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Caffeine Drinks: How Do They Work?

Published on:

July 15, 2020

The alarm goes off in the morning. Maybe you don't remember what day it is, but one thing is for sure — you need caffeine. For most of us, this requires a drink. The options for your morning pick-me-up are endless — so what are you supposed to choose on your way out the door?

Well, it helps to know how caffeine works, so here's a quick lesson in basic brain chemistry. It starts with the energy molecule, ATP. As it's broken down, the chemical adenosine is created in the brain, where it binds to a series of receptors. The byproduct of this binding process manifests as a slowdown of nerve cell activity — essentially, what you experience as drowsiness.

However, because caffeine is structured so similarly to adenosine it can take its place in these receptors. When caffeine is bound to the receptors instead of adenosine, it causes nerve activity to speed up. This increase in neuron firing then triggers the release of adrenaline, which stimulates the central nervous system to make you feel more alert.

Dopamine, the chemical that makes you feel happy and excited is also produced. This is also why caffeine is often referred to as a drug. That "good" feeling can be addictive and, like any drug, heavy or frequent consumers of caffeine can build up a tolerance to it, meaning you might need more of it to function. Likewise, stopping consumption of caffeine cold turkey can also cause a few days of unpleasant withdrawl.

Of course for most of us, caffeine is a regular part of our diets. Consumers crave the energy burst that kickstarts their day, helps them concentrate at work, allows them to remain alert during a long commute, or stay awake after a sleepless night. Sometimes it's the boost that an athlete needs to push through a workout. Whatever the reason, there is no denying our universal love affair with caffeine, as over 100,000 metric tons of it are consumed globally each year. It's also worth mentioning that most of the caffeine we consume comes from drinks — specifically coffee, tea, and energy drinks.

three coffees


For centuries, coffee has been a beverage staple around the world. Walk into any home or office, and you'll most likely find a coffee maker. Drive around any neighborhood and you'll see at least one coffee shop. There's no question about it. People love coffee.

From creamy lattes and rich espressos, to the sweet and smooth cold brew, coffee is a versatile beverage that can be prepared in a variety of ways. With a range of flavors and styles, coffee is well-suited to a range of caffeine lovers' tastes. It was the cloud-like dalgona coffee that became a national sensation when consumers, stuck at home due to social distancing guidelines, sought to make up for the temporary loss of their routine visits to the cafe.

The biggest perk of sipping on a fresh cup of Joe is that the effects of caffeine are felt almost immediately. Once ingested, your body absorbs 99% of the caffeine found in coffee within 45 minutes, with peak blood concentrations appearing as soon as 15 minutes after consumption.

Of course, depending on the preparation method used, caffeine content can vary wildly between different styles of coffee. For example, the slower process involved in making a cold brew extracts more caffeine than a traditional coffee. Caffeine levels can also vary wildly among to Ready-to-Drink (RTD) coffee brands, which can have as little as 50mg of caffeine, or as much as 400mg. Meanwhile, one cup of regularly brewed coffee contains about 95mg of caffeine. For reference, the daily recommended dose of caffeine is 400mg.

It helps that coffee is, to some extent, good for you. Studies have shown that black coffee, when consumed in moderation, can help to reduce risk of cancer and type 2 diabetes, improve heart and mental health, and even increase life expectancy. Coffee also contains substantial levels of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant. Antioxidants help rid your body of a natural waste called free radicals which cause inflammation and various other problems. So in a way, when you consume coffee, you're giving your system a daily cleanse.

What better way is there to start the day?



This next caffeine drink doesn't need an introduction, as it has also been enjoyed since ancient times — tea.

Like coffee, tea is a diverse beverage that can be served hot or cold in different flavors and styles. Depending on the type, tea can range from decaffeinated to containing as much as 90mg or more per 8oz. It's also worth noting that the caffeine in tea takes longer to process than it does in coffee. That's because of the way caffeine interacts with another compound found in tea, the amino acid L-theanine.

Studies have found that the L-theanine in tea may encourage relaxation by combating the anxiety, jitters, and overstimulation that too much caffeine can sometimes cause. On its own, L-theanine is thought to improve attention and reaction times; but when paired with caffeine, it may also enhance number skills and cognitive performance. Essentially, the lower caffeine levels and L-theanine compound allow consumers to get the best of both worlds, without some of the uncomfortable side effects.

As a bonus, different types of tea have added health benefits. For example, green tea is touted to be one of the healthiest beverages on the planet: it improves brain function, promotes fat loss, protects against cancer, and can lower risk of heart disease. Meanwhile, black tea may help lower bad cholesterol, improve gut health, reduce blood pressure, and lower blood sugar levels. Both teas are also perfect breakfast or mid-day drink option for caffeine lovers.

red bull

Energy Drinks

Energy drinks have gained prominence in recent years for consumers looking for a caffeine fix to take on the go. It also helps that energy drinks come in a variety of strengths and flavors. Most 250ml-sized cans will contain 80mg of caffeine, about as much found in a cup of coffee or twice as much as in the typical caffeinated soft drink. However, "extra-strength" products and energy shooters do exist. These can contain as much as 200mg of caffeine, equivalent to half of the recommended daily limit of 400mg.

The higher caffeine doses found in energy drinks can be credited for most of the cognitive performance benefits marketed by these brands, including increased attention and reaction speed. Of course, there are several other ingredients commonly added to energy drink products, and each of these boast their own alleged functional benefits.

Take a look at your can. Do you see any of these ingredients?

  • Ephedrine is a stimulant that works on the central nervous system. It is also a common ingredient in low blood pressure medications, weight-loss products, and decongestants.
  • Green tea extract and green coffee extract are two similar antioxidant stimulants thought to act as "fat burners" on the body. That's why they've become popular additives for energy drinks marketing weight-loss and other fitness benefits.
  • Taurine is a natural amino acid produced by the body that helps regulate heartbeat and muscle contractions. Many health experts aren't sure what effect it has as a drink additive, but some studies suggest that it may contribute to better athletic performance.
  • Ginseng is a root believed to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties thought to reduce stress and boost energy levels.
  • B-vitamins - or B-complex vitamins - convert sugar to create energy, directly impacting brain function, cell metabolism, and muscle tone.
  • Guarana seed is a natural stimulant that comes from a small shrub native to Venezuela and Brazil. It is commonly used as an additive to enhance the effects of caffeine in energy drinks and other functional beverages.
  • Carnitine is an amino acid that plays a role in fatty acid metabolism, which is critical for energy production. It allows long-chain fatty acids to be transported into the mitochondria so they can be oxidized to create energy.
  • Creatine is an organic acid that helps supply energy for muscle contractions. It helps our bodies process adenosine triphosphate, known as "the energy currency of the cell" found primarily in muscle and brain tissue.
  • Inositol is a member of the B vitamin family used to relay messages within internal cells. Simply put, it helps balance certain chemicals in the body and promote a general feeling of wellbeing.
  • Ginkgo biloba, made from the seeds of the ginkgo biloba tree, is believed to enhance memory, increase blood circulation in the brain, and improve other cognitive functions.

In addition to those mentioned above, energy drinks may also be carbonated and contain sugar or other sweeteners, as well as herbal extracts, vitamins, minerals, and other amino acids.

Knowing what ingredients are found in the food and beverages you consume and how these ingredients may affect your body is an important step towards becoming a more informed consumer. Caffeine drinks, like all beverages, are meant to be enjoyed. And thanks to their functional design, caffeine drinks can enhance your life in a variety of ways, as long as you enjoy them responsibly.

Do you have an idea for the next tasty caffeine drink? Flavorman can help you make it a reality! Get started by filling out this form or giving us a call at (502) 273-5214.

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