The Coffee and Energy Drink Double Standard


Often energy drink fans complain that there is a huge double standard when it comes to energy drinks.

Coffee that is actually more caffeinated is praised.

Energy drinks are demonized.

Why is this and are there any reasons energy drinks should be treated differently than the “original energy drink” coffee?

A Perfect Example of This Phenomenon

Top Sail High School in North Carolina, USA opened a student run campus coffee shop, where students can get coffee before and after school.

This is a great way for students to learn about business, economics, making coffee, customer service, cooking etc. but could you imagine what would have happened if the students wanted to open an energy drink stand before or after school?

Energy drinks have been banned from most school campuses, yet in this case, coffee is viewed as perfectly acceptable for teens.

As our caffeine database shows, ounce per ounce coffee has more caffeine. For instance:

  • A fluid ounce of typical  filter coffee has 18mg of caffeine.
  • A fluid ounce of a typical Rockstar or Monster has 10mg of caffeine.
  • Take a look at Starbucks caffeine and you see a fluid ounce of their brew has 22.5mg of caffeine.

Are There Other Factors Besides Caffeine?

Unfortunately for energy drink fans, there are some legitimate reasons why coffee and energy drinks are not treated equally.

While coffee does have more caffeine than energy drinks, it’s how the caffeine is delivered that seems to be at issue.

  1. Energy drinks have very little long-term safety research behind them, while coffee has been used for centuries and has been extensively researched over the last 100 years.
  2. Energy drinks are more than just caffeine, but a combination of caffeine, amino acids, vitamins, and often herbs.
  3. Energy drinks are often high in sugar, while even sweetened coffee would contain less. A Monster Energy Drink has 54 grams of sugar, which is equal to 13.5 teaspoons!
  4. Coffee is an all natural beverage, while energy drinks are often laden with artificial preservatives, flavors, and dyes.
  5. Coffee is sipped, while energy drinks tend to be consumed quickly thus delivering their dose of caffeine quicker.
  6. Energy drinks are sweet and often fruit flavored, which appeals more to children and teens than does often bitter tasting coffee.
  7. Energy drinks have generated an ever growing list of overdose cases leading to hospitalization and even some deaths. Coffee, historically, has very few of these occurrences.

Therefore, energy drinks can’t really be viewed with the same lens as we would coffee, since essentially, they are two completely different beverages.

The Media Shouldn’t Sensationalize

We always have to remember that the media is driven by viewers/readership and to get this, they usually dramatize and sensationalize just about all news stories.

This is true with energy drinks as well. There are actually very few people that have or have had negative health consequences from drinking energy drinks, although, most media outlets would want us to believe it is a common occurrence.

We believe education is key when it comes to energy drink consumption. There is more benefit to teaching consumers how to drink energy drinks responsibly than there is demonizing them.

Often what we adults forbid and protest actually becomes even more appealing to the very ones we are trying to protect.

What do you think? Have energy drinks been judged unfairly?  

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  • chris

    The US has always been a country
    That embodies the double standard
    This is just the latest chapter in an ongoing saga.

  • brad

    Actually, no. The caffeine argument is a smoke screen. High fructose corn syrup is the worst culprit of them all, and energy drinks are loaded with the stuff (whereas coffee has none). Coffee has been consumed safely by humans for thousands of years. Energy drinks are a fad that’s largely considered less than a decade old with little long-term knowledge of its public health effects.

    Independent of energy drinks, schools have talked about banning soda machines for all their ill effects to public health. Throw the extra energy drink caffeine doses on there, and things only get worse.

    So no. I don’t think there’s a double standard here. The two drinks are very different, though you could argue people can doctor their coffee to be very similar to an energy drink.

  • Rage

    This coming from a senior in highschool, I have to say this is a good idea and I’ve put many thoughts into this myself…

    I also have to agree that the caffeine is a “smoke screen,” and it really is about all the fake junk. However, average people do not actually “know” about the effects of those artificial products, so they simply just say “energy drinks are bad for you.” Most people do not pay attention to coffee, simply because everyone has grown up with it and so they think nothing of it.

    I personally say that you should be able to drink what you want (on school campus), or only drink water. I feel that saying only one or the other is “okay” is complete bullshit. Its no different from a school saying that only White American students can enter the property lines.
    Discrimination is discrimination, regardless of the subject at case.

    I’m not bias about my drinks, as I like everything from protein drinks to French Pressed Coffee, though I have to say my personal favorite drink is Monster Khaos.

    Sincerely a dedicated reader,

  • Raine

    I’m with Brad. Caffeine isn’t the issue; I’ve been drinking coffee since I was 12 (cream, no sugar) and while my parents were a little concerned about the caffeine, they decided it was the better choice if the alternative was a soda, which was already known to be contributing to childhood obesity. Diet sodas, while sugar free, cause other health concerns of their own. Now that energy drinks are so popular (and so full of sugar) AND childhood obesity is more rampant than ever, of course they’re going to get a bad rap. And schools aren’t just thinking about banning soda…some already have, and a few are participating in studies where they work with families to lower sugar levels in the kids’ diets. We won’t hear about these for a few years yet, but so far, the test score differences are astounding.

    No double standard; caffeine is caffeine. It’s the other stuff that really makes the difference.

  • The Crowing

    I’m going to start sending my younger siblings to school with No-Doz and see what the teachers have to say about that.. 😉

  • JW

    A lot of the energy drinks don’t even use high fructose corn syrup. Monster Energy uses Sucrose, which is like Splenda; which a lot of coffee drinkers use. Another thing is that energy drinks have vitamins, so if someone doesn’t eat healthy all the time or take vitamins, at least they are getting some vitamins. I don’t see the big deal, my mom complains to me a lot about energy drinks, but I tell her she needs to quit smoking and she shuts up. It’s just something for the media and parents to complain about.

  • Rage

    JW: I completely agree with your statement here.

    I for one have several body malfunctions, including lacking in several minerals… Many of these that I’m lacking are in fact, found in energy drinks.


  • E Fizz

    Yes there is definitely a double standard when it comes to a mocha frapa grande tripple shake…But i mean between straight coffee and energy drinks, (dont get me wrong I love my red bull) coffee straight is much different then all the crap in energy drinks. Its not just energy drinks its pretty much everything, to be honest kids might be better off with two no doze in the morning rather than anything they would get at a coffee shop or in an energy drink. Its also a huge double standard that we dont give our kids a piece of chocolate cake for breakfast but its fine for them to have a stack of pancakes covered in fake syrup and loaded with sprinkles. So it goes… the real problem is just shitty parents who dont take the soda away from there 180lb 5 year old and tell them to go play outside.

  • The Crowing

    I agree with you Fizz, the problem extends far beyond just parents though. It seems all of society has the same problem. Look at obesity rates around the country, they’re still extremely high. With that comes a taboo on making fun of fat people, which ends in it being acceptable to be fat.

    Personally, I drink energy drinks fairly often (though I do tend to lean more towards coffee), but I haven’t had any real negative impact from them (well, other than caffeine addiction). As much as you can blame HFCS for obesity, it must also be taken into account that children these days tend to want to sit in front of the television instead of do something involving exercise, and parents, for the most part, do nothing to stop it. So, as I said, I agree.

    Also, I eat chocolate cake for breakfast all the time, and have never heard of anyone putting sprinkles on a pancake before. Let it be noted I am 5’11 135lb.. nowhere near “obese”.

  • Tim

    Ever since I started collecting energy products, I got so angry about this double-standard. Cubicle-dwellers and working adults guzzle gallons of coffee a day, but the thing that gets people up in arms is the amount of caffeine in Red Bull and Monster. And yes, there’s the HFCS thing, but in reality it’s just as good/bad/indifferent as sugar; it’s just the latest “in” thing to shun. A few years ago, sugar was bad. Now it’s good! Diet fads are annoying.

  • Knut

    JW, sucrose is sugar. Sucralose is Splenda.

  • Racheal

    I personally prefer coffee due to the extra things like sugar in the energy drinks. However, I don’t shun energy drinks completely; I just reach for the sugar-free (or, scary as it sounds, the coffee-based) kind. My biggest issue is with carbonation–that was actually the main reason I gave up soda in the first place. It just makes me feel sick. Other than that, I’m okay with sugar-free energy drinks, but coffee is my favorite.

  • Josh

    Funny thing actually, growing up Mormon that double standard is reversed. Coffee is totally banned. But since energy drinks are new, they are somewhat allowed. Alot of people still look down upon it, but I’ve seen people bring energy drinks to church while I’m sure someone would have been scorned bringing coffee.

  • ted

    Some are missing the point here..If you search this site or google for the news articles about energy drinks in schools and energy drinks and teens, 9/10 times it is the high caffeine content that is being criticized and cited as the reason they are banned from schools…

  • Gilly

    I am hugely annoyed. It’s true! Everywhere I go, people embrace their own four cups of coffee a day routine while frowning on others’ one energy drink. I’m sorry; there is NOT a difference. Double standard.

  • Jeremy

    I never thought the amount of caffeine in energydrinks was the point of criticism. I believe the 5hour energy commercial successfully sums up the negative views of energy drinks, 16 tsps of sugar i believe, and guarana (tsk tsk). With that said, the double standard probably appeared from the sterotypes of the consumers; the super chill highschooler vs the everyday man.
    Honestly, I have always criticized eneregy drinks for not giving enough of the energy boost that i was hoping for, and getting very bored and a little disgusted by the taste when i get to the end of the drink.
    Energy drinks are deemed as bad, because they come across as soda, with more caffeine, and other food additives whos long term affects are currently unknown.
    If energy drinks are in fact stigmatized due to their caffeine levels, then i agree, that is a double standard compared to coffee, but i don’t believe that’s the case. They seem to be put to the same standard as soda, somewhat justifying the negative attention energy drinks get.

  • tony

    i wonder if who ever published this is getting paid. cuz he is a jack ass and obviously has done no research.

  • CaffeineChemist

    It’s true. Even my mother would rather I drink coffee than an energy drink. It’s ridiculous.

    And yet both of my community college’s coffee shops (we have two, yes, one per each area of the campus) sell energy drinks as well. And we have at least one energy drink vending machine per building. And they stuff energy drinks into the sandwich vending machines too. Yup.

  • Daniel

    Here’s one thing about coffee vs. energy drinks: coffee is usually served very hot, meaning that its users are forced to take their time drinking it, which means there is far less caffeine sitting in the drinker’s stomach, not having yet taken effect, at a time. So the drinker can much more easily stop at his/her limit. Energy drinks, on ther other hand, can easily be slammed and there ARE high school and college students daring one another to slam ’em, meaning much more potential to get to dangerous dosages of caffeine if they’re not watching their intake.

  • Lori

    While the caffeine in energy drinks can be bad for someone that drinks multiple ones everyday, I think it’s a weak argument when you compare it to coffee and soda caffeine amounts. As for Taurine, it’s an amino acid (not an essential one, but the body does produce it and it’s found in meat, fish, and breast milk). It’s not unhealthy to have, but if it’s not natural there could be something there. Anyways, the real danger with energy drinks is that most of them have vitamins in them and an 8oz. serving of it sometimes gives a person 100% of the recommended amount of certain vitamins that they should have. So, drinking a 16oz. monster or other energy drink causes you to overdose on vitamins. The discoloration of urine is caused by the overdosing and it can also cause stomach pains, nausea, etc. Too much of a good thing (vitamins) is a bad thing. For example, one 16oz can of Java Monster Vanilla Light has 2000mg of Taurine. The max amount of Taurine a person should have a day is 3000mg so only 24oz of this drink can be consumed safely. Even then, I wouldn’t suggest it since the meat and fish people eat has Taurine in it and can cause an OD. It’s stuff like this that causes the recommendation to not drink more than 1 energy drink a day.

Last Modified: September 11, 2014