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Back to Basics: Let's start at the beginning ... What is Caffeine?

If you feel your mind racing after drinking too many espresso, you are not imagining things. Did you know that caffeine uses the same biochemical mechanisms as these other drugs to stimulate brain function? But let's get back to the basics ...

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How Do You Imagine Caffeine?


Most people tend to answer that it is most likely a brown substance. I'm sorry to tell you that this assumption is wrong and shows the association that we all make between caffeine and coffee.


Some, the most attentive in chemistry class in high school, may say that they remember something related to in the term sublimation.


Almost everyone knows that caffeine is a psychoactive substance so it has a stimulating effect on the central nervous system when consumed. Known not only for being present naturally in coffee, in different teas, in the fruits of cocoa and guarana among others, but also in caffeinated soft drinks, although we do not know very well how it is, or how it works, we know perfectly their efects.


Let's get into Matter


Caffeine was first isolated from coffee beans in 1820 by chemist F. Runge at the request of German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (biography).


Under ambient conditions, pure caffeine is an odorless white crystalline powder with a bitter taste and comes in two different crystalline forms:

  • pure

  • when crystallized in the presence of water

At elevated temperatures, caffeine can change from solid to vapor directly without liquefaction as an intermediate step (this is the sublimation we mentioned earlier). The name "caffeine" does not provide any information about the chemical nature of the substance, but we know that it belongs to the group of methylxanthines and is named 1,3,7-trimethylpurine-2,6-dione. Its chemical structure shows the high nitrogen content in the molecule. Relax, we have already finished this chemical section.


The physiological effects of caffeine have long been investigated and are ongoing (we'll talk about this in the post What does caffeine do to your body?).


To keep things simple, positive and negative health effects have been declared, obviously depending on the individual condition and the amounts consumed. The United States Department of Health has classified, to everyone's delight, caffeine as a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) substance.


Recently, the European Food Safety Authority declared that "the habitual consumption of caffeine of 400 mg / day does not generate safety problems for non-pregnant adults". This amount corresponds to approximately five cups of regular drip coffee.


The caffeine content in green and roasted beans is approximately the same: average values are 1.1% by weight for Arabica (this is the Café Porte variety) and 2.2% by weight for Robusta beans. It is often believed that the caffeine content is reduced in roasted coffee due to sublimation, however, as the weight of the bean decreases, the total concentration in it remains approximately unchanged. The caffeine content in coffee drinks depends on the composition of the mixture, the water / coffee ratio and the extraction yields. Typical values (Arabica) are 80 / 120mg per cup of drip coffee (150ml) and 50 / 100mg for espressos.


And remember, enjoy your Specialty Coffee in moderation.



 

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