Tiramisu is a popular and delicious no-bake dessert and a staple of modern Italian cuisine. It’s simple, easy to make, and has a unique blend of strong and luxurious flavors – traditionally including coffee or espresso.

That coffee taste is one of the things people love most about tiramisu, but it also raises an important question: does tiramisu have caffeine?

With more and more research emerging underscoring the importance of getting a good night’s rest, people are becoming increasingly mindful of the dietary habits and lifestyle choices that may be hampering their ability to fall – and stay – asleep.

Caffeine is one of the most notorious culprits when it comes to keeping us up at night. But while giving yourself a strict early afternoon cutoff for that last cup of coffee can do a lot to improve your sleeping habits, it’s wise to be mindful of other potential sources of caffeine in your diet – especially if you’re having dessert, which is typically the last meal of the day.

So – does tiramisu have caffeine? And if so, is it enough to keep you awake?

Let’s explore!

What Is Tiramisu?

Does Tiramisu Have Caffeine

Developed in Italy in the 19th or 20th century, tiramisu is a modern classic that’s found on dessert menus worldwide today. It’s a moist cake traditionally made with layers of ladyfingers, mascarpone cream, and cocoa powder. The ladyfingers are first soaked in alcohol or coffee (or a combination of the two) to soften them, and the dessert is served cold after chilling for several hours.

Though it’s similar to a trifle, tiramisu’s unique combination of robust flavors gives it a distinctive taste that sets it apart from other layered desserts, which are commonly made with fruit.

Its popularity has inspired a number of imitations. You can find tiramisu-flavored coffee, alcohol, ice cream, and even liquid concentrates. The Tiramisu World Cup brings expert bakers flocking to Treviso from all over the world every year, each determined to bring home the top honors for their recipe.

Brief History

There’s some disagreement over when and where this beloved dessert was first developed. Two regions in Italy claim to be the birthplace of the original tiramisu: Veneto, where Venice is located, and Friuli Venezia Giulia, its neighbor to the northeast.

Multiple sources point to the restaurant Le Beccherie in Treviso, Veneto, as the home of the first-ever tiramisu, claiming the owner invented the dish in December 1969. There is also evidence suggesting a form of the dessert was served at a restaurant called Vetturino in Friuli Venezia Giulia as early as 1938.

Some Italian historians insist the cake’s origins are even older. The Accademia Del Tiramisu claims the dessert has aphrodisiac effects and was invented by a Treviso brothel madam in the 1800s to help her male clients overcome performance issues. The Accademia blames “a veil of popular prudery” for obscuring the true story behind the cake’s development.

However, wherever and whenever this delectable treat was created, it’s enjoyed steady popularity and fame around the world since its introduction to the global stage in the 1970s and 80s.

Traditional Tiramisu Ingredients

So does tiramisu have caffeine? If so, which ingredient is the culprit?

To make tiramisu, the ingredients are piled on top of one another – it’s basically a dessert lasagna. Its varied layers make this cake visually appealing; it’s often served in clear bowls to highlight the attractive stratification. The more careful and methodical you are while assembling your tiramisu, the better the final product will look.

Tiramisu takes a while to put together, but the work isn’t finished once the cake is complete. The dessert needs to chill in the fridge in order for the layers to set and the cream to reach its ideal consistency. Most recipes recommend chilling your tiramisu overnight.

Let’s break down the ingredients of a traditional tiramisu and examine which, if any, contain caffeine.

Ladyfingers (Savioardi)

lady fingers

Ladyfingers (as they’re called in the United States) are a type of biscuit invented in the Duchy of Savoy – a now-defunct country that comprised parts of modern-day France, Italy, and Switzerland – in the late 1600s. They’re the principal ingredient in several dessert recipes, including charlottes and trifles, as well as tiramisu.

These biscuits are a type of sponge cake and take their unique name from their oblong shape. Due to their firm texture and relatively plain ingredients, they’re often given to teething infants to chew on.

Professional and amateur bakers alike agree that Italian ladyfingers, or savioardi, are the biscuit of choice for making tiramisu. Some recipes swap them out for strips of traditional sponge cake, though this runs the risk of a soggy bottom. Panettone and other yeasted breads with a sweet flavor profile are also used on occasion.

Thanks to their widespread use in various desserts, ladyfingers have become popular the world over. As a result, they’ve gained a number of regional names and nicknames. Here are just a few:

  • Löffelbiskuits (“spoon cookies,” Germany)
  • Kue lidah kucing (“cat’s tongue cookies,” Indonesia)
  • Soletas (“little soles,” Mexico)
  • Bebi piškoti (“baby cookies,” Slovenia)
  • Sponge fingers, boudoir biscuits, or funeral biscuits (the United Kingdom)


Busted. The number one cause of caffeine-fueled sleeplessness – and it’s the second entry on our ingredients list.

Since ladyfingers are fairly hard biscuits, they need to be soaked to soften them up to a more cakelike consistency. The traditional choice for this task is coffee or espresso. There’s no replacement for the bold flavor and rich aroma that coffee brings to the dessert.

That said, many modern restaurants and bakeries do eschew coffee for uncaffeinated alternatives. Decaf coffee is another option; you’ll get the same flavor without the risk of a sleepless night.

Of course, for some enthusiasts, the slight buzz you might feel after eating this dessert is one of the cornerstones of the tiramisu experience. It all comes down to your personal preference – as well as your tolerance level.

Egg Yolks

The egg yolks in tiramisu help give the cake its characteristic creaminess. They are whipped together with sugar and mascarpone to form the dessert’s middle and top layers. Fresh, room-temperature eggs are the best choice to ensure a great flavor and the proper consistency.

Some present-day recipes swap out egg yolks for cream to accommodate people who may be uncomfortable eating raw eggs. Other recipes recommend blending cream into the mascarpone mixture along with whipped egg whites for a lighter texture.

Another common strategy involves heating up the eggs enough to sterilize them but not so much that they scramble. This method is tricky but can be made easier by combining the eggs with heavy cream before heating.


Mascarpone is a soft, creamy cheese native to Italy. It was developed in Lombardy sometime between the late 1500s and early 1600s and enjoys national recognition as a prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale, or “traditional agri-food product.”

Often used in sweet desserts like cheesecake, mascarpone is also sometimes incorporated into savory dishes such as risotto  as a thickening agent and to add a richer flavor.

Mascarpone constitutes the primary ingredient in tiramisu’s characteristic cream layer. It’s blended together with sugar and egg yolks (sometimes whole eggs) and requires several hours of refrigeration before it fully sets.


Like most desserts, tiramisu is sweet; therefore, it comes as no surprise that sugar is one of the primary ingredients. It’s blended into the egg yolk and mascarpone mixture that makes up the cake’s creamy center layers.

Though not as potent as caffeine, sugar is another type of stimulant and has been known to keep people awake. Consuming a lot of sugar right before bed might not be your best move if you want to get a good night’s sleep.

Cocoa Powder

Once all the layers are assembled, the baker sifts unsweetened cocoa powder over the top of the cake. The cocoa layer is usually quite dense and imbues the tiramisu with a sumptuous chocolate flavor that perfectly complements the coffee and cream.

Some recipes incorporate cocoa into each layer instead of just on top. It’s all a matter of preference; if you’re a chocolate lover, feel free to add as much as you please!

Though it’s nowhere near as powerful a stimulant as coffee, cocoa does contain a modest amount of caffeine. That doesn’t mean chocolate is inherently unhealthy, though; it’s also rich in antioxidants and may even help prevent neurological disease thanks to its high theobromine content.

Does tiramisu have caffeine due to its cocoa powder content? Yes, but it’s probably not enough to keep you awake – unless you’re particularly sensitive. A tablespoon of solid cocoa contains about 12 milligrams of caffeine – roughly 12% of what you’ll find in a single cup of black coffee.

Popular Variant: Alcohol

Though espresso is the traditional choice for soaking the bottom of the dessert, many recipes call for alcohol as well. Spirits and liqueurs may be mixed into the espresso or used as a replacement.

The most commonly incorporated alcohols are:

  • Dark rum
  • Marsala wine
  • Amaretto
  • Coffee liqueur such as Kahlua or Tia Maria
  • Irish cream
  • Chocolate liqueur

Thanks to its high sugar content, alcohol is another ingredient that can affect sleep. If you’re planning to indulge in a particularly boozy slice of tiramisu, it might be a good idea to schedule your dessert several hours before bedtime.

The Verdict: Does Tiramisu Have Caffeine?

It’s easy to see why tiramisu is so popular. The various flavors complement each other beautifully, and the cake is elegant and attractive to look at without being overly complicated or challenging to make.

But the big question remains: does tiramisu have caffeine?

The answer depends on whether we’re talking about a traditional cake or a variation. In its classic form, yes, the treat undeniably contains caffeine in the form of coffee or espresso – and, to a lesser extent, cocoa powder.

In fact, depending on how much coffee is used to soak the ladyfingers (and how strong it is), you might be surprised by exactly how much caffeine a hearty portion of tiramisu contains. By some estimates, a generous serving could have up to 65 milligrams of caffeine.

How does that stack up against a regular cup of coffee? Let’s explore below.

Caffeine Content: Tiramisu vs. A Cup of Coffee

A number of factors come into play to determine how much caffeine you’re really getting when you wolf down a plate of tiramisu. For one thing, it obviously matters how big a piece you eat. Another thing to keep in mind is whether decaf coffee or strong espresso was used to make the dish.

A standard cup of black coffee contains about 95 milligrams of caffeine. An average serving of tiramisu made with strong coffee has about ⅔ that much – roughly equivalent to a shot of espresso. For further comparison, a cup of black tea has about 47 milligrams of caffeine.

If you’re the sort of person who regularly mainlines coffee during the work day, you might not notice any effects from eating a square of tiramisu before bed. On the other hand, if you rarely drink coffee or black tea, you might feel a little buzzed after eating this dessert – especially if it also contains alcohol.

How Caffeine Consumption Affects Sleep

We’ve finally answered our fundamental question – does tiramisu have caffeine? We’ve established that it usually does. So what exactly does that mean? If you’re wrapping up a fancy Italian dinner and you choose tiramisu as your dessert, will you have a hard time getting to sleep?

First, let’s explore the relationship between caffeine consumption and sleep loss.

Caffeine is far and away the most widely consumed stimulant in the world. Upwards of 90% of American adults report drinking some form of caffeinated beverage every day, with coffee being the most common. Many people enjoy the taste, but coffee’s primary claim to fame is that it helps improve alertness, concentration, and energy levels.

Unfortunately, that boost in wakefulness can have drastic consequences for your sleep. Studies on the effects of caffeine on sleep quality have found that caffeine withdrawal dramatically reduces sleep efficiency and the total time coffee drinkers are able to remain asleep.

This begets a vicious cycle; people who wake up tired and groggy from a poor night’s rest are more likely to drink an excessive amount of caffeine the next day, experiencing withdrawal and sleep loss all over again that evening.

Will Eating Tiramisu Before Bed Keep You Up?

It really comes down to three things: what time you have dessert, how sensitive you are to caffeine, and how much caffeine you’ve already had that day.

On its own, a standard slice of traditional tiramisu doesn’t have enough caffeine in it to hamper the average person’s sleep. However, someone with an extreme sensitivity might find it impossible to get any shut-eye – the combination of coffee and chocolate can be deadly for these people. One possible solution is to avoid eating tiramisu right before bedtime.

On the other hand, some studies have found that a modest caffeine jolt at bedtime can actually stave off the withdrawal symptoms that are the main culprit for disrupted sleep – which could be a point in tiramisu’s favor if you’re a habitual coffee drinker.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve ever found yourself lying awake after enjoying a meal at an Italian restaurant and wondering, “Does tiramisu have caffeine,” now you know the answer: if it’s made in the traditional way, yes, it sure does.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t indulge in a hearty slice every now and then! For those with a penchant for sweet treats, enjoying a well-made dessert is one of the blessings of being alive. It’s perfectly fine to treat yourself; just be mindful of the timing and how much caffeine you’ve already had that day.

Whether it’s made with strong espresso, a dash of spirits, or totally kid-friendly ingredients, tiramisu is a unique dessert with a history and cultural significance as rich as its flavor. If you’ve never had it, give it a try – maybe even as a replacement for that fourth cup of coffee.

Buon appetito!

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