Coffee has been the go-to morning beverage for hundreds of generations, in spite of the many different morning beverages that have come on the scene in recent years.

Brewed cacao has recently been hailed as an excellent alternative to coffee, but is it right for you? More importantly, is it better than coffee, and how do they differ?

Quick Answer: What is the difference between brewed cacao and coffee?

Brewed cacao is an excellent choice if you’re sensitive to caffeine, as it contains theobromine, a natural stimulant. It has a robust cocoa flavor, is slightly sweet, and has more calories than coffee. Coffee is bitter and perfect if you don’t have a sweet tooth or need more caffeine.

Brewed Cacao vs. Coffee: Which Is the Right Pick for You?

This article will explain what brewed cacao is, how it differs from coffee, and the better option for you. If you want to know about brewed cacao, keep reading. However, if you want to keep your coffee, go brew some more.

Brewed cacao explained

You’d be forgiven if you didn’t know what brewed cacao is because it’s not as popular as coffee.

Although brewed cacao has only recently gained popularity, it’s been around for centuries.

This hot drink was first brewed by the Aztecs and the Mayans in Central America in about 1500 BC when its rich chocolatey flavor was discovered.

The cacao tree produces fruit whose seeds, or beans, are ground into cacao for a tasty beverage.

There are four main cacao bean varieties, which include:

  • Forastero: The forastero cacao bean is the most widely sold and most inexpensive kind globally. It has a slightly bitter, chocolatey, and earthy taste when brewed.
  • Trinitario: With its origins in the Caribbean islands, trinitario beans were introduced to South America in the 19th century to form a hybrid cacao bean. The taste of trinitario cacao beans varies according to the sub-variety.
  • Criollo: As the rarest cacao bean variety, criollo beans form only up to 5% of all global cacao bean exports. These beans have a complex fruit flavor profile and plenty of aroma. They’re not as bitter as other cacao bean varieties.
  • Nacional: The most recently discovered cacao bean is the Nacional variety. This bean type has only been sold since 2011 and boasts a creamy and robust taste profile with less bitterness than other cacao beans.

The differences between brewed cacao vs. coffee

There are a few key differences between brewed cacao and coffee. First, cacao is made from beans that come from the cacao tree, while coffee beans come from the coffee plant. Second, cacao is typically enjoyed straight (without milk or sugar), while coffee is often doctored up with those additions. And third, cacao contains more antioxidants than coffee.

A side by side comparison between brewed cacao and regular brewed coffee.
Brewed cacao on the left. Coffee on the right

Now that you understand brewed cacao, it’s time to explore how it differs from coffee.

Below, I’ll compare the two beverages regarding taste, caffeine content, preparation method, flexibility, and price.

Beans

An essential difference between brewed cacao and coffee is the beans used to make the beverage.

Cacao beans are usually larger than coffee beans and have slightly bumpy surfaces, while coffee beans have smoother surfaces, with an indentation running through the center of the bean.

To make brewed cacao, cacao beans are roasted and ground. Making coffee also involves using ground coffee beans, which come from the coffee tree, an entirely different plant from the cacao tree.

Grind size for French press.
French press grind size

Coffee beans also come in four main varieties, including:

  • Robusta: This coffee bean type contains high caffeine levels and has a robust flavor profile with hints of cocoa and smoke.
  • Arabica: As the most popular and widely sold coffee bean, the Arabica variety can be smooth, bitter, earthy, and fruity in taste.
  • Liberica: The rarest coffee bean type is the liberica bean, which has an irregular shape and a smoky yet fruity taste profile.
  • Excelsa: Although excelsa beans are part of the liberica family, their taste differs greatly. Brewed excelsa beans yield a tarty, floral, and woody taste.

Taste

Taste is one of the main deciding factors when selecting a suitable drink. If you usually add sugar or sweetener to your coffee, you may not need to do the same with brewed cacao, as it’s already slightly sweet.

Brewed cacao has a similar flavor profile to dark chocolate, and the bitterness of the cocoa bean is offset by the vague, sweeter overtones, giving it a balanced taste.

After drinking a cup of brewed cacao, you may experience a bitter, chocolatey aftertaste, while coffee typically doesn’t coat the mouth or leave an aftertaste.

There are many different kinds of coffee beans with different flavor profiles, but generally speaking, coffee tastes bitter and slightly sour with vague floral, nutty, and cocoa notes.

Geisha coffee beans with the coffee bean bag next to it.

Tip: If you want to try some of the most special coffee beans, you can learn more about Geisha coffee here or check out its brewing guide here.

Caffeine content

Most people know that coffee contains caffeine, and an average-sized cup (237 ml) of coffee contains 95 mg of caffeine. Brewed cacao doesn’t contain as much caffeine as regular coffee, as it only has about 15 mg of caffeine for an 8 oz (237 ml) cup.

Instead, it contains theobromine, a natural and gentle stimulating substance.

However, unlike caffeine, its stimulating effect lasts longer and doesn’t cause a sharp spike followed by a crash. If you’re looking for a natural stimulant to last you throughout the day, the theobromine in brewed cacao is an excellent idea.

Side effects

As we’ve seen, coffee contains caffeine, which, if consumed in large quantities, can cause the following side effects, according to WebMD:

  • Anxiety or “the jitters”
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Addiction

Although caffeine has adverse side effects, if you consume it in moderation, it can help you become alert quickly in the mornings and concentrate effectively on work or studies.

On the other hand, theobromine doesn’t cause addiction like caffeine as it doesn’t interact with the brain. It has a few adverse side effects, but only if you consume it in excessive quantities, according to NCBI, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Low mood
  • Appetite loss

Since it affects the heart directly, theobromine can cause an increased heart rate, making it a substance to avoid if you have a heart condition.

Coffee is more acidic than brewed cacao and has a pH level of 4.9 to 5.5, depending on the coffee bean type. For example, a blonde roast is more acidic than a dark roast.

Blonde roast coffee beans.
Blonde roast coffee beans

Brewed cacao is more neutral, with a pH of 6.3 to 6.7.

Coffee’s acidity can cause stomach irritation, acid reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome in sensitive people or when consumed in large quantities.

Preparation method

Another key difference between coffee and brewed cacao is the preparation method. There are several ways to prepare coffee, including:

  • AeroPress
  • French press
  • Pour over
  • Chemex
  • Cold brew
  • Moka pot
"Pouring French press coffee in a glass.":

Using a French press to prepare a tasty cup of hot brewed cacao is the only suitable method. However, if you’d like a cold cacao beverage, you can use the cold brew method.

Flexibility

Coffee beans, grounds, and instant coffee are widely available and sold in most grocery stores. You can also easily buy freshly brewed coffee at restaurants, coffee shops, and more.

Brazilian coffee beans.

Cacao beans are more difficult to find, but you can typically find them in supermarkets focusing on organic or healthy foods or online.

It’s challenging to find freshly brewed cacao at fast food places or coffee shops, but it’s gradually becoming more popular.

After you have ground your cacao beans, you can include the used grounds in baking recipes that call for chocolate chips, cocoa powder, or melted chocolate.

On the other hand, instant coffee is great to use in recipes that already contain chocolate, as the bitter coffee flavor can enhance the chocolate notes in the food.

Price

Ground-roasted cacao is more expensive than ground coffee beans. A 10 oz (283.50 g) bag of Crio Bru Ground Cacao Beans (available on Amazon.com) costs just over $20, but you can buy the same size bag of Kauai Coffee Ground Coffee (available on Amazon.com) for less than $7.

To make a tasty cup of brewed cacao, you need to use roughly twice the cacao grounds as coffee grounds. This makes ground cacao or cacao beans even more expensive than coffee.

Calories

Coffee and brewed cacao are both low in calories. A cup of brewed coffee with nothing added has less than five calories. It also has no fat, carbohydrates, sugar, or protein.

In contrast, brewed cacao contains around 20 calories per cup. With 0.04 oz (1.13 g) of carbohydrates, 0.07oz (1.98 g) of protein, and no fat, you should monitor your consumption if you’re on a strict eating plan.

How to choose the correct option for you

I’ve compared brewed cacao and coffee in-depth and can now assess which beverage is better for you.

If you’re sensitive to caffeine or are looking for a natural caffeine alternative, brewed cacao may be more suitable. However, since the theobromine in brewed cacao directly affects the heart, you should be careful if you have a heart condition.

Those who find coffee too acidic may benefit from switching to brewed cacao as it has a more neutral pH level. Brewed cacao has a slightly sweet and dark cocoa taste, making it ideal if you enjoy dark chocolate.

A dark chocolate bar.

Coffee beans aren’t as costly as cacao beans. Since you need to use roughly twice the amount of ground cacao as ground coffee, it’s an expensive beverage to prepare and may not be suitable if you’re on a budget.

As it contains fewer calories and no fat or carbohydrates than cacao, coffee is better if you’re trying to lose weight.

Final thoughts

If you’re looking for a natural caffeine alternative and you love dark chocolate, brewed cacao is an excellent option. The theobromine in cacao can affect the heart, so you should avoid it if you have heart issues.

Brewed cacao has more calories, fat, and carbohydrates than coffee, making coffee better if you want to lose weight.

Coffee is also much cheaper than cacao and excellent for those on a budget.

More coffee comparisons

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