How Much Caffeine is in Chocolate?

People often ask us, “Does chocolate have caffeine?” and if so, “How much caffeine is in chocolate?” For the record, chocolate contains small amounts of caffeine. Chocolate also contains another closely related substance called theobromine in much larger levels, and the presence of these two closely related substances has been the cause of much confusion among chocolate lovers.

caffeine is found in chocolate

Caffeine Molecule

Caffeine is a xanthine alkaloid substance that is found in the leaves, fruits and nuts of a variety of different plants, including coffee, guarana, tea, yerba mate, and approximately 60 other plants. Amazingly, caffeine is found in a wide variety of types of plants and on completely different sides of the world. One of these plants is the cocoa tree, where the caffeine is found in the seeds (called cocoa beans). Cocoa beans are similar in size and shape to almonds, and they grow inside cocoa pods. The hard cocoa pod is about the size of a small Nerf football. It grows off the branches and trunk of the cocoa tree and contains between thirty to forty beans.

Caffeine Protects the Cocoa Bean

The cocoa tree depends on wild animals to spread and plant its valuable seeds. The cocoa pod that surrounds the cocoa beans is tough and is not easily broken in the wild. (When cocoa farmers break them open, they often use machetes or a heavy stick or rock with a sharp edge.) Nature of course has provided an answer — the cocoa tree surrounds each cocoa bean with a delicious, sweet, white pulp that tastes very much like light lemonade. Not only do cocoa farmers love to eat the pulp on a hot day underneath the tropical sun, the wildlife do as well. Rats, monkeys and other animals break, chew, and find all variety of ways to open the cocoa pods to eat this delicious treat.

caffeine protects the cocoa beans from animals.

Cocoa pod after wildlife have removed the cocoa beans.

Dependence on local wildlife to open the tough cocoa pods causes its own set of problems — how to keep the animals from eating the cocoa beans. There is an easy to answer to this as well. First, the cocoa beans are covered with a tough, fibrous husk. Then the cocoa tree puts all sorts of things into the cocoa bean itself that deter animals from eating them. One of the primary substances is tannins, which make the cocoa beans when eaten fresh very astringent and not very tasty. Because of this, the wildlife will eat the sweet, delicious pulp on the outside of the cocoa beans and then spit the astringent cocoa beans themselves onto the jungle floor, where they just might find the right conditions to grow.

The tannins are not the only weapons in the cocoa tree’s arsenal. The cocoa trees also load up the cocoa beans with theobromine as well as caffeine. While we may consider both of these mild stimulants, to insects and wildlife, these can be toxic. (Theobromine is what is responsible for making chocolate toxic when ingested by dogs.) So, the answer to the question: How much caffeine is in chocolate?” is absolutely yes. The tree depends on it.

Caffeine, it is all in the Bean. Caffeine is also in your chocolate.

The cocoa bean contains between 0.1% and 0.7% caffeine, 0.2% being the most common amount found. Caffeine is also present in lesser amounts in the husk that surrounds the cocoa beans, usually from .05% to 0.3%. By way of comparison, dry tealeaves are approximately 3% caffeine, and dry coffee beans are about 1.2% caffeine (Robusta coffee has 40 to 50% more caffeine than regular coffee).

During chocolate making, the fibrous husk that surrounds each bean is removed through a process of breaking the bean into pieces, separating the husk from the bean, and then winnowing away the lighter husk from the heavier nibs by use of vacuums or high-pressure fans. The pieces of bean created during winnowing are called cocoa nibs. (The nibs are often ground up before being used to make chocolate, the result being called cocoa mass or cocoa liquor.) It is the nibs that contain the caffeine found in chocolate. The more nibs (or cocoa mass/cocoa liquor) used to make a piece of chocolate, the more caffeine it will contain.

Cocoa nibs contain approximately 54% fat, much as peanuts contain peanut oil. The fat is called cocoa butter, and it contains no caffeine. The plant material (i.e., non-fat) part of the cocoa nibs is called cocoa solids. This is where the caffeine is found. Dark chocolate is dark because it contains a larger percentage of cocoa solids than milk or white chocolate.

How much caffeine is in chocolate: Dark Chocolate

Typical Dark Chocolate Recipe

Cocoa Beans 39%
Sugar 48%
Cocoa Butter 13%
Lecithin < 1%
Vanilla < 1%

Dark chocolate contains a greater percentage of cocoa solids than does milk chocolate or white chocolate. Because of this, dark chocolate will contain more caffeine than either of these two. Dark chocolate typically contains cocoa nibs, sugar, cocoa butter, and sometimes vanilla, salt, or lecithin. Dark chocolate is made with varying percentages of cocoa bean. Chocolate is often labeled either as semi-sweet or bittersweet, terms that are not well defined, though semi-sweet is typically sweeter than bittersweet.

Because of the confusion that often occurs because of these nebulous terms, many high-end manufacturers have begun to label their chocolate with the actual percentage that comes from the cocoa bean. (It should be pointed out that many low-end chocolate manufacturers have now begun to follow suit.) This does not clarify the confusion, since cocoa butter is typically counted as part of the percentage, and some chocolate manufacturers use more or less cocoa butter than others.

For the sake of argument (and to make our calculations simple), let’s assume that the chocolate manufacturers use 10% added cocoa butter. We can then calculate the approximate amount of caffeine in one pound of dark chocolate as follows:

 

Chocolate Percentage mg/pound mg/3.5oz (100g) mg/2oz (56g)
43% (Semi-Sweet) 353mg 77mg 44mg
50% 453mg 99mg 57mg
60% (Bittersweet) 544mg 119mg 68mg
70% 635mg 139mg 79mg
80% 725mg 159mg 91mg
90% 816mg 179mg 102mg
100% 907mg 198mg 113mg

 

It should be pointed out that almost nobody eats a whole pound of chocolate, dark or otherwise, in one sitting. There is an inverse relationship between how dark the chocolate is and how much is eaten. The darker chocolate becomes, the less people eat. This makes it difficult to correlate the percentage (how dark the chocolate is) with what people really eat.

In general, a dark chocolate bar is eaten in small pieces, not all at once. Most manufacturers of quality dark chocolate mold the chocolate with deep scores, the intent being that the chocolate be eaten in small bite-size pieces and savored. For example, our two ounce (56 gram) chocolate bars are scored into 15 pieces of equal size (.113 ounce / 3.2 grams) — the perfect size for slowly savoring one piece at a time. We expect that a chocolate bar will last far beyond a single sitting, generally several days to a week.

In the end, there is a moderate amount of caffeine in dark chocolate, not nearly as much as in coffee, and it would not be typical for someone to consume enough dark chocolate in a single sitting to equal the amount of caffeine found in a cup of coffee. The amount of caffeine actually consumed will depend on the person, the darkness of the chocolate, and the number of tasting squares the chocolate is divided into.

How much Caffeine is in Chocolate: Milk Chocolate

Typical Milk Chocolate Recipe

Cocoa Beans 16%
Whole Milk Powder 16%
Sugar 38%
Cocoa Butter 30%
Lecithin < 1%
Vanilla < 1%

Caffeine is in milk chocolate in trace amounts. However, it is not nearly as much as we have seen in dark chocolate. It is hard to quantify how much caffeine is in milk chocolate because each manufacturer has its own recipe, and the percentage of chocolate that comes from the cocoa bean varies widely from manufacturer to manufacturer. According to one study that examined the recipes used by milk chocolate manufacturers, milk chocolate was found to contain as little as 8.5% or as much as 40% of cocoa from the cocoa bean (the rest being cocoa butter, milk, sugar, and sometimes, vanilla (or vanillin), soy lecithin and salt). A typical recipe for milk chocolate uses only about 16% cocoa nibs.

If we use this as an average amount, we can calculate that one pound of milk chocolate contains 145 milligrams of caffeine. (One prominent chocolate company in the United States reports that its chocolate contains approximately 100mg of caffeine per pound of chocolate.) This is approximately the same amount of caffeine as is in one cup of coffee.

Is this a lot of caffeine? Not too many people can eat a whole pound of milk chocolate in a single sitting. If they do, then they are also eating close to a half a pound of sugar. The large amount of sugar will more than likely cause much more of a “buzz” than will the naturally occurring caffeine.

How much caffeine is in chocolate: White Chocolate

Typical White Chocolate Recipe

Cocoa Butter 27%
Sugar 48%
Milk Powder 25%
Lecithin < 1%
Vanilla < 1%

White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, milk, and sugar. Sometimes a little vanilla is added to round out the flavor. Almost all white chocolate uses deodorized cocoa butter as its main ingredient. This means that the solid portions of the cocoa bean have been removed through filtering and exposing the melted cocoa butter to hot steam. All that remains is the naturally occurring fat from the cocoa bean (cocoa butter). Since this is all that is left and there is no caffeine in milk, sugar or vanilla, for all practical purposes, caffeine is not present in white chocolate.

Conclusion

So does chocolate contain caffeine? The answer is yes. Does chocolate contain lots of caffeine? The answer is no.

Chocolate has been found to contain enough caffeine to be of concern to people with heart or other ailments. For this reason, some doctors will recommend that some people who are not in good health not eat foods that contain caffeine.

Doctors will of course recommend that people reduce or eliminate other foods from their diets if those foods are not healthful. A prime example is salt, which can cause severe problems for people with high blood pressure. If consumed in large enough quantities, salt is also capable of killing a perfectly healthy individual. And while salt can kill when consumed in large enough quantities, salt is also necessary for life.

Preliminary studies on coffee suggest that it may have some health benefits to people who suffer from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and diabetes, among others. Some of these studies indicate that part of these health benefits are due to the caffeine naturally present in coffee. Whether this holds for chocolate as well has yet to be investigated, though it would be natural for some of these affects to carry over.

So, now you know the answer to: “How much caffeine is in chocolate?” So should the caffeine that is in chocolate be a concern? It probably should be if you are not healthy. Otherwise, I doubt that the amount of caffeine in chocolate is enough to affect most people unless enormous amounts of chocolate are consumed. The fact that chocolate contains caffeine is simply one of those interesting curiosities that surround what is in a lot of our food. When food is eaten in moderation it can be enormously pleasurable, and one of the most pleasurable foods to be found anywhere is chocolate.

For comparison purposes, a chart containing the amount of caffeine in various beverages is included below.

Food / Beverage Serving Size (oz) Caffeine (mg) mg/oz
Coffee
Coffee (Brewed) 8 107.5 13.44
Coffee (Decaf Instant) 8 2.5 0.31
Coffee (Decaf Brewed) 8 5.6 0.70
Coffee (Drip) 8 145 18.13
Coffee (Espresso) 1.5 77 51.33
Coffee (Instant) 8 57 7.13
Tea
Tea (Brewed) 8 47 5.88
Tea (Green) 8 25 3.13
Tea (Instant) 8 26 3.25
Tea (Lipton Brisk) 12 9 0.75
Tea (Lipton Ice Teas) 12 9 0.75
Tea (Nestea Ice Tea) 16 34 2.13
Caffeinated Sodas
Cocoa Cola Classic 12 34.5 2.83
Cocoa Cola Diet 12 45 3.75
Pepsi 12 38 3.17
Pepsi (Diet) 12 36 3.00
Dr. Pepper 12 41 3.42
Dr Pepper (Diet) 12 41 3.42
Highly Caffeinated Sodas
Bawls 10 66.7 6.67
Jolt Cola 23.5 220 9.36
Mello Yello 12 52.5 4.38
Mountain Dew 12 55 4.58
Red Bull 8.3 80 9.64
RockStar 16 160 10.00

 

References:

Food / Beverage Caffeine Table Data from EnergyFiend.com
Industrial Chocolate: Manufacture and Use, Third Edition. S.T. Beckett Editor.
Chocolate Production and Use. L. Russell Cook
Chocolate, Cocoa, and Confectionary: Science and Technology, Third Edition. Bernard W. Minifie
Cocoa; C.J.J. Van Hall
Cocoa and Chocolate: Their History from Plantation to Consumer; A.W. Knapp

 

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