When considering daily indulgences, few experiences rival the comforting warmth of a cup of coffee, the decadent delight of chocolate, or the soothing allure of tea.
As a bean to bar chocolate company, we’re no strangers to this delicious routine. We are also well aware of a very common question from our customers: does chocolate contain caffeine?
Spoiler alert: the short answer is ‘no’. But, there’s a lot more to the story. What may surprise you, though, is that the difference between the stimulants in coffee, chocolate, and matcha tea goes down to a molecular level.
So what’s the true difference? Keep reading to find out!
Caffeine in Coffee
Who hasn’t tried a warm cup of coffee in their lifetime? Worldwide, around 30 to 40% of the population consumes coffee every day – with that number jumping above 65% when looking at Canadian and American coffee drinkers.
It’s the world’s most commonly consumed stimulant, but what does coffee actually do to the human body? We know by looking at the research that caffeine does much more than just keep you awake.
Due to its intense stimulating effects, caffeine has been linked to enhanced alertness, improved athletic performance, elevated mood, and increased metabolism. Coffee has also been named as a source of vitamin B2 and magnesium, and decreases the risk of several chronic diseases like heart disease, Alzeimer’s disease, or oral cancer.
However, caffeine has also been associated with anxiety, restlessness, and difficulty sleeping. Some studies also suggest that regular caffeine consumption, even in moderate amounts, can cause chronic headaches, and migraines.
This is due to the effects of withdrawal – as caffeine is known to be addictive, rising tolerance levels with regular consumption can cause risk of dependency and withdrawal symptoms like irritability and drowsiness.
Theobromine in Chocolate
Theobromine (previously known as xantheose) is an alkaloid found in many different foods, like tea and coffee, but is found in the highest amounts in cacao solids and chocolate. This compound belongs to the everyday chemistry of the plant world, and gets its name from the cacao tree: Theobroma. It was discovered in 1841 by Russian chemist Aleksandr Woskresensky while studying the cacao bean.
On its own, theobromine is a bitter-tasting alkaloid, but when developed during the natural growth cycle of cacao is a vital facet of the complex flavour, aroma, and health benefits of cacao products and chocolate.
Contrary to popular belief, theobromine is not the same as caffeine, though it is similar. This compound has a very close chemical makeup to caffeine, except that it contains one less ‘methyl group’. This means that the chemical structure of both caffeine and theobromine are nearly identical, except that caffeine contains one added molecule in its structure that is not present in theobromine. This similarity allows theobromine to provide the same stimulating effects to those who consume it.
However, while theobromine and caffeine are in the same class of stimulants, theobromine is quite different in the effects that it gives to the human body.
In contrast to coffee, theobromine is gentle, mild, has a slow onset, and gives effects that are longer lasting and more relaxed. In addition, because theobromine is not a central nervous system stimulant, many consumers don’t feel the same ‘on edge’ or jittery experience that they otherwise would with caffeine. For this same reason, theobromine is also non-addictive.
In addition to these benefits, theobromine helps to improve circulation by dilating the blood vessels to increase blood flow, and also interacts with enzymes in our heart and lungs to promote vasodilation (which is proven to help with symptoms of asthma).
It’s important to remember that because theobromine is present in the cacao solids themselves, different chocolate products will contain differing levels of theobromine. As the percentage of cacao solids increase in a chocolate bar, the amount of theobromine (often, but not always) increases as well.
So, a 70% Arriba Nacional dark chocolate bar will often contain a higher concentration of theobromine compared to a 50% Awajún oat milk chocolate bar, while a Blonde or white chocolate bar will contain almost none. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it works well as a general guide. So, if you don’t want to stay up past your bedtime, stick to our Blonde chocolate for your evening snack.
Theobromine in Cacao Tea
Similar to chocolate, cacao tea (also known as chocolate tea and cocoa tea) also offers a gentle boost. Cacao tea was first discovered by the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations thousands of years ago, and is made from the cacao bean shells.
In our chocolate studio, we produce our cacao tea as a natural by-product of making bean to bar chocolate. As we process the cacao beans to get them ready for making chocolate we remove their shells through a step called winnowing, where air is blown through a series of tubes to separate the shells from the remaining cacao nibs. Then we reroast the cacao shells on their own to bring out the aromas of the cacao.
Cacao tea has a natural sweetness, light chocolate taste, and delicate stimulating effect from its natural theobromine content. As cacao tea is made directly from the cacao bean shell, theobromine contained in the tea can be steeped into the hot water and will give the same mellow effects one would expect from a piece of chocolate.
Similar to chocolate, cacao tea also offers a host of incredible mood-boosting properties, is a source of various vitamins and minerals, and is high in antioxidants
Caffeine in Matcha
Despite actually containing caffeine, the stimulating effects of matcha are unique in how they are released and absorbed in the body after consumption, which some find preferable to the effects of drinking coffee.
Matcha contains an amino acid called L-Theanine, which slows down the absorption of caffeine in the body and suppresses the stimulants effect. This special amino acid – which isn’t present in a regular cup of joe – allows for a calm alertness that lasts throughout the day without the crash that you dread from typical caffeine consumption.
Opposite to the normal effects of caffeine, l-theanine also reduces anxiety, stress, and insomnia as it creates a sustained energy boost.
Could these effects be because of a decreased amount of caffeine in matcha? Well, the short answer is no.
Studies have actually found that, depending on how it’s prepared, a cup of matcha tea could actually contain more caffeine than a drip coffee of the same size. Most high-quality matcha contains around 34-milligrams of caffeine per gram of matcha powder, with a typical serving being about 2 grams of powder to 100 millilitres of water.
In comparison to other teas, matcha offers the fastest and most complete absorption of the included caffeine. This is because traditional matcha is whole leaf tea ground down into a powder, while alternate green teas extracted from loose leaf teas must be steeped several times to extract all of the caffeine.
The benefits of matcha are more than just the caffeine absorption, though. Since you consume the matcha tea leaf powder with each sip, you get twice the amount of antioxidants then you would from drinking regular green tea. In addition, because matcha tea leaves are cultivated under cover to avoid direct contact to sunlight, the formation of catechin is also suppressed, which otherwise gives green tea a bitter taste.
The world of stimulating consumables is rich and diverse, offering a wide variety of coffees, teas, chocolates, and more! While coffee is the reigning champion in terms of worldwide caffeine consumption, we now know that it also has a wide array of effects on the human body, including potential drawbacks like anxiety and dependency.
On the other hand, many turn to chocolate for a gentle boost, and for good reason. From the smooth energy chocolate provides, to the wide variety of health benefits, Theobromine is quite an enticing choice for those looking for a milder stimulant.
Our customers look to Living Lotus chocolate for pure, kind, and beautiful bean to bar chocolate made with clean and ethical ingredients. Our products are always vegan, gluten-free, and refined sugar-free, and you can feel confident in the quality of our chocolate while you also get that pep in your step.!
Overall, whether you choose coffee, theobromine-rich chocolate, soothing cacao tea, or invigorating matcha, the key is to enjoy your treat of choice and savour the unique benefits that each has to offer.