Let’s dive into the fascinating world of caffeine from a chemical perspective! ☕🧪

Caffeine, chemically known as C8H1ON4O2, belongs to the methylxanthine alkaloid family. Alkaloids are intriguing compounds in nature, characterised by at least one nitrogen molecule. When isolated, caffeine appears as a white powder, but don’t be fooled by its unassuming appearance – it packs an extremely bitter punch in taste.


Now, when it comes to coffee beans, the caffeine content isn’t a one-size-fits-all affair. Different species and varieties of coffee beans have varying caffeine levels. For instance, robusta beans, scientifically known as Coffea canephora, boast nearly double the caffeine percentage compared to their arabica counterparts.


But let’s take a detour to a wild coffee species – Coffea laurina. This unique variety barely contains any caffeine, making it an exception in the coffee world.


Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge, the godfather of caffeine

Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge, the godfather of caffeine

Now, let’s rewind history a bit. While humans have been sipping on caffeinated drinks for centuries, it wasn’t until 1819 that a young chemist named Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge, in Germany, isolated and named caffeine. All thanks to a gift of Arabica beans from the great poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who asked Runge to analyze them. This discovery eventually led to caffeine being found in various other plants.


Surprisingly, caffeine isn’t exclusive to coffee. It’s found in over 60 plants, including tea, cacao, kola nuts, guarana, and even in the nectar of numerous citrus flowers. In most cases, plants produce caffeine as a natural pesticide to fend off pesky insects. However, in flowers, it’s believed to act as a memory enhancer, enticing pollinators to return for more.


Now, let’s shift our focus to what caffeine does inside our bodies. As a natural stimulant, it works its magic by initially blocking the activation of adenosine, a compound responsible for relaxation and drowsiness. This effect typically peaks at around 20 minutes after consumption but can last up to 6 hours. Caffeine also kicks up the production of dopamine and noradrenaline, neuromodulators that govern vigilance, action, reward, learning, and memory processes. This boost is what gives us that energetic, stimulated feeling after a cup of joe.

However, a word of caution: if you’re prone to anxiety, heart arrhythmias, or have trouble sleeping, it’s wise to keep your caffeine intake (in any form) on the lower side. Always remember to listen to your body!

Stay tuned, and may the spirit of coffee be with you,
Marc Tormo.