Coffee is a godsend. I love it, live it, breathe it—though, admittedly, this might be because I can’t deal with the impending doom of a caffeine headache. Having grown up in a small town with little to nothing to do on a nightly basis, my friends and I soon took to taking up space at the local Dunkin' Donuts. While this cured my seemingly ceaseless boredom, it also brought on a new annoyance: caffeine addiction.

Today, as a college student juggling essay word counts and 11:59 pm due dates, it’s safe to say that coffee is still my BFF, even with those pesky withdrawal headaches. I’m frequently searching for the best place to get my next fix with the most bang for my buck, so I set off on a mission to compare the amount of caffeine in a basic cup of coffee at quick service restaurants and popular coffee chains.

Keep in mind, a safe amount of caffeine intake in a day—basically, how much an average person can ingest before experiencing adverse side effects—is around 400 mg


Starbucks is highly regarded as the coffee palace for many college students, if only for its ubiquitous representation. On my campus alone, we have at least three separate locations. With such availability, it's easy to pop into one at any point in the day to order a vital pick-me-up. But how does it stack up in the caffeine department?

Turns out, a 16 oz (Grande) cup of their signature Pike Place brew packs a punch with 330 mg of caffeine. That almost reaches the acceptable 400 mg intake, all in one order. Depending on your location, this cup of joe will only cost you around $2.10 or about $2.65 if you prefer it iced. 

Dunkin' Donuts

Oh, Dunkin' Donuts, where it all began for me. For a long while, I wouldn't drink anything but ol' reliable DD, mainly because it was the home to some of my favorite memories growing up, but it also probably had something to do with being a Massachusetts native. New England would forever shun me if I wasn't a die-hard Dunkin' enthusiast. But enough of my personal bias—what about the actual coffee?

As of 2016, DD's 14-oz. medium cup of coffee contains 210 mg of caffeine, which is about half of the acceptable daily intake. It's only $1.89 to order (or 2.49 iced), so it's about $0.20 cheaper and contains around two-thirds the amount of liquid energy as its Starbucks equivalent.


Mickey D's may not be the first place to come to mind when you're daydreaming about your next serving of liquid gold, but it is probably the most accessible of all your options. You can pretty much guarantee on finding a McDonald's at every corner, and it doesn't hurt that their prices are super duper reasonable. 

Ronald's 16-oz. medium cup of coffee carries 145 mg of caffeine. That may not seem like much compared to some of its competitors in this particular lineup, but in all actuality, that's still considered a "high" amount of caffeine. Plus, it's only $1.29, and you can probably scrounge that up from the bottom of your bag.


Chick's iced coffee is bomb. Their vanilla version is a yumfest in itself, but you really can't beat the original blend. The hint of chocolate makes the whole ordeal feel like more than just your casual morning sidekick; it's like dessert for breakfast (who am I kidding? Coffee is for all hours).

Their 14-oz. cup of original iced coffee holds only 94 mg of caffeine at $2.35 a pop, but hey, it costs to make coffee so damn delicious.

So, What Does It All Mean?

Caffeine affects different people in different ways. If you know you're quite sensitive to it but still find yourself craving caffeine, then go to places that offer small doses—i.e. Chick-fil-A or McDonald's. Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts are preferred by the caffeine fiends (guilty) because they offer a greater caffeine jolt per basic cup. 

Furthermore, if you do find yourself exceeding the suggest limit of 400 mg in a day, don't fret too much. It's not a health crime to want more than one cup of Starbucks coffee. Though it ultimately depends on your body weight, it will take upwards of 40 cups of coffee at once to be lethal. You can even calculate it for yourself here.

However, caffeine lethality is very different from simple caffeine overdose. Getting into the habit of drinking over 400 mg a day can result in stomachaches, a faster heart rate, and insomnia. Enjoy your coffee, but make sure to always listen to your body and stop chugging our favorite "necessity" if it turns negative. 

#SpoonTip: All measurements of caffeine listed are specific to the coffee mentioned. Dark roasts, blonde roasts, and specialty drinks contain different levels of caffeine not mentioned in the above article.