The aim of this study was to assess the potential benefits of caffeine intake in protecting against the development of diabetic retinopathy (DR) in subjects with type 2 diabetes (T2D). Furthermore, we tested the effect of topical administration of caffeine on the early stages of DR in an experimental model of DR. In the cross-sectional study, a total of 144 subjects with DR and 147 individuals without DR were assessed. DR was assessed by an experienced ophthalmologist. A validated food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) was administered. In the experimental model, a total of 20 mice were included. One drop (5 μL) of caffeine (5 mg/mL) ( = 10) or vehicle (5 μL PBS, pH 7.4) ( = 10) was randomly administered directly onto the superior corneal surface twice daily for two weeks in each eye. Glial activation and retinal vascular permeability were assessed using standard methods. In the cross-sectional study in humans, the adjusted-multivariable model showed that a moderate and high (Q2 and Q4) caffeine intake had a protective effect of DR (odds ratio (95% confidence interval) = 0.35 (0.16-0.78); = 0.011 and 0.35 (0.16-0.77); = 0.010, respectively). In the experimental model, the administration of caffeine did not improve either reactive gliosis or retinal vascular permeability. Our results suggest a dose-dependent protective effect of caffeine in the development of DR, while the potential benefits of antioxidants in coffee and tea should also be considered. Further research is needed to establish the benefits and mechanisms of caffeinated beverages in the development of DR.