Most people assume that espresso makes you “bounce off the walls” and regular coffee is just a good boost—and they’re wrong. When it comes to caffeine in espresso and black coffee, there’s a lot of misinformation out there.
Let’s set the record straight with real caffeine stats so you can better regulate your coffee intake and keep from getting the jitters or late-night insomnia.
- How much caffeine is in a normal espresso shot
- Why black coffee often has more caffeine than espresso
- How much caffeine is unhealthy (and dangerous)
It’s myth-busting time.
Caffeine In Espresso
Espresso is a very concentrated form of coffee with a serving size of ~1.5 ounces (a double shot). The standard double shot of espresso has roughly 60-100mg of caffeine, according to the National Coffee Association (NCA).
There are a few reasons why the difference from shot to shot can be so large.
- Every coffee bean is different. Beans from different countries—or even different sides of the mountain—can grow with varying levels of natural caffeine. (Hint: dark roast and light roast beans have virtually the same caffeine levels.)
- Espresso recipes are different from cafe to cafe. One shop may use 22g of coffee beans to pull a shot, while another may only use 16. This will naturally lead to a difference in caffeine levels.
To simplify, let’s just say a double shot of espresso has ~80mg of caffeine, or ~40mg per ounce of liquid.
Caffeine In Black Coffee
Regular black coffee is not nearly as concentrated as espresso, which means each ounce is less “full” of stuff like acids, aromas, and even caffeine. The NCA says that a typical 8oz cup of black coffee can have anywhere from 65mg to 120mg, though some other estimates put that number as high as 160mg.
Once again, not every brewing method is the same. Some people like a strong cup of coffee, while others like a more mellow cup. No two beans have the exact same caffeine levels naturally.
Some beans, like from the Robusta species, have much higher caffeine levels naturally. Ever heard of Death Wish Coffee? Just one cup of their coffee has about 600mg of caffeine—and they advertise it like it’s a good thing (actually, it’s dangerous… you’ll see).
To simplify, we’ll just say regular black coffee has ~100mg of caffeine per 8oz cup, or 12.5mg per ounce of liquid.
So Which Has More Caffeine: Espresso vs Coffee?
When you put the numbers side-by-side, it’s pretty clear which kind of coffee has the most caffeine on average (though not 100% of the time):
- Black Coffee: ~100mg per serving
- Espresso: ~80mg per serving
But wait—there’s more!
Do you really just drink 8 ounces of black coffee each morning?
That’s, like, just one mug. Most people drink more… between 12 and 16 ounces. And that means they’re actually drinking a lot of caffeine!
So if you’re trying to decide between a 12oz coffee and a regular latte (with a standard double shot), which has the least caffeine? The latte… by a long shot.
- 12oz of Black Coffee: ~150mg
- Latte: ~80mg
What about the difference between a quad-shot venti latte (Starbucks style) and a venti (20oz) coffee?
- Quad-Shot Venti Latte: ~160mg
- Venti Black Coffee: ~250mg
Case in point: you’re almost always having more caffeine when you drink black coffee.
Where Did This Misconception Come From?
This idea of “espresso is for caffeine emergencies only” is… honestly… understandable.
Think about it.
40mg per ounce of caffeine vs 12.5mg per ounce.
When you see that, it’s easy to think, “Oh wow! Espresso has way more caffeine!” And it doesn’t help when TV shows and movies show characters getting the jitters after a shot or two.
But this forgets about something huge: serving size.
Espresso shots only come in 1.5-2oz servings, but black coffee is usually consumed via 8-16oz servings. So, yes, espresso is far stronger than black coffee by ounce… but people don’t drink very much of it.
But Here’s What People Actually Get Right
Despite a lot of wrong, people do get one thing right…
Espresso can hit you a lot faster than black coffee.
It may take you 30 minutes to drink a cup of coffee. But a shot of espresso? Maybe 3 minutes… max! And that means instead of getting ~100mg of caffeine over half an hour, you get ~80mg in just a couple of minutes—so you feel it a lot faster.
But as you add milk, of course, that slows down.
A 6oz cappuccino may take 15 minutes to drink, a 12oz latte 30 minutes.
So people are right that espresso, when drank really fast, can overload your body with caffeine and give you jitters—especially if you have an empty stomach.
How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?
The FDA says that most adults need to cut the caffeine at 400mg per day max, but that “too much” is actually different from person to person.
That equals about 4 cups of coffee or 5 double shots of espresso—and that’s already pushing the limits. Just remember that these are averages, and that your specific coffee beans could actually have much higher caffeine levels.
The key is to listen to your body. It’ll tell you when you’ve drank more than you need to.
And don’t ignore it—there are some negative health consequences if you keep drinking beyond what your body can handle.
Conclusion: Regular Coffee Probably Has More Caffeine
It’s not always true, but it’s true most of the time.
Because, you know… science!
But we gotta say, if you’re drinking coffee primarily for the caffeine, you’re probs missing out.
There’s coffee with notes of strawberries, rich chocolate, spices, flowers, and beyond—and most people have no idea how diverse and amazing coffee can taste.
Don’t stay in the dark.