The Chemistry of Your Cup

A Breakdown of Your Cup of Joe and How it Affects You

Ever wondered what’s inside your cup of joe? Here’s a breakdown.


Did you know black coffee is about 98.75% water? You can even count it toward your daily fluid intake. And with no carbs and no sugar, it far surpasses energy drinks, soda, juice, or sweet tea as the best option for an extra boost. The average energy drink has around 30 grams of added sugar – so even if you do add a teaspoon of sugar, coffee is still the better option.

Doesn’t coffee dehydrate you?

It’s easy to think so because it acts as a short-term diuretic (i.e., it causes the need to urinate), but coffee only dehydrates you if you overdo it. Studies have shown you can drink up to five cups of coffee without becoming dehydrated.

graphic illustration of woman with coffee in hand


This compound is the most widely used mood-altering drug in the world. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system by blocking the chemical adenosine in the brain. Since adenosine makes you sleepy, the end result is a short-term lift in your mood, reaction time, and overall vigilance. Caffeine can also increase your metabolic rate by up to 11%.

How much is too much:

According to the Mayo Clinic, up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is safe for most adults. That equates to roughly four cups of coffee. Any more can cause restlessness, upset stomach, irritability, nervousness, muscle tremors, and insomnia.

How to know if you’re addicted:

If missing your morning cup leaves you feeling like a wreck, you may be too dependent. Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms are headaches, sleepiness, lethargy, irritability, brain fog, depression, and difficulty concentrating. 

How to quit:

To make it easier on yourself, don’t go cold turkey. Begin phasing out caffeine in stages, cutting out one cup of coffee per day. Since your brain has changed its chemical makeup, fitting the caffeine neatly into cell receptors where adenosine should be, a full reset can take up to 12 days.

Natural Oils

Coffee contains the fat-soluble compounds cafestol and kahweol, also called diterpenes. In high consumption, diterpenes can raise your levels of total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. The good news is that these compounds can be retained in a paper filter.

How to avoid:

If you have high cholesterol, stick with filtered coffee, as opposed to drinking espresso or using a French press or percolator. Unfiltered coffee, such as coffee made in a French press, has been found to increase LDL cholesterol levels by 10% or more.


An 8-ounce cup of coffee contains 11% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin B2 and 6% of the RDA of vitamin B5. It also has minimal amounts of manganese, potassium, and magnesium.


As an important source of disease-fighting antioxidants, coffee can help reduce inflammation in the body. Overall, the antioxidants in coffee can be linked to better control of asthma symptoms, diabetes protection, a lower risk of gastrointestinal disease, improved heart health, and protection against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Among the many antioxidants in coffee are chlorogenic acids (CGAs), which give coffee its distinct bitter flavor.

How they affect taste:

When roasted, the CGAs in the coffee bean decompose into caffeic and quinic acid, retaining about half of the original CGAs in the amount of time it takes to achieve a medium roast. The higher the level of caffeic and quinic acid, the darker the roast and the more bitter the taste.

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