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When Exactly Should You Have Your Second Cup of Coffee?

If you really want to know, you and the coffee must become one

We humans are obsessed with optimizing coffee. First we invented Bulletproof coffee, believed to stimulate prolonged mental clarity. Then we concocted mushroom coffee, thought to mediate stress. And then the U.S. Army developed a whole goddamn algorithm to try and provide users with the exact amount of coffee they should consume, as well as when, for peak alertness.

Now, in this very moment, as an increasingly large and shaky mass of quarantined coffee drinkers polish off their first cup of Joe, they ask themselves an urgent question: When should I have a second?

A whole lot of people and science have attempted to provide a concrete answer to this question. As I reported on previously, most say the ideal time to drink coffee is when your cortisol levels — the hormone that makes you feel alert and awake — are low. That way, the caffeine can swoop in and provide energy when you need it most. For the average person, that means the best times to caffeinate are between 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. (Early birds can shift that schedule earlier, and night owls later.)

Going by that explanation, the ideal time to enjoy a second cup of mud is… sometime in the afternoon. As far as answers go, this is about as unhelpful as trying to caffeinate by smashing a coffee mug over your head. So, what gives?

The Best Time to Drink Coffee in the Afternoon

Well, if you really want to know when to drink your second cup of coffee, you need to look inward. “When you’re talking about the efficiency of a drug, like caffeine or any other organic molecule that one might ingest, its action in a particular body depends on a lot of things, including their weight, height and metabolism — all sorts of stuff,” explains java researcher Christopher Hendon, aka “Dr. Coffee.” “Caffeine — or moreover, just having a hot drink — affects everyone differently.”

Besides how your body reacts to coffee, your own coffee intake and what kind of coffee you drink can make a difference as well. “For example, I drink a lot of coffee on some days,” Hendon says. “On other days, I won’t drink very much at all. But because I have those days of high caffeine intake, I sort of become desensitized to the whole experience. Cup one or cup two doesn’t make a difference anymore.”

To that end, Hendon notes that filter coffee — the kind most of us brew at home — is a lot more potent than espresso-based drinks you may have grabbed on your commute to work before the pandemic. “There’s a good chance that people have also just increased the amount of coffee and caffeine that they’re consuming during coronavirus,” says Hendon. That, of course, could have all sorts of impacts on your tolerance and the effectiveness of a second cup.

But while knowing when to drink your second cup of coffee is largely a personal journey, Hendon does have one rule of thumb for figuring out when to time your next cup for peak efficiency. “If you’re looking for a stimulant effect, you can get that from caffeine,” he explains. “But what actually gives you energy isn’t the molecule caffeine. That just stimulates your ability to use energy. You can’t just live forever on drinking caffeine over and over again. You need to supplement it with some source of energy — for example, sugar, carbohydrates or something that has a nutritional benefit.” 

Therefore, Hendon says the best time to drink coffee — second, third or fourth cup — is “shortly after having consumed food,” when it can “stimulate the digestion process to gain access to that increase in blood sugar.” Otherwise, he says, “There’s no real pattern. It’s just knowing your own body.”

In other words, you must become one with the coffee, my friend.