Around the world, two billion cups of coffee are consumed every day. But you won’t find the biggest coffee drinkers in Italy, France or the US. To everybody’s surprise, the top coffee-consuming countries turn out to be Finland, Norway and Iceland.
But what exactly is caffeine and what exactly does it do to the human body?
ALL ABOUT CAFFEINE
Plants produce caffeine as some sort of pesticide to keep herbivore insects away and prevent them from eating their leaves and flowers. Lucky us, caffeine is not as toxic on the human body. Found in 60 plant species, the most popular “caffeinated” edible ingredients are coffee beans, tea leaves and cocoa beans. This is why coffee, tea and chocolate are known as stimulating drinks and foods.
It’s not that caffeine brings new energy to the body, but it prevents the body from feeling tired and fatigued. The caffeine is stopping our body from responding to signals that tell it to slow down or de-stimulate. The increased energy and alertness come from the signals of fatigue being blocked and not being transmitted to the brain. The body is objectively fatigued, but the brain doesn’t realize it, so it keeps things run normally (on high levels of dopamine) until the effect of caffeine runs out and we crash all of a sudden.
Because the effects of caffeine can be quite addictive, many drinkers around the world are trying to quit, cut down or at least be more mindful of their coffee consumption. Trying to look for alternatives that can wake up the body and the mind with the same power, consumers now wonder: can we get the same amount of caffeine from chocolate?
AMOUNT OF CAFFEINE IN COFFEE AND CHOCOLATE
In the same way, also the amount of caffeine in chocolate is hard to define. The cacao bean variety, place of origin, and the cacao content all play a role (while the bean-to-bar process doesn’t seem to affect the caffeine content much). One thing that we can be sure is that caffeine is only found in non-dry cocoa solids, a.k.a. the brown part of chocolate. So the darker the chocolate, the higher the amount of caffeine. 1 oz (28 g) of 70-85% dark chocolate contains around 24 mg of caffeine, going all the way down to 0 for white chocolate (since cocoa butter doesn’t contain caffeine).
The strongest coffee (the espresso) has almost double the caffeine content compared to the strongest dark chocolates (85% cacao). There is no doubt that chocolate contains way less caffeine than coffee. The content of caffeine in chocolate is actually so low that it doesn’t even activate neural mechanisms.
However, there is another compound in cocoa called theobromine that has stimulating effects on the human body and mind, but in a gentler way than caffeine.
THEOBROMINE VS CAFFEINE
What energizes us after a piece of dark chocolate or a cup of hot chocolate is not the caffeine, but another stimulant called theobromine, a naturally occurring compound that finds its primary and most popular source in cacao. To be fair, theobromine is also found in select tea plants, but it has more mg per serving in brewed cacao, cacao powder and dark chocolate than it does in tea.
Theobromine belongs to the same class of stimulants of caffeine (if you look at their molecular structure, they are incredibly similar), but their effects on body and mind are different.
If caffeine is a strong nervous system stimulant, theobromine is pretty weak on the nervous system, acting more like a smooth muscle relaxant. While caffeine strongly inhibits the receptors of fatigue, theobromine just does a decent job at it, where you would need higher concentrations of theobromine to get the same effect of caffeine. More similar to the calming energy of tea, theobromine offers a consistent energy without the spike and crash of coffee. It is gentle, mild, has a slow onset, is long lasting and non-addictive whereas caffeine is intense, fast acting, short lived and can be addictive.
A CUP OF COFFEE OR A CUP OF HOT CHOCOLATE?
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