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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  • Wanderlust

    As mentioned by Monster Freak, it shows total caffeine from “all sources.” My Ultra Black shows 137mg per can. I don’t think they are inherently designed to make it easier to OD but drinking something cold vs. hot does make a difference. As I mentioned in the main thread, drinking iced coffee is consumed like an energy drink. Someone drinking at Starbucks with extra shots of espresso seems a lot more dangerous and I’ve seen people order them with 2-3 shots.

    What’s missing from the conversation is common sense. Particularly if you have any kind of heath issues. I’ve not heard of a case where someone just drank 2 or 3 cans one day and had something happen without some kind of health condition being the main factor and the energy drink being the catalyst. We hear about it more because it’s generally teens who have no interest in coffee.

  • Robot

    This article is not quite right with its info here. They say things like coffee is natural, less sugar and preservatives, is sipped, etc. this is how ADULTS drink coffee. Teens get the 1kcal cold ones and CHUG. I knew kids who ruined their stomachs on coffee and energy drinks in HS and the energy drinkers stopped or switched to coffee. Coffee drinkers are now adults who shrug and say “my stomach always hurts” and continue drinking.

  • Robot

    It hurts my stomach to drink coffee in any form and can make me feel sick all day. An energy drink picks me up and without that feeling but Yerba mate is the best with no side effects. The stigma on energy drinks is silly. Not because they aren’t bad for you, but because people have worse all the time. People saying “but the caffeine!” Yet it has less than coffee, others screaming “the sugar!” It has about the same as soda. If a person drinks 1 energy drink a day they are getting less sugar and caffeine than the average person (who drinks multiple sodas/coffee a day). Yes it is addictive and if you abuse it there are side effects, so are a lot of things in our life that are socially acceptable. The drink shouldn’t be demonized because people don’t have self control.

  • David Sage

    There are sugar free energy drinks on the market and the typical flavouring doesn’t necessarily encourage over-consumption. I used to drink Monster Assault but I switched over the the zero sugar version exactly because it tastes like an energy drink and not like a usual soft drink. (also because it’s only 15 kcal a can)Just like the sweet film on some medicine tablets it’s not an unpleasant taste but one that you wouldn’t inject without a reason. It also helps that energy drinks are usually in tin cans you have to buy a portion deliberately. Unlike coffee or tea, which you can just brew any time you feel like it and it doesn’t feel like a big deal.

    By the way unless you buy coffee beans from some bio or fair trade store it will have additives and preservatives just as well.

  • Phil Q

    I recently switched from drinking an energy drink per day to drinking a pint of low fat milk twice a day. I have lots energy.

  • Dean

    I use to drink energy drinks. I switched to coffee mainly because the sugar would make me crash. 1 can of monster has around 50 grams of sugar. While that same size of starbucks has 25. Makes a big difference. I’ve also noticed starbucks has a good amount of protein in their coffees. The same with potassium. It might be a little more on the caffeine content. Then again when I drank monster I felt like i was drinking diabetes. The no sugar or low carb energy drinks didn’t do anything for me.

  • wow

    you do realize that fat gives your body more energy and more bodily functions. Don’t cut out the fat for sugar, which is what most “fat free” and “low fat” products do.

  • wow

    Energy drink ingredients aren’t studied as much as coffee. The Chlorogenic and Ferulic acid in coffee is great.
    But Vitamin, minerals and herb point is just completely false and very misleading. Vitamin B, gingseng, taurine have been studied just as much as the 2 acids above. They are just as safe as coffee at the dosages they are in. If you are drinking 5 sugar-free red bulls or 5 coffees a day, yes that is a problem. Yes, the red bull will be worse.
    As much as the news loves to bring down energy drinks. There vitamins and herbs are great qualities and should not be frowned upon. Sugar in any juice (most likely not even real juice you are drinking) and pop is insane. Just there are alternatives, but those haven’t been studied well enough to give an accurate long term effects.
    Sugar-free energy drinks aren’t as bad as you think. An energy drink isn’t as bad as pop.
    I am free for debate if anyone wants..

  • Robbyn

    I don’t know – from experience and observation, energy drinks give a sudden boost that ends with a lower level of energy than what the user started with…the crash is harder…I’d love some funding to study this properly – though I’m sure a simple Scholar search will return similar studies…oO…I also think it’s the mixing people do and the fact that a lot of athletes “overdoes” on energy drinks – you’re meant to consume something akin to 1 can every so many hours – each product has it’s list…however, many users drink far more than the recommended dosage (I sound like I’m talking about medication here…lol)

    That said, I understand coffee and energy drinks have different constituencies and sit differently in the stomach…the amount of caffeine in coffee is likely to lead to a higher degree of dehydration than energy drinks – then again, depends how much you’re taking it…a caffeine patch might be the better way forward…???

    Personally, I prefer proper coffee to nonsense coffee (cheap) or energy drinks…and drink one cup in the morning…only when the research is intensive and late night do I get a second cup…real coffee is just the best 🙂

    For sports, I don’t take anything…so I can’t comment on that…

  • wow

    If you find a study you like but cant view it, i can easily show you it :p. The half life of caffeine is 6 hours so, you are doing it right by having 1 “proper” coffee in the morning.
    You are 100% correct by coffee dehydrating you more than energy drinks. It’s not a simple water fix either because then you would be causing a further electrolyte imbalance.

  • Oliver Queen Alyas Ro…

    Been doing some reading because I have almost “tasted” and drank most energy drinks. I say though that the regular Red Bull is the best for me based on how I “feel” and experience with it.

    The article maybe right in using Monster as example regarding the sugar crash as I don’t think I ever have that experience with Red Bull only with Monster.

    I use energy drinks in the morning at work. Imagine the commute and the drive on almost a day I feel the crash with Monster specially when driving off to Home.

  • How does coffee have protein and potassium? I could see maybe a gram or two of protein from cream/milk but what else?

  • AnimalPath

    Monster has low carb beverages. They have virtually no sugar.

  • AnimalPath

    Try gronk

  • AnimalPath

    I’ve been drinking 2 -3 cans daily for the past year. I strongly agree with this statement.

  • Kathryn Dunaway Gibson

    I think the big issue is Monster, Red Bull, and the like, are cleverly marketed to children and teens. With the disguise of cartoons, wild and wacky images, noise blurbs, color, packaging, etc. used in advertising, they are no better than cigarette manufacturers — the Camel of the caffeine empire. Caffeine on its own is addictive, but with added sugar, artificial preservatives, and these “herbs” and vitamins, these manufacturers have intentionally made their products more addictive than coffee and colas. Then take into consideration the packaging versus serving size. There are two servings in a standard can of Monster for example. These manufacturers know, regardless of their campaigns kids, especially teens, are well known for handling moderation responsibly… That’s right. It’s just the opposite. Most people, much less minors, aren’t going to waste half of a rather pricey drink. So let’s think about this…
    Delicious Fruity Flavors
    Enhanced with Sugar and Artificial Additives
    Laced with Addictive oops Added (wink) “Herbs” and Vitamins
    Cartoon Commercials, Childish Product Names
    Extra Serving in one package must mean it’s a great deal

    And you don’t think they’ve hired those marketing peeps from big bad cigarette companies to essentially sell you or your kids another nail in their casket… hmm. God Bless Your Heart because you really need it…
    You can say it’s media sensationalism, because you never hear them report good news, but get real. These products have not been studied long term so in 30 years we can see the long term impact to health, count the deaths, and gripe about not being warned. There is no age restriction or marketing limitations for these products but bottom line there should not be a product out on the market that has risk of killing kids.

  • Blake Webb

    Which “wild, wacky” cartoon images are you talking about? The silhouette of the bull on Red Bull? The green claws ripping out of the Monster can? No energy drink I have ever seen has cartoon images. I have tried most of them. The bold colors are used in marketing for literally everything everywhere. They are sweet? So is soda, some coffee blends, chocolate, and a variety of other things marketed to adults. In fact, many energy drinks have a bit of a tart taste that children aren’t interested in.

    You really want it to seem like these evil energy drink corporations are trying to trap young children and get them addicted like big nicotine did in the 50s. Even they haven’t marketed images toward kids since the 80s. Ever wonder why you don’t see Joe Camel anymore? It is just a picture of a camel now…because their name is camel. But I digress…none of the images or colors are marketed toward children and you are reaching really far in every part of your argument to make that connection for some reason. And FYI, the “addictive herbs” you are talking about have been used for hundreds of years in a variety of cultures and have been proven by modern studies to be non-addictive.

    Ultimately you read a story on the Internet that was made up of speculation, you added some feel-good flair for sympathy, you likened energy drinks to cigarettes which is crazy, and you have no factual evidence to back up anything you said except that cigarettes are bad.

    Ultimately moderation is the most important thing for ANYTHING. Parents shouldn’t be feeding their children coffee OR energy drinks…that is obvious. That is a parenting thing though and the rest of us adults who actually do a little bit of investigation into things before spewing useless garbage out as gospel on the Internet realize that not everything is the devil Ms Boucher.

  • energy-freak

    I dont belive Energy Drinks arent that bad… just look at the facts…
    you will see that coffee and coke are just as bad…
    plz inform yourself better like on this page:

  • De

    Literally every person i know that drinks coffe deinks around 4-5 coffe’s a day so don’t say only children are iresponsible

  • Pctweaks

    Well this article should have been energy drink vs coke because they are both the same animal. High in sugar, caffeine and both will kill you in the long run.

Last Modified: September 11, 2014