Blog,  Nutrition

What’s in your coffee shop beverage?

Australians love their coffee, although not as much as several Nordic and European countries (we didn’t make the list of top 20 coffee drinking countries in 2017). Australia is also a big consumer of tea, ranking #13 according to the same source. From the results of the latest Australian Health Survey (2011-12), 53.6% of women and 38.9% of men 19+ years old drink tea; 57.5% of women and 57.0% of men (19+ years old) drink coffee or coffee substitutes (1). If you fall in these groups, do you know what’s in your coffee shop beverage?


The main reason people drink coffee is caffeine, a stimulant found in coffee, tea, chocolate, etc. Caffeine affects people in different ways, mainly due to the individual metabolism variability.

Current recommended caffeine intake is less than 600 mg per day for the general adult population and less than 200 mg per day if you are stressed or pregnant (2).

The following graphs are based on data from the Australian Health Survey 2011-12 (1). See graph below for average caffeine content in coffee shop drinks (assuming an average regular coffee is 250ml, an average espresso is 30ml and an average macchiato is 40ml).


Coffee and tea are liquids, and as such, do count toward your daily consumption of fluid. Some people think they shouldn’t because they “are diuretic” but under normal circumstances, the net contribution of these beverages is positive fluid.


According to The 2017 Square Australian Coffee Report, these are the most popular beverages ordered at cafes:

  • Latte (39%)
  • Flat white (24%)
  • Cappuccino (16%)
  • Long black (8%)
  • Hot chocolate (4%)
  • Mocha (4%)
  • Iced drinks (3%)
  • Chai (2%)

Below is the flat white vs latte consumption per state from the same source:


Note that the vast majority of beverages sold at coffee shops are milk-based. Milk is a nutritious food, but, as mentioned above, it can make a huge difference in energy intake, particularly if you drink full-fat milk. Every gram of fat contributes 37.7 kilojoules (~9 Calories).

See graph below for average energy content and energy from fat in coffee shop drinks. Note that energy will vary with size, type of milk, added sugar and added syrups/toppings.


Milk also contains carbohydrates, which contribute 16.7 kilojoules (~4 Calories) per gram. Most of the carbohydrates in unsweetened milk-based beverages come from sugars such as lactose in the case of cow’s milk and anything from plain cane sugar to maltodextrin in the case of non-dairy milks.

See graph below for average carbohydrate (in grams) and sugar (in teaspoons) in coffees/teas. Note that these figures do not include any added sugars.


The protein in milk-based beverages comes from whey and casein in the case of cow’s milk, soy protein in the case of soy milk, etc. Protein contributes 16.7 kilojoules (~4 Calories) per gram. If you are either looking to limit or increase protein, be mindful of your beverage choice (black vs milk-based) or milk choice (you can always order half, 3/4 or extra milk in most cafes if need be).


Cow’s milk and enriched soy milk contain calcium, which is important for bone health, neuromuscular and cardiac function, blood clotting and hormone release. Note that the calcium content in other non-dairy milks, such as almond milk, is likely to be significantly lower.

See graph below for average protein and calcium content (in general, directly proportional) in coffee shop drinks. Note that I’ve only included drinks made with full-fat and skim cow’s milk and regular soy milk.

Coffee and health

A 2017 umbrella review of studies summarised coffee effects on all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, cancer, metabolic disease, as well as liver, gastrointestinal, renal, musculoskeletal, neurological, gynaecological and antenatal outcomes. The authors concluded “Overall, there is no consistent evidence of harmful associations between coffee consumption and health outcomes, except for those related to pregnancy and for risk of fracture in women” (3).


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 43640DO004_20112012 Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Foods and Nutrients, 2011–12 – Australia. 2014.
  2. Centre for Population Health. Caffeine 2013 [updated 11 July 2013. Available from:
  3. Poole R, Kennedy OJ, Roderick P, Fallowfield JA, Hayes PC, Parkes J. Coffee consumption and health: umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes. BMJ. 2017;359.

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