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Load of Red Bull: coffee has five times the caffeine

The thought of drinking five cans of Red Bull in one sitting probably makes your heart seize up with dread.

But how about quaffing just one single cup of coffee from high street stalwart Starbucks?

It might come as a surprise to most people, but both the above scenarios involve exactly the same amount of caffeine.

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While high-octane brands like Red Bull have been vilified for fuelling Scotland’s caffeine habit, the truth of our daily drug intake revolves around far more innocuous-sounding alternatives. Many Scots are building a caffeine dependency without even realising it.

A booming “energy drinks” industry has sprung up over the past decade, built on a bedrock of in-your-face advertising and crass consumerism. Millions of people have bought into the belief that they lead action-packed, 24/7 lifestyles that require regular injections of brain-jolting energy.

But in all the fuss surrounding this upstart industry, it seems that hard facts about caffeine have been pushed to the side. Hearts have been set a-flutter in more ways than one by drinks like Red Bull, Rockstar and Cocaine -- a highly-controversial US-import -- but many people are overlooking the abundance of caffeine from far more commonplace sources.

The largest size of brewed coffee sold by high-street chain Starbucks, for instance, contains 400mg of caffeine -- five times as much as a can of Red Bull, the drink that makers claim “gives you wings”. It is probably a triumph of Red Bull’s marketing that we think it contains more of the stimulant than it does; even the second-smallest cup of Starbucks’ brewed coffee, out of a range of four sizes, has three times as much caffeine as a typical 250ml can of the energy drink.

A naturally-occurring psychoactive stimulant, caffeine is found in a wide range of products aside from the obvious tea and coffee. An average 330ml can of sparkling soda contains around 45mg of caffeine, pushing drinks like Coca-Cola, Irn-Bru and Pepsi towards the same territory as branded energy drinks, with their standard dose of 80mg per serving.

Controversial tonic wine Buckfast is another potent source of caffeine, mixing it to messy effect with a serious hit of alcohol. Buckfast actually has more caffeine measure-for-measure than Red Bull, though it isn’t shouted about so much in the marketing material for the monk-produced tonic wine.

Consuming a whole bottle of Buckfast pumps more than 200ml of caffeine into the drinker’s system -- equivalent to eight cans of cola -- thus ensuring that he remains wide awake and lively despite the stupefying effect of the alcohol.

Pills such as ProPlus are yet another source of caffeine to have enjoyed growing popularity in recent years. A dietary supplement commonly used by students and young people looking for a legal buzz, each two-pill dose of ProPlus contains 100mg of caffeine -- slightly more than one energy drink -- and the makers, Bayer HealthCare, recommend it as “fatigue relief”.

As the nation’s caffeine culture continues to grow, the now-ubiquitous daily shot is available from an ever-wider range of sources.

Reports in the US have cited caffeine as a factor in several deaths, but of 700 patients treated at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary after ingesting too much of the drug, not one is believed to have suffered any long-term problems.



The caffeine hit per cup varies wildly, from a huge 400mg dose in a large brewed pot to 60mg from a mug of instant. A typical espresso, contrary to popular expectations, contains less than 80mg. Different brands have different potencies.


Different types of tea have very different caffeine content, but broadly speaking tea contains less than coffee. A normal cup of brewed tea has around 50mg, while green tea generally has less. White tea can have as little as 15mg per cup.

   Energy drinks

Red Bull, Relentless and Rockstar typically contain 32mg per 100ml, meaning a 250ml serving delivers an 80mg hit. Some brands have begun offering larger 500ml cans.

  Sparkling soft drinks

Most of the popular soft drinks contain at least some caffeine, though caffeine-free varieties are often available. A can of Diet Coke has about 45mg, while regular Coca-Cola has 35mg per 330ml serving. Pepsi Max is slightly higher, with 69mg of caffeine per can.


Chocolate ranks pretty low on the list of caffeine sources. A standard chocolate bar has about as much caffeine as a decaffeinated coffee -- enough to trouble particularly sensitive people, but unlikely to affect the majority.


ProPlus, sold in packets of 24 for about £2 and popular with students, is one of the most popular “anti-fatigue” products on the market and delivers 100mg of caffeine per two-pill dose. Some diet pills contain caffeine, and medical professionals will give advice with any prescription.


The “tonic wine” contains more caffeine than most energy drinks, with 37.5mg per 100ml. A 75cl bottle contains the same as eight cans of Coke -- with a strong dose of alcohol mixed in.

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