When is Caffeinated Water an Energy Drink? Science Behind Hint Kick

Start with water. Add flavor. Add vitamins. Add color. Add sweetener. At what point does “water” become something else? Consider a drink with only caffeine, water, and flavor – what do we call this?  For this month’s energy drink pick, let’s discuss a beverage contrary to energy drink expectations and the science behind the green coffee beans used to fuel it.

Spectrums and Stereotypes

The FDA has drawn the line for what is allowed to be called “water” [see this FDA Warning Letter here] but no such lines exist for a “water beverage”.

FDA defines water in warning letter 2011
FDA defines water in warning letter 2011 Source: FDA Warning Letters

I’ve studied biochemistry and energy drinks since 2003. It’s remarkable how much the energy drink market has evolved. Energy drinks are not a stereotype, they’re a spectrum, and caffeinated waters are so far on the edge of this spectrum, it barely makes sense to call them “energy drinks”. Of course, even if we give “caffeinated waters” their own separate category and stereotypes, there are products like Monster Energy’s Hydro line to challenge wherever we draw those lines.

If you don’t care about blurred categories or want to deal with the stigmas of energy drinks, good news! There are plenty of non-stereotypical energy drinks on the market. Here at GreenEyedGuide.com, my goal is to highlight these options.

Energy Drink of the Month HINT KICK

The Energy Drink of the Month for April 2018 is Hint Kick

Normally I try to pick the Energy Drink of the Month based on what kind of caffeinated beverage is most suitable for the holidays and happenings of this time of year (e.g.,. the Superbowl, Back-to-School time, etc). But it’s snowing here in Wisconsin, and it’s April…

Alas, here’s one good reason to pick Hint Kick as the Energy Drink of the Month for April 2018: Hint’s Founder and CEO was nominated Woman of the Month for April 2018:

Kara Goldin Woman of the Month – April 2018; Founder and CEO of GreenEyedGuide’s pick for Energy Drink of the Month – April 2018

Science Behind Hint Kick’s Key Ingredients

Hint Kick has only three ingredients: purified water, natural flavor, and natural caffeine from coffee bean extract.

Hint Kick Nutrition Facts

Coffee bean extract, also referred to as green coffee bean extract, comes from coffee beans that don’t go through the roasting process of coffee beans used for, you know, real coffee.

There are many health benefits associated with drinking coffee (Caffeine Informer lists at least 25) but the antioxidant activity of coffee is attributed to an antioxidant named chlorogenic acid (or “CGA” for short). However, roasting can break this little CGA guy, thus diminishing the benefits he’d bring us. And therein lies the appeal of unroasted coffee beans.

More proof food processing is evil…totally joking! Let’s not really go there.

Green coffee beans have gotten some attention in recent years as the latest plant to enable weight loss. First of all, ALL SOURCES of caffeine can be associated with weight loss because of how caffeine affects reactions all over the body to encourage the use of fat molecules over carbs for fuel. Second of all, let’s skip the miracles and skepticism and instead talk about what the latest research papers say:

  • Green coffee extract can’t help control blood sugar or insulin concentration (at least not post-exercise). When cyclists got sugar and a placebo or caffeine or green coffee extract after a workout, there were no significant differences in blood glucose or insulin levels. (This was with 5 mg per kg bodyweight CGA, too! So we can’t blame “ineffective doses” for lack of an effect) [2015, Nutrition]
  • Roasting coffee beans reduces the amount of CGA [2009, J Agric Food Chem] BUT…
  • Total Polyphenol Content and Antioxidant Activity isn’t always superior for green coffee bean extract. Some varieties of the green coffee beans had smaller polyphenol content than the roasted ones. (Same genus, same species, different variety, different Polyphenol Content!) [2015, Mol Med Rep]
  • When coffee beans are roasted, the CGA content goes down, but OTHER polyphenols, like polymeric melonoidins, are formed during the roasting process thanks to the Maillard Reaction. [2017, Phytochem Anal]

Thanks, nerd, but what do I do with this information?

What this means is green coffee beans are not the miracle plant some people are hoping for, but it’s still a source of antioxidants. Also, these green coffee extracts sure help take the coffee-taste out of non-coffee caffeinated beverages. This means more options for those who like to get their caffeine from something other than soda, coffee, tea, or the stereotypical energy drink!

Hint Kick versus other Caffeinated Waters

Caffeine is bitter, so different companies will find different ways to combat the bitterness. Some companies use caffeine anhydrous (the non-natural source of caffeine); some companies add flavor enhancers like citric acid which help preserve the beverage and combat the bitterness; other companies add sweeteners, whether it’s artificial or natural.

When trying to compare Hint Kick to other caffeinated waters, I can only help you with the science, not the sensory. YOUR OWN flavor preferences, sensitivity to bitterness, aversion to GMOs, artificial sweeteners, etc. will greatly impact which brand(s) you prefer.

Caffeine Content and the 5 Levels of Fatigue

You don’t wear the same color clothes every day (unless you’re Batman or Black Widow), so why would you drink the same exact caffeinated beverage every single day? What if you’re not as tired one day as you were the next?

black widow outfits from pintrest
Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/415105290648061852/

The 5 Levels of Fatigue is a system I developed while studying biochemistry and energy drinks in grad school which takes advantage of the spectrum of caffeinated beverages available. If you’re bored-kind-of-tired, you don’t want to drink the same thing you’d rely on for an all-nighter-kind-of-tired. Hence, the different levels and their corresponding beverage recommendations.


At Fatigue Level 1, you’re tired because you’re dehydrated, so you should drink a non-caffeinated water beverage (you know, like real water).

At Fatigue Level 2, you’re officially tired, but you don’t need a high-powered shove, just a little boost or a…KICK?

Hint vs Hint Kick

If you accidentally confuse Hint with Hint Kick, don’t worry – there’s only 60 mg caffeine per bottle, AND it’s non-carbonated, so you’re unlikely to feel super-charged and jittery unless you’re sensitive to caffeine.

Let’s compare this amount to other caffeinated beverages because there is no such thing as a standard cup of coffee (despite what you’ve read elsewhere, c’mon, you KNOW this is true if you’ve ever tried coffee from gas stations, hotels, your parents’ house, etc.)


Source: Caffeine Informer

Bottom Line

In 2013, congressmen Durbin, Blumenthal and Markey published a report called “What’s All The Buzz About” wherein they provided their definition of energy drinks:

“The term ‘energy drink’ generally represents a class of products in liquid form that contains high levels of caffeine frequently combined with other stimulants and specialty ingredients.”

“What’s All the Buzz About”

One of the points the congressmen brought up in this report was that, prior to energy drinks, the FDA had acknowledged 71 mg caffeine per 12 oz as the amount recognized as safe for sodas.

Hint Kick is below that 71 mg/12 oz limit, and it fails to meet the typical definition of “energy drink”.

Hint Kick provides only 60 mg caffeine per 16 oz bottle, with only water and flavor as the other ingredients. This may not be enough caffeine for some people (like me) or PLENTY of caffeine for others (like my husband), and your opinion of this beverage may come down to how much you want something that tastes like water.

The most important thing about this beverage is it becomes another example of how not all energy drinks are created equal.

Hint Kick Main Page



I’ve researched the science and safety behind energy drinks and their ingredients since 2003. This book is the culmination of my research:

Explore the CAFFEINE INFORMER database

Need help with quitting caffeine?


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