t indicate caffeine content, you can’t tell what type of brewed coffee has more caffeine by simply drinking it. For instance, while an ounce of espresso has more caffeine than an ounce of brewed coffee, a serving of brewed coffee has more caffeine than a serving of espresso. Depending on how well each one is made, the espresso or brewed coffee might taste stronger than the other. Cold brew coffee, as another example, has some of the highest caffeine levels of any brew method, yet its bold flavors are deceptively smooth. For reference:

  • one shot of espresso has 47-75 mg of caffeine
  • one 8-ounce cup of coffee has 95-200 mg of caffeine
  • cold brew recipes vary, but they typically have high caffeine concentrations because they use higher coffee-to-water ratios and much longer brew times

The next time you are in search of a highly caffeinated cup of coffee, don’t look at roast levels. If you want a great tasting cup of coffee, get a cup of cold-brew or drip to get the most caffeine.

 

Grab a cup of cold-brew or drip to get the most caffeine.

 

Author Scott

Scott is a professional writer for Driftaway Coffee. He worked as a barista for eight years, but today prefers to enjoy his beverages from the other side of the counter. When not drinking Driftaway Coffee, Scott usually has a mug of his own roasted coffee nearby.

More posts by Scott
  • Rob Gardner

    As the coffee roasting process progresses, caffeine is lost at a very small rate. So measuring the caffeine in a single bean would show a decrease in the mass of caffeine. However, coffee beans lose moisture at a huge rate during the roasting process. So much so that the final weight of a single bean is 12-16% less than it was before roasting. The darker you roast the bean, the more moisture (and hence weight) it loses. I am sure that you know this from your roasting experience. What this all means is that the caffeine *concentration* is higher in dark roasted coffee than in the equivalent light roasted coffee! Said another way, if you’ve got a one pound bag of light roasted coffee in your left hand, and a pound of dark roasted coffee in your right hand, there is more caffeine in your right hand. So even though people believe the “myth” for the wrong reasons, it is true that dark roasted coffee has more caffeine than light roasted.

    • Joe Cisneros

      Simplest explanation & summary I’ve seen so far in my Googling. Thanks, Rob!

    • eric_js

      Part of the confusion comes from saying “more caffeine” without the additional words needed to make the phrase meaningful. So darker roasts have more caffeine by weight of beans, and less caffeine by volume of beans. These days the notion that weighing coffee is superior has taken hold, but if the article is correct that darker roasted coffee tastes stronger, then measuring by the scoop would actually have a desirable equalizing affect.

      • Elliotms

        Doesn’t this mean that lighter coffee gives more for your dollar? Because you buy per size of the bag of uncooked beans, correct? So it would take more money to buy dark coffee to equal the caffeine of light coffee because you have to cook more beans with dark coffee?

        • Rob Gardner

          No, you’ve got it backwards. A pound of dark roasted beans actually contains more beans than a pound of light roasted. So you get more beans for your dollar, and hence more caffeine.

        • Rob

          You buy per weight, not size.

  • https://driftaway.coffee Driftaway Coffee

    Hi Rob – that’s a great comment! We were thinking about this from a taste perspective. Dark roast = more bitter taste = more caffeine = not true! Thanks!

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