Ah, espresso! A concentrated shot of deliciousness to get your day started, whether you drink it straight or as part of something a little fancier like a latte or cappuccino. While enthusiasts may argue that espresso is "better" than regular old coffee, the truth is that espresso is simply a brewing method. Finely ground coffee beans and water at high pressure combine to create a product that’s concentrated and syrupy, with a foamy top layer. Although dark roasts have traditionally been used to make espresso, any type of coffee bean and any roast level will work (via Serious Eats).
Espresso has a reputation as a caffeine heavy-hitter, but the reality is a little more complicated. As Coffee Bros. Roastery explained, a single serving of espresso — a 1.5-ounce double shot — has 60 to 100 milligrams of caffeine, depending on which beans are used and the exact brewing technique. By contrast, a single serving of brewed coffee — 8 ounces — has about 100 milligrams. So it’s true that ounce for ounce, espresso is a more concentrated source of caffeine than regular coffee, but that difference is negated by the fact that regular coffee comes in a much bigger serving size. And let’s be honest: Most people drink more than eight ounces of brewed coffee at a time.
Even though espresso isn’t flooding your system with as much caffeine as you may have thought, drinking it every day can still have a big impact on your physical and mental health.
You’ll have more energy when you drink espresso every day, but there’s a catch
The biggest reason people turn to espresso and other types of coffee in the morning is the jolt of energy it gives them. But contrary to popular belief, espresso doesn’t directly give you energy. Technically, only calories can do that, and a cup of black coffee has fewer than 5 (via Mayo Clinic). However, if you like to add milk or sugar to your espresso, those ingredients do amp up the calorie count.
According to Queensland Health, "Caffeine is a mild stimulant that speeds up the messages between our brain and body. In small doses … it can make us feel more awake and alert." People usually feel the energizing effects of caffeine five to 30 minutes after taking their first sip of espresso, and the rush can last for up to 12 hours.
It’s more accurate, however, to say that espresso prevents you from feeling tired. As Forbes explained, caffeine molecules have a size and shape that’s almost identical to adenosine, a byproduct created as a result of the normal functioning of your nervous system. Adenosine binds to receptors in your brain, accumulating during your waking hours and eventually triggering sleepiness. When the nearly identical caffeine molecules bind to these receptors instead, adenosine is crowded out and can’t get the message to your brain that it’s time to rest.
Drinking espresso will boost your metabolism
In addition to putting some pep in your step, expresso can boost your metabolism, thanks to its caffeine content. But what exactly is your metabolism, anyway? According to the Mayo Clinic, it is "the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy." In addition to the calories burned during physical activity, you expend calories in the process of digesting and absorbing food (thermogenesis).
You also need a certain amount of calories, known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR), just to maintain basic bodily functions like breathing and repairing damaged cells. Foods that boost metabolism do so by creating small, temporary impacts on BMR, thermogenesis, or how many calories are extracted from your food as it passes through your digestive tract.
One study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined the effects of caffeine on the metabolism of lean and obese individuals. The researchers found that one 100-milligram dose of caffeine increased the BMR of all participants by 3 to 4% over the course of 150 minutes. When given six 100-milligram doses of caffeine over a 12-hour period, lean subjects burned an average of 150 more calories, while obese individuals burned an extra 79. Another study published in the same journal noted that although caffeine didn’t appear to affect the breakdown of carbohydrates for fuel, it did seem to promote fat burning. And, when taken with food, caffeine appeared to increase thermogenesis.
Expect frequent trips to the bathroom if you drink espresso often
For most people, their morning cup of "go juice" does, in fact, make them go. As Houston Metro Urology explained, caffeine inhibits the production of anti-diuretic hormone (ADH). ADH is a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland that signals to the kidneys that the body needs more fluid. The kidneys respond by reabsorbing more fluid back into the bloodstream rather than sending it off to your bladder. By inhibiting ADH, the caffeine in espresso tricks your brain and kidneys into thinking that your body has the hydration it needs, leading to excess urine production. If you throw back an espresso first thing in the morning before drinking a glass of water to replenish the fluids lost during sleep, this can set you up for mild dehydration.
Espresso and other coffee drinks are also well-known for bringing on bowel movements, but it’s less clear why this happens. According to Health, neither the caffeine nor the warmth of espresso is responsible for inducing a poo. Something in coffee appears to stimulate receptors in your gastrointestinal tract, causing your stomach and intestines to contract the way they would after a meal. These espresso-induced contractions can begin as quickly as four minutes after taking a sip. But researchers are still unsure which compound in coffee is giving your guts the green light to start moving things along at such a rapid pace.
You may experience bloating
Your morning espresso could be setting you up for a day full of uncomfortable gas and bloating. According to an older paper published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, drinking coffee encourages the production of gastrin, the hormone responsible for triggering the release of stomach acid. Compounds in coffee also stimulate the muscles of your colon to move. The result? Coffee predisposes you to gas and bloating in two different ways.
As Healthline noted, excess stomach acid can cause bloating and abdominal discomfort (as well as a host of other unpleasant GI symptoms, such as heartburn, nausea, and diarrhea). At the other end of your GI tract, problems with the movement of the intestinal muscles can cause feelings of bloat and abdominal distension, according to a paper by Dr. Sushil K. Sarna.
In an interview with Women’s Health, registered dietitian Cynthia Sass explained, "Because it’s acidic, if you have a sensitive stomach, coffee can be an irritant and cause immediate swelling," If you’re lactose intolerant but still like to fancy up your espresso with milk or cream, you can expect even worse tummy troubles. Sugar and artificial sweeteners can also cause bloating and gas among sensitive individuals.
Expect disrupted sleep
If you enjoy drinking espresso later in the day, get ready for a night of poor-quality sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, "Caffeine can impact the onset of sleep and reduce sleep time, efficiency, and satisfaction levels." It also reduces the amount of time we spend in slow-wave sleep, a deep and restorative phase of the sleep cycle. Because caffeine is a diuretic, it may also lead to disrupted sleep through more frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom. Even caffeine consumed six hours before bed can wreak havoc on your rest. And if the first thing you do after a night of restless sleep is reach for an espresso to wake you up, this only perpetuates the cycle.
A 2016 study published in Nutrients tried to quantify just how much caffeine can ruin a good night’s sleep. Participants’ caffeine intake was tracked and they completed the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), a self-reported assessment of sleep quality. The researchers found that those with the lowest PSQI score consumed an average of 192.1 milligrams of caffeine daily, while those with the highest scores and best sleeping habits consumed only 125.2 milligrams.
You might become irritable
There’s no shortage of coffee mugs out there with witty messages like "Don’t talk to me until this is half empty." And while regular espresso drinkers often report feeling grumpy until they’ve had their morning caffeine fix, drinking too much espresso can actually lead to irritability. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "Consuming 500 to 600 milligrams of caffeine … can lead to mood changes such as anger."
But why exactly does caffeine cause irritability? The publication noted that sometimes poor sleep due to too much caffeine earlier in the day can contribute to a grouchy disposition the next morning. But the more immediate reason is that caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline, the primary "fight or flight" hormone (via Forbes). This caffeine-induced adrenaline rush causes your emotions, rather than rational thought, to dictate your behavior. In addition to these effects on the brain, surges in adrenaline after drinking espresso affect the body by increasing blood pressure and heart rate and making breathing more rapid and shallow. Being in such a physiologically excited state long term isn’t good for your health (via Forbes).
Is your daily espresso habit triggering anxiety?
If you feel antsy or edgy after drinking a couple espressos, you’re not alone. Heavy, habitual caffeine consumption can cause or worsen anxiety. In a 2019 interview with Health, psychologist Susan Bowling explained, "The natural effects of caffeine stimulate a host of sensations, such as your heart beating faster, your body heating up, your breathing rate increasing — all things that mimic anxiety. Psychologically, it’s difficult for your mind to recognize that this is not anxiety because it feels the same."
Consuming more than 200 milligrams of caffeine can increase the likelihood of anxiety and panic attacks in sensitive individuals. A 2010 paper published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease noted that individuals with panic disorder and social performance social anxiety are most susceptible to caffeine’s anxiety-inducing effects. How much caffeine a person can consume before feeling anxious appears to be genetic.
In fact, the connection between caffeine and anxiety is so established that it’s a recognized mental disorder. Under the guidelines of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), caffeine-induced anxiety disorder is a subcategory of substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder. Although a number of criteria must be met to receive this diagnosis, the predominant characteristic of this condition is anxiety or panic attacks that occur during or shortly after "intoxication" from caffeine (via PsychDB).
It’s not clear how drinking espresso affects depression
Starting your day off with a tasty espresso may put you in a good mood, but the jury’s still out on whether long-term caffeine consumption decreases or increases your risk for depression.
A 2011 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, for instance, followed more than 50,000 women for 10 years to see how coffee consumption impacted depression rates. The researchers found that those who consumed the most caffeine were least likely to be diagnosed with depression. Another study, published in 2015 in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, concluded that those who drank the most coffee were 24% less likely to be diagnosed with depression when compared with those who drank the least coffee. The authors noted that 400 milliliters of coffee per day appeared to provide maximum protection against the blues.
But regular caffeine consumption may indirectly contribute to depression symptoms in the long term. The Mayo Clinic explained that poor sleep caused by too much caffeine could worsen depression and suggested that those with a depression diagnosis try limiting or totally cutting out caffeine to see if their symptoms improve.
Your daily espresso may improve your cognitive abilities … sort of
Many people believe that the caffeine in espresso gives your brain a boost, making you mentally sharper and better able to focus. While research suggests that acute caffeine withdrawal can cause dips in cognitive performance, it also calls into question the idea that caffeine improves mental function.
In a 2005 study published in Psychopharmacology, researchers divided participants into two groups. One group abstained from caffeine for three weeks, while another group consumed caffeine daily. The study authors then had all participants perform cognitive function tests first thing in the morning both with and without caffeine. Among the caffeine consumers, performance was impaired when they weren’t given any caffeine. They were experiencing withdrawal because they hadn’t had caffeine for roughly 24 hours. When they performed the tests after consuming caffeine, however, their test scores improved. But among the participants who hadn’t consumed any caffeine in the previous three weeks, consuming caffeine before performing the tests didn’t enhance their performance. The researchers concluded that acute caffeine withdrawal impairs our mental abilities, which can be restored with more caffeine. But caffeine itself doesn’t have any magical ability to make you laser-focused.
Similarly, a 2010 paper published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease concluded that "caffeine cannot be considered a ‘pure’ cognitive enhancer. The indirect action of caffeine on arousal, mood, and concentration contributes … to its cognitive-enhancing properties."
Your athletic performance may improve if you drink espresso every day
Drinking an espresso right before you hit the gym or meet your friends for a pick-up game could give you an important advantage. According to a 2020 article published in Scientific American, "Caffeine’s stimulating effect on the central nervous system has been shown to reduce feelings of fatigue, lower perceived exertion, and even lower levels of perceived pain. Caffeine also improves mental acuity and sharpness." The ideal dosage appears to be 3 to13 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of bodyweight.
But your mileage may vary depending on the type of physical activity you enjoy. A 2008 paper published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism noted that "these benefits are likely to occur across a range of sports, including endurance events, stop-and-go events (e.g., team and racquet sports), and sports involving sustained high-intensity activity lasting from 1-60 min (e.g., swimming, rowing, and middle and distance running races)." But it’s unclear if caffeine can improve performance when it comes to events involving strength and power, such as weightlifting and sprinting. So while espresso may help you shave some time off your 5K, it’s less likely to help you beat your bench press PR.
A shot of espresso could cause or treat your headache
The relationship between caffeine and headaches is complicated, meaning your morning espresso may be helping or hurting. On the plus side, caffeine reduces inflammation, which can improve headache symptoms. It also works synergistically with common pain relievers like aspirin and Tylenol, making them work faster, better, and longer. In fact, caffeine can enhance these medications’ effectiveness by as much as 40%. On the other hand, caffeine can cause rebound headaches when it leaves your system and also contributes to medication-induced headaches. These headaches occur when you use headache medications too often or in too large a quantity (via WebMD).
Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, which means it causes blood vessels to narrow. In fact, according to a 2009 study published in Human Brain Mapping, blood flow to the brain is reduced by an average of 27% among moderate and heavy caffeine consumers. Over time, the body adapts to compensate for this reduction in blood flow. It does this mainly by increasing the number of adenosine receptors on blood vessel walls, since adenosine stimulates vasodilation (the enlargement of blood vessels). Caffeine closely resembles adenosine and can bind to these receptors instead, crowding out the adenosine. The body makes more receptors so that the adenosine has somewhere to go and can combat the vasoconstrictive powers of caffeine.
Espresso can stain and damage your teeth
While that first sip of espresso in the morning may bring a smile to your face, it’s not a good beverage option for your teeth for several reasons. According to the American Dental Association, caffeine can dry out your mouth, robbing it of the saliva that helps protect tooth enamel. Coffee can also cause unsightly stains on teeth. And if you’re used to drinking your espresso in the form of a sugary latte or mocha, the sugar isn’t doing your teeth any favors either.
But it isn’t the caffeine itself that causes espresso to stain teeth. As Healthline explained, "Coffee contains ingredients called tannins, which are a type of polyphenol that breaks down in water. … Tannins cause color compounds to stick to your teeth." Even light coffee consumption — just one espresso a day — is enough to leave unsightly yellow stains. The acids in espresso can also erode tooth enamel over time. This is especially true if you’re in the habit of brushing your teeth immediately after your last sip, as the toothbrush’s bristles simply scour the teeth with acidic coffee. Healthline recommends waiting at least 30 minutes to brush your teeth and rinsing your mouth out with water beforehand.
Your skin may suffer if you drink espresso every day
While many skin treatments may include caffeine to help "wake up" your skin, drinking espresso likely isn’t doing your appearance any favors. As New York City dermatologist Deborah Wattenberg told Today, "Caffeine … act[s] like a diuretic and prevent[s] you from holding on to water, so your skin looks sort of prune-like. It can get dry and get washed out." Wattenberg pointed out that lack of sleep is also a complexion killer, so the bad sleep that often comes with a caffeine habit may also be hurting your looks.
A 2014 study published in Drug Design, Development and Therapy found that caffeine prevented skin cells from producing collagen, the protein that gives skin its structure and suppleness. It appears to do this by inhibiting an enzyme needed for collagen production called prolidase. Caffeine also appeared to prevent proper DNA synthesis within these cells.
Plus, the more you add your espresso, the more damage you may be doing to your skin. Sugar can trigger acne, cause wrinkles and sagging, and lead to the development of dark spots on the skin (via UnityPoint Health). Dairy can also aggravate acne in sensitive individuals (via Healthline).