If you happen to force open your eyes at the overbearing sound of an early alarm going off that sounds like a fire bell in your head and the only thing that helps ease the stress edge at that moment is the thought of your morning brew waiting for you down in the kitchen or your neighborhood cafe, you’re not alone.
Since 1963 the International Coffee Organization (ICO) has been operating under the umbrella of the United Nations to ensure the global coffee sector (which includes 50 nations that rely on both the importing and exporting of coffee) gets their dark and light roast flavor offerings to the general public. It seems to be doing its job pretty well — the ICO reports that 1.4 billion cups of coffee are served every day. Some estimates put that number even higher, with over two billion liquid caffeine jolts consumed daily.
How many of those cups are needed to provide an early energy boost is unknown, but what is certain is this: Caffeine is classified as a stimulant drug. It’s the reason why some of us can’t seem to function without a semi-regular coffee infusion throughout the day, and if we happen to miss a dose our mood takes a nosedive and the co-worker who keeps bugging you for the office WiFi password better hope they don’t stop by your desk for it today lest they get the dressing-down of a lifetime.
The caffeine in coffee helps with the brain’s ability to get messages out to the body. Studies have shown that caffeine is great for that person who really needs to get focused on a project and jump into it at a full-steam-ahead pace. There is a tradeoff though, and that is the loss of some creative juices that might add some more pizzaz to the tasks at hand. It’s not something that seems to worry employers, just as long as the job gets done. And these studies also make the case for the benefits of coffee being served during meetings to help with employee participation and a general upswing of the energy level in the room, regardless of whether it’s a windowless conference room or not.
For Americans, 75 percent of their caffeine intake comes from coffee. That means 400 cups down the hatch daily and 146 billion cups every year. Those numbers sound both frightening and impressive at the same time, but that still only gets them ranked at #22 on the list of the top coffee-consuming countries in the world. Finland takes top honors, followed by Norway, Iceland, Denmark and the Netherlands. America’s neighbors to the north in Canada landed in the #10 position, but that’s to be expected when you have one Tim Hortons, a go-to coffee chain for many Canadians, for every 9,000 of the country’s citizens. Not to be outdone, America can at least brag it has a Starbucks in the CIA headquarters to go along with locations on three of its Navy’s aircraft carriers.
No matter when you decide to enjoy your coffee, it’s likely that for every eight ounces of it you drink you’ll be adding anywhere from 95 to 200 milligrams of caffeine to your system. The consensus seems to be that 400 milligrams of caffeine is the limit for most people, which means unless you’re drinking the high-grade stuff you’re probably safe with four cups a day. And with every sip of coffee the caffeine you ingest is getting busy mixing it up with your body’s molecules.
Once we’ve had a taste of it, caffeine can become a substance we crave due to its skill at mimicking a neurotransmitter called adenosine. When it’s doing its job, adenosine slows down nerve impulses in your brain which results in that sleepy feeling we all encounter from time to time throughout the day. It’s also what our central nervous systems use to help us relax. When caffeine molecules kick in the door, they bind to the adenosine receptors and toss that drowsy feeling off the nearest balcony. Your brain perks up as more dopamine is released, and that dopamine is what is responsible in part for giving people a little boost of energy.
All of this takes place after caffeine molecules enter our body, heading for the liver in the process so they can be metabolized. From there, one single caffeine molecule gets split into three separate molecules that each play a specific role in the kick we get from a drink of coffee.
We have theobromine, which increases oxygen levels and allows more nutrients to get to the brain. Paraxanthine helps with the efficiency of fats being broken down in our body, while theophylline is the reason behind our ability to focus better when coffee is around since it gets our body’s ticker working faster and elevates our heart rate in the process.
More energy and less chance of falling asleep at inopportune times? Who wouldn’t want in on that action?
There’s a dark side to all of this, and unfortunately, our daily caffeine consumption habits make the idea of a full-stop on coffee hard to swallow. That dopamine we mentioned earlier? Its effects are the reason why people can find themselves developing a major dependency on coffee and caffeine. That bad memory of the morning alarm that seems to fade quickly once you’ve had that first cup of coffee is your body reacting to the counter-effects of caffeine withdrawal. You might wake up feeling tired with a nasty headache that all seem to disappear when coffee is served, but those feelings are your body’s way of reminding you it’s time for another dose. Researchers have found that coffee doesn’t make you feel better — it’s the consumption of the caffeine in it that help stave off these symptoms you’re positively responding to.
- “Caffeine – Alcohol And Drug Foundation”. 2019. adf.org.au. Accessed January 2 2020.
- “Coffee Facts“. Howstuffworks. Accessed January 2 2020.
- “Giving Up Caffeine? Here’s What To Expect”. Hansen, Fawne. 2017. Adrenal Fatigue Solution. Accessed January 2 2020.
- “The Economic Impact Of The Coffee Industry “. ncausa.org. Accessed January 2 2020.
- “Documented Deaths By Caffeine”. 2020. caffeineinformer.com. Accessed January 2 2020.
- “Scientists keep finding new ways energy drinks are terrible for you“. Sara Chodosh, 2020. popsci.com. Accessed January 2 2020.
- “Top Coffee Producing Countries”. Worldatlas. Accessed January 2 2020.