All about caffeine

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The content in this Topic Overview was last edited in May 2015. Papers in the Latest Research section and further resources are added regularly.

Moderate caffeine consumption, of around 400 mg caffeine or the equivalent of up to 5 cups of coffee per day, can be enjoyed as part of a healthy balanced diet and an active lifestyle1. Moderate caffeine consumption is associated with a range of desirable physiological effects, including mental and physical performance.

Since coffee naturally contains caffeine, there is regularly some confusion, even in the research literature, between the effects of caffeine and those of coffee on health.

Coffee and Caffeine

Coffee has a long history of consumption. Coffee was discovered around 1,000 years ago in the region now known as Ethiopia. The first coffee shipment to Europe was around 1615.  Rapid growth of popular coffee houses spread from the mid-17th century as they became favourite meeting places.

The coffee tree is a tropical evergreen shrub (genus Coffea), and two beans are generally found in each ripe fruit, which resembles a red cherry. Some 50 or so countries in Central and Southern America, Africa and Asia grow coffee on a commercial basis. The two most common species grown are varieties of Coffea canephora (robusta) and Coffea arabica (arabica).

Coffee is enjoyed around the world for its taste and aroma but also for its mild stimulant effects on body and mind. Caffeine has been well identified as being the active compound in coffee responsible for this effect.

Chemistry of Caffeine

Caffeine belongs to the family of heterocyclic compounds known as purines. It has the systematic name 3,7-dihydro-1,3,7-trimethyl-1H-purine-2,6-dione; it is also known as 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine, and 1,3,7-trimethyl-2,6-dioxopurine.

Caffeine can be classified as an alkaloid, a term used for substances produced as end products of nitrogen metabolism in some plants. The chemical formula is C 10 2. Caffeine has a molar mass of 194.19 grams (6.85 ounces). It is soluble in water and in many organic solvents, and it appears in pure form as white crystals. Caffeine can be prepared by extraction from natural sources or by synthesis from uric acid.

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