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Coffee vs Energy Drinks: Which Has More Caffeine?


When you need a pick-me-up, do you reach for a large cup of coffee or a can of energy drink? To help you make this important decision, we’re taking a close look at the ingredients and caffeine content of each drink. You’ll be able to answer the coffee vs energy drinks question once and for all!

Does a cup of coffee or an energy drink have more caffeine? Hint: it is not the one you think! Although many people assume that energy drinks pack in more caffeine, on average they have about the same amount of caffeine as coffee. The bottom line is that it depends on which energy drink you buy — some can have up to 2.5 times as much caffeine as a cup of coffee! Keep reading to learn all about the caffeine and other ingredients in coffee and energy drinks. Is coffee better than energy drinks? You will soon know the answer.

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Caffeine in Coffee vs Energy Drinks

How much caffeine is in an energy drink and how does it compare to your old favorite, coffee? There are dozens of energy drink brands on the market, and they all offer different ingredients and caffeine levels. At the low end, a shot of 5-Hour Decaf has just 6 milligrams of caffeine. At the upper end, the strongest energy drink, a shot of 5-Hour Extra Strength, has 242!

In the middle, a Red Bull energy drink has 111 milligrams, and a Monster has 120. Compare that to your average cup of black coffee, which has 95 milligrams of caffeine, and you might think these drinks were roughly equivalent. But if you measure by the ounce, coffee has slightly more caffeine — about 12 milligrams — than the average energy drink, which has 10.

Does Coffee Have More Caffeine than Energy Drinks?
On average, coffee has a little more caffeine, but if you choose a really strong energy drink, you’ll consume over twice as much caffeine.

What’s in Coffee?

nitro cold brew coffee
Image Credit: DG FotoStock, Shutterstock

Black coffee has about one calorie per eight-ounce cup. When you brew coffee, you extract caffeine, flavors, and natural oils from the beans. If you use a paper filter, the brewed cup won’t have oil in it — and may be better for your heart.

If you add lots of cream and sugar to your coffee, you’ll be adding calories, too. Check out our coffee calorie calculator to see what you’re drinking!

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What’s in an Energy Drink?

Energy drinks vary quite a bit, so if you’re concerned, you should read the nutrition label on your favorite brand. Keep in mind that energy drinks aren’t required to list their proprietary nutrition information, though — so you may need to find caffeine content elsewhere.

Here’s a list of the ingredients in four of the most popular energy drink brands. If you’re looking for a different brand, check out this list from Consumer Reports.

hand holding a can of juice monster energy
Image Credit: Jonathan Cooper, Unsplash

1. Red Bull Energy Drink

A 12-ounce can of Red Bull contains 111 milligrams of caffeine and an impressive 37 grams of sugar. That’s three tablespoons of sugar, about the same as you’ll find in a can of Coke.

What else is in a can of Red Bull? You’ll find vitamins B3, B5, B6, and B12, all of which are thought to help metabolism and mental focus. You’ll also find Taurine, an amino acid that occurs naturally in your body.

2. Monster Energy Drink

A 12-ounce can of Monster has 120 milligrams of caffeine and 27 grams of sugar. On top of that, you’ll find vitamins B2, B3, B6, and B12.

3. 5-Hour Energy Drink

5-Hour Energy comes in small two-ounce bottles — but they really pack a punch! A bottle of regular strength 5-Hour Energy has an impressive 200 milligrams of caffeine, about twice as much as a cup of coffee. And if you opt for the extra strength variety, you can expect over 242 milligrams. That’s 121 milligrams of caffeine — per ounce!

Other than caffeine, what’s in 5-Hour Energy? These shots contain vitamins like B6, B-12, and Niacin, plus amino and malic acids. It has also zero calories and zero sugar — but that’s because this drink is sweetened with Splenda artificial sugar.

4. Rockstar Energy Drink

Rockstar is another small energy shot with an impressive caffeine level. In a two-ounce shot, you’ll find 229 milligrams of caffeine. That’s 114.5 milligrams per ounce, almost double the caffeine content of a shot of espresso!

energy drink being poured into glass
Image Credit: Ash Pollard, Shutterstock

Are Energy Drinks Bad for You?

In the US, there are about 20,000 energy drink-related emergency room visits per year. About 1 in 10 of those visits result in hospitalization. A little less than half of these visits (8,000) are the result of mixing energy drinks with alcohol or other drugs. That leaves about 12,000 emergency room visits a year caused by energy drinks alone!

What makes energy drinks unhealthy? The high amount of caffeine and sugar can cause spikes in blood pressure and blood sugar, along with insomnia and irregular heartbeats. As with many beverages and foods, doctors recommend consuming energy drinks in moderation.

Are There Healthy Energy Drinks? Is Coffee Better Than Energy Drinks?

Energy drinks are typically high in caffeine and sugar, so they’re not exactly health food. May we suggest going back to the original energy drink, coffee? You’ll be amazed at the health effects of drinking coffee!

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Coffee vs Energy Drinks: The Verdict

So what is the bottom line? Depending on which energy drink you buy, you may end up with significantly more caffeine and sugar than you’ll find in a cup of coffee. On average, coffee has slightly more caffeine per ounce. But the strongest energy drinks will give you about double the caffeine in a shot of espresso.

If you’re looking for a healthy energy drink, we recommend brewing a classic cup of black coffee. What better pick-me-up is there than a fresh cup of joe?

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Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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