Is There Enough Caffeine in Chocolate to Keep You Up at Night? Here's How to Tell

Chocolate does naturally contain caffeine, but it's no cup of coffee—here's what to know.

We often talk about the amount of caffeine in drinks like coffee and tea, but what about the caffeine content in the food we eat? When it comes to the conversation of natural edible caffeine, the topic often turns to chocolate. Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, often referred to as cocoa solids, the seeds from cocoa trees that naturally contain caffeine. To make the chocolate we know and love, cocoa beans are fermented, dried, roasted, and ground up before being mixed with other ingredients and flavorings. And different kinds of chocolate have varying amounts of caffeine. But how much does it really have—enough to ruin a good night’s sleep if you eat it for dessert? Here’s how to tell how much caffeine is in your favorite chocolate treat.

Related: Drinking 2 Cups of Coffee a Day Promotes Heart Health and Longevity, New Study Finds

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What’s the Recommended Daily Amount of Caffeine?

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day (equivalent to four to five cups of coffee) is typically considered safe for the average adult. But everyone metabolizes this stimulant differently, so if caffeine gives you headaches, causes jitters, anxiousness, a faster heart rate, or another side effect, definitely refrain from consuming high amounts. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, have a conversation with your doctor about the amount of caffeine they advise for you.

How Much Caffeine Is in Chocolate?

Although there is naturally caffeine in chocolate, for the most part there’s a negligible amount in it compared to the caffeine in coffee, certain teas (like black and green teas), and soft drinks. Here's a breakdown for reference.

  • An average, 12-ounce can of soda contains 30 to 40 mg of caffeine.

  • An 8-ounce cup of green or black tea contains somewhere between 30 to 50 mg (green tea typically has less than black tea).

  • An 8-ounce cup of coffee contains 80 to 100 mg.

  • An 8-ounce can of an energy drink can contain anywhere from 40 to 250 mg.

As for chocolate, the caffeine amount can really vary depending on the type of chocolate, growing conditions of the cocoa beans and the cocoa source, explains Liron Pergament-Gal, Boston-based chocolatier and owner of ChocAllure.

“In general, a 3.5-ounce bar of dark chocolate can include 50 to 150 mg of caffeine,” Pergament-Gal says. That’s quite a range, and 150 mg is an impressive amount of caffeine—but that’s a maximum. And generally people consume a lot more coffee than they do chocolate in one sitting.

Darker chocolates—bittersweet and semisweet, for instance—typically have the most caffeine. Milk chocolate typically contains less caffeine, because it contains fewer cocoa solids. And white chocolate has no caffeine at all, because it isn’t actually made using cocoa solids.

Pergament-Gal adds that here's technically another stimulant in cocoa beans called theobromine. “This increases energy levels, but the spike isn't as large as caffeine.

Caffeine in Dark Chocolate

Because dark chocolate contains the most cocoa beans or cocoa solids, it contains the most caffeine. Those higher percentages you see on dark chocolate bars—85 percent, 77 percent—represent the amount of cocoa solids in the bar. The higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the darker or more bitter the chocolate, the lower the sugar content, and the more antioxidants—and it’s also an indicator that it contains more caffeine because it’s made up of more cocoa solids.

Caffeine in Milk Chocolate

According to the FDA, milk chocolate must contain at least 12 percent milk solids and 10 percent chocolate liquor (which is non-alcoholic). Since milk chocolate by definition has less cocoa solids (with the addition of 12 percent or more milk solids), it also contains less caffeine.  According to the USDA, there is about 9 mg of caffeine per 1.5 ounce bar.

Caffeine in White Chocolate

“White chocolate only contains cocoa butter, and not cocoa solids (cocoa butter is the fat that is extracted from cocoa solids), and therefore doesn't contain caffeine,” Pergament-Gal explains. Many don’t consider white chocolate to be real chocolate because it doesn’t contain any cocoa solids.

Caffeine in Hot Chocolate

Although we may consume more hot cocoa in one sitting than we do a bar of chocolate, it doesn’t necessarily mean more caffeine.

There is a bit of caffeine in hot chocolate, but not a ton. Most packaged hot chocolate mixes that you’d make at home usually contain five milligrams or less of caffeine. You’ll want to be more careful when ordering hot chocolate at a cafe or coffee shop. For reference, a Tall hot chocolate at Starbucks has around 20 mg of caffeine for a 12-ounce serving. Again, this is nowhere near the upper limit of 400 mg per day, but it’s still caffeine, so important to consider if you’re looking out for sneaky caffeine sources, or trying to keep your kids away from too much caffeine.

“In hot chocolate, the chocolate will have a lot of milk added, so even if the chocolate [itself] is on the higher end in terms of caffeine content, there won't be much in the hot chocolate,” Pergament-Gal notes.

Related: What Happens When You Mix Alcohol and Caffeine? A Doctor Explains

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