Epidemiological studies indicate a J-shaped relationship linking coffee consumption and cardiovascular risk, suggesting that moderate coffee consumption can be beneficial. Platelet aggregation is of critical importance in thrombotic events, and platelets play a major role in the aetiology of several CVD. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of coffee drinking on platelet aggregation ex vivo, using caffeine as control. A crossover study was performed on ten healthy subjects. In two different sessions, subjects drank 200 ml coffee, containing 180 mg caffeine, or a capsule of caffeine (180 mg) with 200 ml water. Platelets were separated from plasma at baseline and 30 and 60 min after coffee drinking. Platelet aggregation was induced with three different agonists: collagen, arachidonic acid and ADP. Coffee drinking inhibited collagen (P < 0·05 from baseline at time 30 min) and arachidonic acid (P < 0·05 from baseline at time 60 min) induced platelet aggregation. Caffeine intake did not affect platelet aggregation induced by the three agonists. Coffee consumption induced a significant increase of platelet phenolic acids (likely present as glucuronate and sulphate derivatives), caffeic acid, the principal phenolic acid in coffee, raising from 0·3 (sem 0·1) to 2·4 (sem 0·6) ng/mg (P < 0·01). Caffeine was not detectable in platelets. Coffee drinking decreases platelet aggregation, and induces a significant increase in phenolic acid platelet concentration. The antiplatelet effect of coffee is independent from caffeine and could be a result of the interaction of coffee phenolic acids with the intracellular signalling network leading to platelet aggregation.