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Which plants contain caffeine?

The following table shows the eight major sources of caffeine...

Source                            Plant Part                    Approx. caffeine                     Major sites of                        Popular mode of
                                                                          by % of weight                       cultivation today                    consumption

Coffee bean                    Seed                            1.1 (arabica) -                        Brazil, Colombia                   Coffee
(Coffea arabica                                                2.2 (robusta)
and Coffea robusta)

Tea                                  Leaf, bud                     3.5                                         India, China                          Tea
(Camellia sinensis)

Cacao                              Seed                           0.03                                       West Africa, Brazil                Cocoa and
(Theobroma cacao)                                                                                                                                     chocolate products

Cola nut                            Seed                           1.5                                        West Africa                          Chewing cola nuts
(Cola acuminata,                                                                                                                                        and cola tree
Cola nitida)

Mate                                 Leaf                           <0.7                                       South America                     Yerba mate
(Ilex paraguariensis)

Yaupon                             Leaf, berry                (unknown)                              (not cultivated)                       Cassina
(Ilex cassine,
Ilex vomitoria)

Guarana                            Seed                           >4                                         Brazil                                    Soft drinks and
(Paulinia capana)                                                                                                                                       guarana bars

Yoco                                 Bark                          2.7                                        South America                        Yoco tea

Table taken without permission from Weinberg and Bealer, The World of Caffeine, Routledge, London 2001, p236

Two images of Coffea arabica, whose berries are responsible for 75% of the world's coffee consumption

The table is by no means definitive. There are around twenty-five species of the coffee shrub, (genus Coffea), including liberica, which is larger than the two commercial species above, and is indeed currently being cultivated in Africa. Coffea stenophylla is reported to be superior to arabica in taste, but the crop requires a longer time period to reach maturity, so commercial availability of the plant is extremely limited.

Why do plants contain caffeine? It gives humans a buzz... but why did plants evolve the ability to produce caffeine in the first place?

Competition? Caffeine is not the only stimulant alkaloid which is produced by plants and consumed for the 'kick'...

Images used without permission from the following sources:
Left hand image (also title page image)        Biological Sciences Review Vol.10 No.2 November 1997 p.40
Right hand image                                        Photo by Thomas Schoepke, from

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Caffeine - Simon Tilling