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How Many People Could You Kill With All the Caffeine Consumed on Friends?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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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.

Images: Screenshot of the Central Perk logo by Mdanial.

Kyle Hill About the Author: Kyle Hill is a freelance science writer and communicator who specializes in finding the secret science in your favorite fandom. Follow on Twitter @Sci_Phile.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Comments 9 Comments

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  1. 1. edprochak 12:17 pm 04/29/2013

    The younger me drank a lot of regular coffee. I first realized how much one summer working in a restaurant. I came in the one morning hearing the waitress say, “The coffee maker’s broken. But don’t worry, Ed will fix it. He has to have his morning coffee.”

    So over the years I too some regular breaks from coffee.

    I still love coffee, but I drink decaf, with a rare cup of regular maybe a few times a year.

    As with anything:
    know your limits
    moderation in all things.

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  2. 2. Bobsoup 12:30 pm 04/29/2013

    I wouldn’t stay away from coffee/caffeine. These days it is linked to more health benefits than problems.

    I can take it or leave it without withdrawels. I drink a couple of coffees a day during the week… rarely have it during the weekends. Never noticed it having any affect on keeping me awake or preventing me sleeping either.

    Sometimes wonder if the affect of caffeine is at least to a degree in people’s head. Alcohol has more of an affect preventing me sleep than coffee.

    … and that make me wonder…

    How many people could you kill with the alcohol served on Cheers?

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  3. 3. M Tucker 1:52 pm 04/29/2013

    All those totals and calculations are very impressive but if you just stuck with per day consumption how much coffee are you attributing to each “friend?” Two 20 oz cups? Maybe a couple more perhaps? So are you saying that 4, 20 oz cups per day will send someone to the hospital? That value of 5 to 10 grams for caffeine overdose would have to be in a persons system at one time right? So far you have not convinced me that I should be concerned about caffeine overdose from coffee.

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  4. 4. K.Hill 1:17 pm 04/30/2013

    For clarification, I am not saying that you would die if you drank as much coffee as these friends over the years, but that there is enough caffeine in all that coffee to administer many deadly doses. You know, mad scientist style.

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  5. 5. texasarmyranger 2:48 pm 04/30/2013

    You seem to be saying that what would be dangerous (or fatal) is consuming all of that caffeine at once, but you never actually SAY that. The average person who reads this article would assume that you meant drinking one large coffee a week (two per episode, 236 episodes, over ten years) would poison the drinker.

    Very misleading. Intellectually dishonest.

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  6. 6. M Tucker 6:30 pm 04/30/2013

    Kyle, I get it. I did think you could have been clearer in what you were doing with your calculations. “This amount of joe could send over 1,900 people to the hospital.” So, how long would it take to brew up all that coffee? How much would one of those 1900 people have to drink in one sitting?

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  7. 7. jc0575 11:21 am 05/1/2013

    Wow, what a useless article. Did you need to go to medical school to figure out that ingesting 10 years worth of caffeine at one time would kill you? You know what else can kill you if you drink 3.5 gallons of it at one time? Just about everything, including water.

    What you’ve written is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent article were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone is now dumber for having read to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

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  8. 8. david123 7:47 am 05/3/2013

    Kyle, while I do believe that jc0575 was way too harsh in his critique of your piece (I, for one, am NOT dumber for having read it), I do think you should maybe drink an extra cup of coffee before you next effort. Cheers! [Where the bartender, did, in fact, drink coffee.]

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  9. 9. MaterialsSciGuy 9:42 am 01/2/2015

    Hah, I like it. But for those of us who never kept up with Friends, we can push it a little more close to home.

    Let’s make a completely off-the-cuff estimate that someone would average one travel mug’s worth of joe per morning. That’s probably around 2 cups (unless you’re playing with a Big Gulp), just shy of Starbuck’s 20oz. But we’ll call it even to make the math easy.

    So if you’re looking for a visit to the hospital, you’d want to aim for about a half-month’s coffee supply in one sitting (about 15 travel mugs full). On the more practical side, you can head down to the diner, ask for MAXIMUM COFFEE, and get 14 mugs in one go. No prob.

    Someone call up some coffee marketers.

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