This post was originally published on Scientific American
In a cup or two a day, the caffeine in coffee tweaks us out enough to be the driving force behind the workforce. Ingest all the coffee that they did on Friends, however, and you’ll be asking yourself, “could I be…any more dead?”
No TV show exemplified our love of coffee more than Friends. An appreciable percentage of the show took place in a coffee shop, and it introduced us to the monstrous 20 oz. mug. These six friends slurped more coffee than you are ever likely to see; they ingested enough caffeine over the years to kill hundreds of people.
A 50-Gallon Drum of Espresso
To find out what kind of caffeine ingestion Joey, Chandler, Ross, Phoebe, Rachel and Monica had over the 10 seasons of Friends, we need to make a few assumptions. First, given their famous mugs, we’ll assume that they drink 20 oz. coffees. Second, we’ll assume that each friend consumes maybe two of these enormous drinks each episode. Finally, we assume that this kind of coffee mainlining happened over each of Friends’ 236 episodes.
If each friend drank two mugs of coffee over each episode, the whole gang downed, in total, 445 gallons of coffee. You could brew that amount of coffee in five large water heaters. These six friends could start a small coffee importing company.
But it’s not just the liquid we are interested in, how much caffeine is in all that java? Going with the Starbucks standard, a 20 oz. coffee contains 480 milligrams of caffeine. Adding this number to the calculation, our friends consumed three whole pounds of caffeine over their 10 seasons.
Three pounds doesn’t sound like a lot, but the dose makes the poison—for caffeine that deadly dose is pretty small.
There is no agreed upon overdose amount for caffeine (it depends on many factors like body weight and heart defects), but some reports put the value between 5 and 10 grams. If you distributed all the caffeine the friends ingested over the decade at Central Perk, it would be enough of the drug to send almost 300 people to the hospital—if not outright kill them.
Of course, each episode of Friends represents a small portion of the characters’ days (sometimes longer). So what if we are only joining the gang once a week? If each episode represented a week of time, on average, then these java junkies downed nearly 3,100 gallons of coffee—enough to fill over half a freight container. This amount of joe could send over 1,900 people to the hospital.
Caffeine is a wonder drug; one that many people can’t start the day without. Indeed, the case could be made that the beverage was the fuel for many great artists and still is for our scientists. But for all its potential benefits, we know what happens if you drink too much coffee. And if you are drinking as much as the characters on Friends did, perhaps you and coffee should go on a break.