Sometimes, I’m dead wrong, and I find it exciting because I usually learn something new. This was the case with my understanding of cacao and caffeine.
I was chatting with a chocolate maker friend of mine, Tony, and he said “Jonas, I love your brand but you have to tell people that there is caffeine in cacao!”
My response: “I am extraordinarily sensitive to caffeine, meaning I get the jitters from a tiny amount of caffeine, so I am sure that my body would tell me if there is caffeine in cacao. And I drink it everyday. Cacao’s primary stimulant is theobromine. There’s no way that cacao has any substantial amount of caffeine.”
Tony was unfazed and replied: “Get a lab test done - I can show you my own numbers - you’ll be surprised.”
So I agreed to run a lab test for caffeine and theobromine content in my cacao, and I WAS surprised.
In fact, there is ~35mg of caffeine per serving of cacao, a number that if I drank that much caffeine in any beverage besides cacao, I would definitely experience negative side effects, such as the jitters and a crash.
So how come my body was having a totally different experience of caffeine as part of cacao?
It turns out, numbers need context, and 35mg of caffeine in a cup of cacao doesn’t equate to 35mg of caffeine in a cup of coffee or tea.
Cacao has a high level of beneficial fats - the cacao butter - that slows down the effects of caffeine in the body. In many ways, it is similar to having a bullet proof coffee with added ghee for fat.
But cacao is more than just added fat - it’s a very complex plant substance, with 100s of other molecules that also affect brain chemistry and energy levels. In a magical way that I have yet to fully understand, it completely changes my body’s experience of the caffeine in it. Rather, I find the dominant stimulant effect in cacao to be from theobromine, which offers a long arch of sustained energy without overstimulation or a crash.
To come back full circle to my friend’s challenge, I decided to publish our lab test results on our packaging for full transparency. People ask me about it all the time, and I’m grateful that now we can get better information about cacao out there.
So now you know that cacao has caffeine, and why it feels different in the body than a cup of coffee.
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