Does Cheap Coffee Have Less Caffeine in It?


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Does Cheap Coffee Have Less Caffeine in It?

The caffeine content of coffee is a widely discussed topic. Some people are exploring the caffeine content of their favorite brand to reduce their consumption, while others want the biggest “bang for their buck.” You may also be wondering if cheap coffee has less caffeine in it.  

Cheap coffee does not necessarily have less caffeine in it than a more expensive cup. The caffeine content of any cup of coffee is determined by the strength of the coffee that is brewed. A strongly brewed cheap coffee may have more caffeine in it than an expensive cup.  

In this article, I’ll discuss how brew strength affects caffeine content. I’ll also talk about coffee bean roast and how that affects brew strength, which subsequently impacts caffeine content. Finally, I’ll include some surprising factors that influence the coffee flavor and caffeine content.  

Is the Price of Coffee Correlated to Caffeine Content?

Many people erroneously believe that an expensive cup of coffee equates to higher caffeine content. Let’s break down this common myth with a very specific, real-world example.   

Arabica coffee plants contain less than half of the caffeine content of Robusta coffee plants, so many would assume that Robusta coffee is more costly than Arabica coffee.  

However, you may be surprised to know that the average price of Arabica coffee per kilogram was $5.90 in 2022. By comparison, the average price of Robusta coffee per kilogram was $2.35 in the same year.  

It is important not to assume that the beans’ flavor dictates the coffee’s price or caffeine content. Some of the correlations can be surprising and counterintuitive once you read about them.  

But reading alone isn’t enough to get a solid sense of the complexity of the flavors and how they correlate to price. Here’s a video of a coffee expert tasting several coffees, describing the flavor profiles, then guessing the price:  

While sometimes it can be straightforward, it often isn’t as simple as guessing that certain flavors equate to a more expensive cup of coffee, which certainly doesn’t necessarily equate to higher caffeine content.  

Is the Coffee Roast Correlated to Caffeine Content?  

For many, the idea of more expensive coffee having greater caffeine content relates to a stronger, darker roast cup of coffee. This assumption often comes back to the strong, bold coffee served by more expensive coffee shops.  

But it begs the question of whether a stronger roast of coffee serves up more caffeine than a light roast. Interestingly, darker roast coffee generally contains less caffeine than lighter roast coffee.  

Additionally, the roasting process doesn’t alter the bean’s caffeine content. Coffee beans that go into lighter roasts typically have higher caffeine content than those that go into dark roasts.  

Another factor is how strongly the cup of coffee is brewed. It’s more typical for someone using dark roast coffee to use less ground than brewing with light or medium roast coffee. This further dilutes the caffeine content of a dark roast cup of coffee.  

What Factors Affect Caffeine Content in Coffee Beans?

Now that we know that the price of coffee and the coffee roast don’t necessarily correlate to the caffeine content in coffee beans, what does impact the caffeine content? You might find it interesting to know that it’s more science than it is art.  


One interesting factor that impacts caffeine content in coffee is altitude. If you’ve ever been at high elevation, you know that the air is thinner, and it’s harder to get oxygen.  

The same is true for coffee plants at high elevations. Less oxygen at higher altitudes means that the coffee plant takes longer to reach maturity, allowing the beans to develop more full-bodied depth and flavor.  

Coffee beans grown at higher altitudes are often of higher quality due to increased coffee bean density and more developed flavors but contain less caffeine.  

Sunlight Exposure 

Another interesting correlation is with sunlight exposure at high altitudes. Higher altitude coffee beans grown in partial shade have denser beans and more complex flavors but contain less caffeine.  

Increased elevation in the partial shade over a longer growing season requires less water and less intervention to produce high-quality coffee beans. With the thinner air at altitude, greater bean density results in bolder, more complex flavors.  

Because these beans generally cost less and require less time and material investment to produce, they’re less costly per pound, which brings us full circle to the original question of whether cheap coffee has less caffeine.  

Coffee that is less expensive to produce often has less caffeine than coffee that is more costly to produce. 

Age of the Beans

Another reason coffee may have higher caffeine content than the taste might convey is if the coffee beans are past their prime. Unlike other foods and drinks, expired coffee beans won’t make you sick, but they don’t pack the same flavor as fresh beans.  

You can often tell your beans are stale or old because the cup of coffee lacks that signature aroma when you first pour a cup. For more details on how to determine if your coffee beans have gone stale, check out this article.  

Brewing Method

It may seem obvious, but not many people know that the method by which the coffee is brewed has a direct correlation to the amount of caffeine per cup. It’s directly tied to the amount of time that the water is in contact with the coffee grounds.  

For example, regular brewed coffee can contain half the caffeine content of cold brewed coffee.  Logically this makes sense.  

Brewed coffee is made with hot water passing through the grounds, often fed by gravity.  Conversely, cold brew coffee is made by soaking coffee grounds in water for up to 24 hours. It stands to reason that the cold brew, with longer exposure between the grounds and the water, would naturally have a higher caffeine content. 

Therefore, consider the brewing method when considering the caffeine content in your coffee.  


Coffee is as varied and nuanced as each palate that consumes the popular beverage. Knowing that cheap coffee doesn’t necessarily have less caffeine in it is a helpful starting point for choosing the source of your coffee beans, picking the right roast, and brewing the perfect cup.