1. Coffee and tea are some of the most widely consumed beverages throughout the world, including in this locality in Hong Kong. Local café style milk-tea has long been one of the signature items among our local delicacies. Besides, coffee culture has bloomed in recent years, making coffee more and more popular in Hong Kong. In the past year or so, there have been local media reports on caffeine content in coffee, which aroused concerns about the potential health effects of drinking coffee. Noting that comprehensive data on caffeine content in local coffee and milk-tea was not available, the Centre for Food Safety and the Consumer Council have conducted a joint study to examine the caffeine content in coffee and milk tea prepared in local food premises. This study aimed to enhance public understanding on caffeine content in these drinks, and to facilitate the public (especially among vulnerable population subgroups) in making informed and appropriate individual choices.
2. Caffeine is a methylxanthine which occurs naturally in plants like coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans, cola nuts and guarana. Food and drink products, such as coffee, tea, and chocolate, which are made with caffeine-containing raw ingredients contain certain amount of caffeine.
3. Caffeine can stimulate the central nervous system and enhance mental alertness. The reaction to and tolerance of the effects of caffeine differ widely from person to person.
4. For healthy adults, caffeine intake arising from moderate consumption of coffee and tea, in the context of balanced diet, would not pose risk of adverse effects. There is no internationally recognised health-based guidance value for caffeine for average adults.
5. However, certain vulnerable population subgroups including children, pregnant and lactating women, and individuals less tolerable to caffeine should be mindful about their caffeine intake.
6. In general, pregnant and lactating women are advised to limit caffeine intake to not more than 200-300 mg per day, whereas children are advised to limit daily caffeine intake to not more than 2.5-5 mg per kg body weight.
7. This study covered 80 samples of hot-served coffee and milk tea drinks commonly prepared in local food premises, comprising six items which included: (i) regular coffee; (ii) espresso; (iii) cappuccino; (iv) caffe latte; (v) local café style milk tea; and (vi) Taiwanese style milk tea.
8. These drink samples were purchased from various food premises such as chain and individual fast-food shops, local cafés, restaurants, specialist coffee shops, Taiwanese style beverage shops and convenient stores in Hong Kong between April and May 2013. The laboratory testing of these samples for caffeine content was completed by the Food Research Laboratory of the CFS in July 2013.
9. The mean caffeine content of the six coffee and milk tea drink items under testing are summarised in the table below:
|Drink Item||No. of samples||Caffeine content (mg)|
|Per Litre||Per Serving|
|Tea||Local café style milk tea||30||730||330-960||170||73-220|
|Taiwanese style milk tea||10||320||250-490||130||100-160|
Advice to the Public
- Caffeine intake arising from moderate consumption of caffeine-containing drinks including coffee and milk tea would not pose risk of adverse effects in healthy adults. Nevertheless, consumers are advised to maintain a balanced and varied diet.
- Results of this study showed that coffee and milk tea drinks contained rather high caffeine content, children are advised not to drink them and to maintain a balanced and varied diet.
- Pregnant and lactating women should avoid excessive caffeine intake. Should they choose to consume coffee and milk tea with lower caffeine content, they should take note of the consumption amount to avoid excessive intake of caffeine. Individuals less tolerable to caffeine should make reference to their tolerance to caffeine and control their caffeine intake accordingly.
- For those consumers who wish to reduce their caffeine intake, they may make special request when placing order. For example, they may specify the number of espresso shot when ordering specialist coffee like cappuccino and caffe latte, or specify for a "milder" version of regular coffee or milk tea in local cafés.
- For individuals who are on caffeine restriction, they may consider to go for the decaffeinated version of coffee or milk tea.
Advice to the Trade
- Traders, especially large chain operators, are encouraged to provide information on caffeine content of drinks to consumers, e.g. through menu, in-store posters, or other channels like company website, telephone hotline, etc.
- To facilitate informed consumer choices particularly among vulnerable population subgroups, traders are recommended to offer for sale coffee and milk tea with different caffeine content including the decaffeinated version.
- To cater for consumers' request for "milder" version of coffee or milk tea in order to reduce the caffeine content in these drinks.
10. The related article is published in the CHOICE MAGAZINE (Issue 444 released on 15 October 2013) (Chinese only).