The magnitude of coffee-induced thermogenesis and the influence of coffee ingestion on substrate oxidation were investigated in 10 lean and 10 obese women, over two 24-h periods in a respiratory chamber. On one occasion the subjects consumed caffeinated coffee and on the other occasion, decaffeinated coffee. The magnitude of thermogenesis was smaller in obese (4.9 +/- 2.0%) than in lean subjects (7.6 +/- 1.3%). The thermogeneic response to caffeine was prolonged during the night in lean women only. The coffee-induced stimulation of energy expenditure was mediated by a concomitant increase in lipid and carbohydrate oxidation. During the next day, in postabsorptive basal conditions, the thermogenic effect of coffee had vanished, but a significant increase in lipid oxidation was observed in both groups. The magnitude of this effect was, however, blunted in obese women (lipid oxidation increased by 29 and 10% in lean and obese women, respectively). Caffeine increased urinary epinephrine excretion. Whereas urinary caffeine excretion was similar in both groups, obese women excreted more theobromine, theophylline, and paraxanthine than lean women. Despite the high levels of urinary methylxanthine excretion, thermogenesis and lipid oxidation were less stimulated in obese than in lean subjects.