Tea vs. coffee
After water, tea is the most popular drink in the world. It’s made from steeping dried leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant and is commonly called black tea. Tea leaves are crushed, dried, and fermented to bring out some of the plant’s natural chemicals called polyphenols.
Green, white, and oolong tea are all from the Camellia plant, but the leaves are processed in different ways. Herbal teas are different and come from dried leaves, roots, seeds, or fruit of a variety of other plants.
Coffee is also a popular drink. It’s brewed from ground, roasted seeds of the coffee cherry, which are commonly called coffee beans. A single cup of coffee has thousands of natural chemicals. Each cup can vary based on:
- How it's brewed
- How the beans are roasted
- How it’s ground
Both drinks have potential benefits and risks for your health.
What are the health benefits of tea?
Studies show that regularly drinking tea might lower your risk for early death, stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Tea is high in polyphenols, which are a large group of thousands of naturally existing plant compounds. It’s not fully clear how tea works, but research shows the plant compounds might help:
- Lower cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower inflammation
- Regulate sugar and fat metabolism
- Regulate insulin sensitivity
- Regulate body temperature
Tea is also rich in an amino acid called l-theanine, which can cross your blood-brain barrier. Theanine has brain protective properties and might help prevent memory loss called cognitive decline.
Animal studies also show that green and black tea have anti-cancer properties against stomach, esophageal, mouth, prostate, and colon cancer. Studies in people show mixed or unclear results, though. While tea might have these properties, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will prevent cancer.
What are the health benefits of coffee?
Drinking coffee is linked to lower risks for liver disease, heart disease, some brain diseases, type 2 diabetes, and death. It’s not clear exactly how coffee helps your health either, but studies show it might have some beneficial properties. These include:
- Lowers blood sugar temporarily
- Protects brain cells
- Lowers inflammation
- Lowers oxidative stress, which can damage your cells
Coffee might lower your risk for Parkinson’s. The main cause of Parkinson’s disease is low levels of dopamine and animal studies show that drinking coffee protects the brain cells that make dopamine. Human studies show a link between regular coffee drinking and lower rates of Parkinson’s.
It might also help lower your risk for Alzheimer’s though studies show mixed results. It’s likely that coffee is protective for your brain, but it’s not clear it prevents disease. It does help with increased energy, concentration, and alertness due to its high caffeine content, though.
Is it better to drink tea or coffee?
So which is better: coffee or tea? Tea is generally safe, even in large amounts. While coffee is also safe to drink, high amounts can cause some problems.
Tea has more antioxidants
Both tea and coffee are high in polyphenols, but tea has more. Polyphenols have antioxidant properties that help your body get rid of free radicals, which cause damage and can lead to disease.
Green tea is high in one antioxidant called epigallocatechin-3 gallate, or ECG, while black tea is high in theaflavins. Both of these might protect against chronic disease.
Coffee is high in antioxidants like chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid, but your body breaks these down into other compounds that have lower antioxidant activity. These antioxidants might not do as much for your body as tea compounds do.
Tea has less caffeine
While you may turn to caffeine for a kickstart to your day or to help you concentrate at work, too much caffeine can have side effects like:
Most adults can safely have up to 400 milligrams of caffeine everyday, but pregnant women should have less than 200 milligrams a day. Studies link higher caffeine to low birth weight and pregnancy loss, though the research is mixed.
Both tea and coffee have caffeine, but tea has half the amount of coffee. An 8-ounce mug of brewed black tea has 47 milligrams of caffeine, while 8 ounces of brewed coffee has 96 milligrams.
Green tea has even less caffeine, at 28 milligrams per 8 ounces. Drinking tea can give you a milder boost in energy and alertness, but with less of a caffeine kick than coffee.
Overall, both coffee and tea are safe to drink and have potential health benefits. Tea may have more benefits than coffee, but you’ll need to watch your caffeine intake with either one. Your drink of choice might depend on your personal preference and your culture.
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Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Coffee," "Tea."
Mayo Clinic: "Caffeine content for coffee, tea, soda and more."
Nutrients: "Tea Polyphenols in Promotion of Human Health."
Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute: "Coffee," "Tea."
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