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Caffeine is a plant alkaloid, found in numerous plant species, where it acts as a natural pesticide that paralyzes and kills certain insects feeding upon them. The most commonly used caffeine-containing plants are coffee, tea, and to a small extent cocoa. Other, less commonly used, sources of caffeine include the yerba mate and guarana' plants, which are sometimes used in the preparation of teas and energy drinks. Two of caffeine's alternative names, mateine and guaranine, are derived from the names of these plants.

The world's primary source of caffeine is the coffee bean (the seed of the coffee plant), from which coffee is brewed. Caffeine content in coffee varies widely depending on the type of coffee bean and the method of preparation used; even beans within a given bush can show variations in concentration. In general, one serving of coffee ranges from 40 milligrams, for a single shot (30 milliliters) of arabica-variety espresso, to about 100 milligrams for a cup (120 milliliters) of drip coffee. Generally, dark-roast coffee has less caffeine than lighter roasts because the roasting process reduces the bean's caffeine content. Arabica coffee normally contains less caffeine than the robusta variety. Coffee also contains trace amounts of theophylline, but no theobromine.

Tea is another common source of caffeine. Tea usually contains about half as much caffeine per serving as coffee, depending on the strength of the brew. Certain types of tea, such as black and oolong, contain somewhat more caffeine than most other teas. Tea contains small amounts of theobromine and slightly higher levels of theophylline than coffee. Preparation has a significant impact on tea, and color is a very poor indicator of caffeine content. Teas like the green Japanese gyokuro, for example, contain far more caffeine than much darker teas like lapsang souchong, which has very little.

Caffeine is also a common ingredient of soft drinks such as cola, originally prepared from kola nuts. Soft drinks typically contain about 10 to 50 milligrams of caffeine per serving. By contrast, energy drinks such as Red Bull contain as much as 80 milligrams of caffeine per serving. The caffeine in these drinks either originates from the ingredients used or is an additive derived from the product of decaffeination or from chemical synthesis. Guarana, a prime ingredient of energy drinks, contains large amounts of caffeine with small amounts of theobromine and theophylline in a naturally occurring slow-release excipient.

Chocolate derived from cocoa contains a small amount of caffeine. The weak stimulant effect of chocolate may be due to a combination of theobromine and theophylline as well as caffeine. Chocolate contains too little of these compounds for a reasonable serving to create effects in humans that are on par with coffee. A typical 28-gram serving of a milk chocolate bar has about as much caffeine as a cup of decaffeinated coffee.

This article details safe levels of caffeine consumption and includes hints for cutting down your caffeine intake.

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