How Many Shots of Espresso Is Too Much?

Hi! My name is Arne. After a few years as a barista, I've dedicated myself to a mission: To bring more good coffee to the people. To this end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

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Espresso has developed a reputation as the ultimate "booster" for those in need of a caffeine fix. Many people imagine espresso to be stronger, more powerful and way more caffeinated than drip coffee.

Espresso has developed a reputation as the ultimate “booster” for those in need of a caffeine fix. Many people imagine espresso to be stronger, more powerful and way more caffeinated than drip coffee.

In reality, things aren’t quite that straightforward.

Still, the fact remains that espresso is a small, intense beverage, and it’s easy to get carried away and consume more than you should.

So, how many shots of espresso is too much? In this article, I’ll try to answer that question. I’ll also address the question you all want to ask: can too many shots of espresso kill you?

First Some Good News: Health Benefits of Espresso

Before we get too deep into a discussion about how much caffeine you should or shouldn’t be consuming each day, let’s look on the bright side. As it turns out, drinking a moderate amount of espresso can be good for you.

I should qualify that by reminding you that I’m talking about straight, unadulterated espresso. No sugar, no milk and definitely no syrup and whipped cream. 

Although we refer to coffee beans, what we’re actually dealing with is the seeds of coffee cherries. They may look like beans, but that’s where the similarity ends. Just like flax and sesame seeds, coffee beans are packed full of nutrients such as potassium, magnesium and vitamins, as well as antioxidants and healthy fats and oils.

Arne holds up a shot of espresso.

Unlike other preparation methods, espresso really gets the most out of coffee beans’ healthy properties. Thanks to the extreme pressure involved in espresso extraction, more nutrients are released. Plus, there’s no filter, so more of these extracted nutrients end up in your cup.

Let’s have a look at the benefits of drinking espresso on a daily basis:

  1. Lowered risk of diabetes. Ceratin compounds found in espresso can help improve insulin sensitivity in many people, allowing cells to deal with sugars more efficiently.
  2. Lowered risk of developing some cancers. There are some pretty awesome antioxidants in espresso that stop free radicals from attacking the body’s cells. This can help prevent cancers of the colon, pancreas, liver and skin.
  3. Lowered risk of heart disease. Those antioxidants take the main stage again, helping stop cholesterol molecules from turning into artery cloggers. On the flip side, too much espresso can put stress on your heart. More on that later.
  4. Improved concentration and memory. Drinking the right amount of espresso boosts dopamine production in your brain. You’ll be focused, alert and driven to succeed. Your mood will improve, too, essentially making you a nicer person to be around.
  5. Happier tummy. Although coffee can cause an upset stomach, many people will benefit from drinking espresso after a big meal. A shot of espresso has anti-inflammatory properties that’ll prevent bloating and discomfort.

How Much Caffeine Is in a Shot of Espresso?

I know you’re expecting me to give you a straight answer here, but the truth is, there’s no straight answer. You may find a definitive verdict on how much caffeine is in an espresso shot elsewhere, but think about it this way: does every cafe prepare espresso in exactly the same way, with exactly the same beans? 

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When considering Arabica vs Robusta coffee beans, the difference in caffeine content is huge, and there are many roasters out there who like to add Robusta beans to their espresso blends.

Not only that, caffeine levels can vary substantially between different Arabicas.

There are just so many variables, including elevation, varietal and even which side of the field the coffee was harvested from. Once we start talking about roast, shot volume and extraction time, things get even more ambiguous. 

Extracting espresso from a portafilter during the caffeine test.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll use the results from my laboratory caffeine test. I used the same coffee beans for each preparation method:

  • Ristretto (15 milliliters): 63 milligrams caffeine
  • Espresso (25 milliliters): 68 milligrams caffeine
  • Super automatic espresso (25 milliliters): 68 milligrams caffeine

What’s important to note from these results is that we’re looking at the amount of caffeine by serving size. We’ll see why that’s so important a bit later.

Espresso vs Coffee: Which Has More Caffeine?

Now that we’re throwing “coffee” into the mix, I’ll refer to my scientific caffeine study again. I found that the preparation method plays a huge part in determining how much caffeine is in your morning cup of joe. 

For example, an 8-ounce cup of drip coffee contains 116 milligrams of caffeine, whereas the same serving of French press coffee clocks in at 223 milligrams. When we tested an 8-ounce glass of cold brew coffee, the numbers were through the roof at 280 milligrams. 

Arne inspecting bottled samples during the caffeine test.

Although espresso has way more caffeine than any other preparation method by volume, the small serving size results in less caffeine intake. Plus, do you only drink a single 8-ounce cup of pour-over coffee in the morning? I seriously doubt it. It’s more likely to be a larger cup and I’ll bet you go back for a second helping. 

So there you have it. There’s much more caffeine in coffee than there is in a humble shot of espresso. Get ready for the catch, though: drinking a shot of espresso is a risky proposition for the caffeine-sensitive. You’re going to feel more of a jolt, simply because you consume espresso quickly.

We tend to enjoy a cup of coffee over the space of half an hour, or so, which gives our bodies time to slowly process the caffeine. A shot of espresso is a super-fast delivery vehicle for a decent amount of caffeine, and you’re going to get buzzed.

How Many Shots of Espresso Is too Much?

In order to answer the question of how many shots of espresso is too much, I think I’d better stand aside and let some real scientists do the talking. Let’s see what the FDA has to say about how much caffeine we should all be taking on board:

“For healthy adults, the FDA has cited 400 milligrams a day — that’s about four or five cups of coffee — as an amount not generally associated with dangerous, negative effects.”

OK. from our study, that would actually equal three or four cups of drip coffee and four or five shots of espresso. The FDA goes on to say:

“However, there is wide variation in both how sensitive people are to the effects of caffeine and how fast they metabolize it (break it down).”

I guess what we can take away from this is that it’s going to be difficult to determine how many shots of espresso is too much.

Everyone is different and therefore we all react to caffeine in different ways.

What’s most important is that we pay attention to what our bodies are telling us. Personally, if I’m feeling shaky and nauseous after that second shot of espresso, I’m going to assume that three shots of espresso is too much on that particular day.

Closeup of an espresso, mid-extraction.

I know you’re desperate to know how many shots of espresso can kill you. Depending on many factors, a lethal dose of caffeine is between 5,000 and 10,000 milligrams. That’s roughly between 75 and 155 shots of espresso.

Conclusion: When to Cut Yourself Off

If a lethal dose of caffeine is 10,000 milligrams and there are 63 milligrams of caffeine in a ristretto espresso, you’d have to consume over 150 shots of espresso in quick succession for a fatal dose of caffeine to accumulate in your bloodstream.

Here’s the thing, though: your stomach just wouldn’t be able to hold all that liquid. You’d end up vomiting, passing out or both before you could reach the end. Still, even at relatively low levels, caffeine can produce some pretty nasty side-effects:

  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Anxiety and hallucinations
  • Stomach ache
  • Insomnia
  • Increased heart rate

I’m sure, like me, you’ve felt a little over-caffeinated at some point in your coffee-drinking career. It isn’t a pleasant sensation, and drinking more coffee certainly doesn’t help.

So for anyone who is priming their super automatic espresso machine and thinking of challenging themselves to an espresso shot-drinking competition, read the list of side-effects again and reconsider.

Espresso Shots FAQ

What’s your experience? How many shots of espresso is too much for you? I love reading your comments and suggestions, so keep them coming!

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