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  • Updated: 11:42am
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Cheap coffee triumphs over expensive espresso in giving caffeine fix

A cha chaan teng offers more coffee per cup than its upmarket rivals in test results that awaken drinkers to the price of a caffeine fix

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 October, 2013, 4:22am

Many rely on an espresso from an expensive coffee shop if they need a caffeine charge for the day, but they'd be better off with a humble coffee or milk tea from a cha chaan teng.

In results that surprised a dietician, tests have found that a coffee from one of the city's trademark restaurants can contain up to six times as much caffeine as a coffee-shop espresso.

And even a milk tea can contain more than three times as much, results of the tests by the Consumer Council and the Centre for Food Safety show.

While coffee-shop espressos contained an average of 97 milligrams of caffeine per cup, with a range of 62mg to 170mg, cha chaan teng and fast-food shop coffees had on average 200mg in a range of 110mg to 380mg.

Registered dietitian Priscilla Lau Li-yi, of Holistic Nutrition Consultants, said a normal person should consume only 300mg of caffeine a day.

That meant one cha chaan teng coffee could supply the full allowance.

"I am surprised that the caffeine in coffees at cha chaan teng reach 300mg a cup. What do they put in the coffee?" Lau asked.

Even milk tea, not often seen as a big source of caffeine, contained an average 170mg, with a range of 73mg to 220mg.

Lau said this was because Chinese tea was loaded with caffeine. "The Chinese like to drink strong Chinese tea. They should know the caffeine content is high," she said.

The results showed that a person would have to buy several expensive espressos to get the same caffeine hit as from one regular coffee from a cha chaan teng.

Among the 20 coffees tested, the Golden Gate restaurant in Aberdeen topped the list with 380mg a cup.

A cup at Tsui Wah's Tuen Mun branch and McDonald's Aberdeen branch contained 220mg and 140mg, respectively.

Of the 30 milk teas tested, Lok Yuen in Kowloon City came out on top with 220mg.

Of 12 espressos tested, one from Pacific Coffee's Mong Kok branch held 94mg of caffeine while Starbucks' Kwai Chung branch had 62mg.

Lau said it would help customers if all shops labelled the caffeine content of their coffee.

She said too much caffeine would not cause chronic disease, but could lead to anxiety and insomnia.

Pregnant women and children under five years old were advised not to consume any caffeine, she said.

Dr Samuel Yeung Tze-kiu, principal medical officer with the food safety centre, warned that while there was no international standard for caffeine intake, an excessive intake could trigger a rapid heartbeat, tremors and anxiety.

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This article is now closed to comments

joyalsofi
Supposedly the darker the roast the less caffeine. Espresso uses the darkest roast and therefore should have less caffeine. There is no legitimate reason for making this comparison of unlike substances except that consumers may not understand the underlying issues. Once the connection to the roasting to caffeine is factored in, the only surprise the high level in restaurant coffee which needs to be treated as the separate issue it is.
denisw
I think one needs to remember that expresso portions are only about a third to a quarter of a regular cup of coffee or even tea. Probably, per millilitre, expresso will still have a higher caffeine count than regular coffee.
mercedes2233
Some people go for the taste of the coffee, not consciously for the so-called caffeine hit.
regatta
Yes, I agree, flavour is so important...!
benbattle
No surprise; it's a false comparison. Espresso is not a high-caffeine drink compared to brewed coffee. People think it is because it has a strong taste but in fact the coffee meal spends much less time in contact with the water than in other forms of coffee so the caffeine doesn't transfer across so much.
A comparison with Pacific Coffee's coffee of the day would have been more relevant.
Might have expected "dietitians" to know this.
ohyeahar
It’s well established that espresso drinks have less caffeine than regular drip coffee. The most obvious reason is the difference in volume. Unless you ask for additional shots, a tall or short latte or cappuccino consists of just a single shot of espresso. That means an overwhelming majority of that cup is filled just milk and foam.

Without doing any research, it’s obvious to me that cha chaan teng coffee would have more caffeine than regular drip coffee. Cha chaan teng coffee is brewed for a much longer period of time and it uses much more coffee grinds per volume of water.

So I’m actually surprised that the registered dietician Priscilla Lau Li-yi expressed her own surprise and questioned what cha chaan teng put in their coffee. Priscilla, the answer is coffee. There’s nothing nefarious. It’s coffee; just more of it and brewed longer.

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