The origin of inter-individual variability in the action of bioactive small molecules from the diet is poorly understood and poses a substantial obstacle to harnessing their potential for attenuating disease risk. Epidemiological studies show that coffee lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, independently of caffeine, but since coffee is a complex matrix, consumption gives rise to different classes of metabolites in vivo which in turn can affect multiple related pathways in disease development. We quantified key urinary coffee phenolic acid metabolites repeated three times in 36 volunteers, and observed the highest inter- and intra-individual variation for metabolites produced by the colonic microbiome. Notably, a urinary phenolic metabolite not requiring the action of the microbiota was positively correlated with fasting plasma insulin. These data highlight the role of the gut microbiota as the main driver of both intra- and inter-individual variation in metabolism of dietary bioactive small molecules.