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Coffee vs. tea

Which is the healthier option?

Coffee and black tea are among the world’s most popular beverages, but you may wonder whether one is healthier than the other. This article compares coffee and black tea to help you decide which one to choose.

Evidence-based
This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
We look at both sides of the argument and strive to be objective, unbiased, and honest.
Last updated on September 3, 2022, and last reviewed by an expert on August 6, 2022.

Coffee and tea are among the world’s most popular beverages, with black tea being the most sought-after variety, accounting for 78% of all tea production and consumption.

While the two provide similar health benefits, they have some differences.

This article compares coffee and black tea to help you decide which one to choose.

Caffeine content

Caffeine is the most studied and consumed stimulant in the world.

In many common beverages, including coffee and tea, caffeine is known for its beneficial and adverse effects on human health.

While the caffeine content can vary depending on brewing time, serving size, or preparation method, coffee can easily pack twice the caffeine as an equal serving of tea.

The amount of caffeine considered safe for human consumption is 400 mg daily. One 8-ounce cup (240 ml) of brewed coffee contains an average of 95 mg of caffeine, compared with 47 mg in the same serving of black tea.

Though scientists have primarily focused on coffee when researching the positive effects of caffeine, both drinks — despite containing differing amounts of this substance — can provide its associated health benefits.

Caffeine intake may reduce your risk of certain chronic diseases and improve athletic performance, mood, and mental alertness.

Caffeine works as a powerful stimulant for your central nervous system, which is why it’s considered a performance-enhancing substance in sports.

One review of 40 studies determined that caffeine intake improved endurance exercise outcomes by 12%, compared with a placebo.

As for caffeine’s effect on mental alertness, research shows that it improves performance in simple and complex tasks.

A study of 48 people who were given a drink containing either 75 or 150 mg of caffeine revealed improvements in reaction times, memory, and information processing, compared with the control group.

13 science-based health benefits of coffee
Suggested read: 13 science-based health benefits of coffee

Other studies indicate caffeine may reduce type 2 diabetes risk by improving insulin sensitivity.

A review of 9 studies in 193,473 people showed that regularly drinking coffee significantly lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Moreover, moderate caffeine intake has been associated with protective effects against dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, metabolic syndrome, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Summary: Caffeine is a powerful stimulant associated with protective effects against some chronic diseases. Coffee contains more caffeine per serving than black tea, but both beverages may provide their associated benefits.

Rich in antioxidants

Antioxidants protect your body against free radical damage, which may help prevent the development of certain chronic diseases.

Both tea and coffee are loaded with antioxidants, primarily polyphenols, which contribute to their characteristic flavor and health-promoting properties.

Many groups of polyphenols are present in tea and coffee.

Theaflavins, thearubigins, and catechins are the primary ones in black tea, while coffee is rich in flavonoids and chlorogenic acid (CGA).

A recent test-tube study discovered that theaflavins and thearubigins inhibited the growth of lung and colon cancer cells and ultimately killed them.

Studies in leukemia cells revealed similar results, suggesting that black tea may have cancer-protective properties, though more research is needed.

Suggested read: Matcha vs. coffee: Differences, benefits, pros, and cons

On the other hand, test-tube studies on coffee’s anticancer properties have found that its CGA content acts as a potent inhibitor of cancer cell growth, protecting against gastrointestinal and liver cancer.

Long-term studies in humans and further research that has analyzed larger pools of evidence show that coffee and tea may also protect against other cancers, such as breast, colon, bladder, and rectum cancer.

Aside from their antioxidant activities, polyphenols have been linked to a reduced rate of heart disease.

They contribute to heart health via various blood-vessel-protective mechanisms, including:

A 10-year study in 74,961 healthy people determined drinking 4 cups (960 ml) or more of black tea per day was associated with a 21% lower risk of stroke than non-drinkers.

Another 10-year study in 34,670 healthy women showed that drinking 5 cups (1.2 liters) or more of coffee per day lowered the risk of stroke by 23%, compared with non-drinkers.

Suggested read: Caffeine during pregnancy: How much is safe?

Summary: Both coffee and tea contain different polyphenols, potent antioxidants that protect against heart disease and cancer.

Coffee and tea may increase energy levels

Both coffee and tea can boost your energy — but in different ways.

Coffee’s energy-boosting effect

The caffeine in coffee elevates your energy levels.

Caffeine increases alertness and reduces fatigue by increasing dopamine levels and blocking adenosine.

Dopamine is the chemical messenger responsible for the jittery effect of coffee, as it increases your heart rate. It also affects your brain’s reward system, which adds to coffee’s addictive properties.

On the other hand, adenosine has a sleep-promoting effect. Thus, by blocking it, caffeine reduces your feelings of tiredness.

Moreover, coffee’s effect on your energy levels happens almost immediately.

Once ingested, your body absorbs 99% of its caffeine within 45 minutes, but peak blood concentrations appear as early as 15 minutes after ingestion.

This is why many people prefer a cup of coffee when they need an immediate energy boost.

Tea’s effect on energy

Though tea is lower in caffeine, it’s rich in L-theanine, a powerful antioxidant that stimulates your brain.

Unlike caffeine, L-theanine may provide anti-stress effects by increasing your brain’s alpha waves, which help you calm down and relax.

This counteracts the arousing effect of caffeine and gives you a relaxed but alert mental state without feeling drowsy.

Studies have found that consuming L-theanine and caffeine — as in tea — may help you maintain alertness, focus, attention, and sharpness.

10 evidence-based health benefits of black tea
Suggested read: 10 evidence-based health benefits of black tea

This combination may be why tea gives you a soothing and smoother energy boost than coffee.

Summary: Both coffee and tea increase your energy levels. However, coffee gives you an instant kick, while tea offers a smooth boost.

Possible weight loss benefits

Due to its high caffeine concentration, coffee may help you lose weight.

Caffeine may increase the number of calories you burn by 3–13% and maintain this effect for 3 hours after intake, translating into an extra 79–150 calories burned.

Coffee has also been associated with fat-burning properties by inhibiting the production of fat cells. Some studies have attributed this effect to its chlorogenic acid content.

A study of 455 people reported that regular coffee intake was linked to lower body fat tissue. Similar results were obtained in a review of 12 studies, suggesting that chlorogenic acid aids mice’s weight loss and fat metabolism.

On the other hand, tea polyphenols like theaflavin also seem to contribute to weight loss.

Theaflavins reportedly inhibit pancreatic lipase, an enzyme that plays a crucial role in fat metabolism.

Studies in rats show that tea polyphenols may lower blood lipid concentrations and reduce weight gain — even when animals eat a high-fat diet.

Black tea polyphenols also seem to alter the diversity of your gut microbiota or healthy bacteria in your intestines, which may impact weight management.

Suggested read: Is coffee good for your brain?

Again, studies in rats have observed that tea polyphenols may inhibit weight and fat gain by changing the gut microbiota.

However, further human research is needed to confirm these results.

Summary: The caffeine in coffee and polyphenols in tea may help you lose weight, but more human studies are needed to confirm these effects.

Is one better than the other?

Though coffee has been associated with multiple side effects, such as heart failure, increased heart rate, and high blood pressure, research shows that moderate consumption is safe.

Though their antioxidant compositions differ, coffee and black tea are excellent sources of these essential compounds, which may protect against various conditions, including heart disease and some cancers.

Other health claims attributed to coffee include protection against Parkinson’s disease and a lowered risk of type 2 diabetes and liver cirrhosis. On the other hand, tea may protect against cavities, kidney stones, and arthritis.

Coffee has a higher caffeine content than tea, which may suit those looking for an instant energy fix. However, it may cause anxiety and impaired sleep in sensitive people.

Also, due to caffeine’s effect on your brain, high coffee intake may result in dependence or addiction.

Suggested read: Does coffee help or cause inflammation?

If you’re highly sensitive to caffeine, tea may be a better choice. It contains L-theanine, an amino acid with calming properties that may relax you while keeping you alert.

Moreover, you can choose a decaf option of either beverage or herbal tea, which is naturally caffeine-free. While they won’t provide the same benefits, they may offer their own benefits.

Summary: Coffee and tea offer similar health benefits, including weight loss, anticancer, and energy-boosting properties. Still, depending on your caffeine sensitivity, you may want to choose one over the other.

Summary

Coffee and black tea may aid weight loss and protect against certain chronic diseases via various metabolic processes.

Plus, the high caffeine content of coffee may give you a quick energy boost, whereas the combination of caffeine and L-theanine in black tea offers a more gradual increase in energy.

Both beverages are healthy and safe in moderation, which may come down to personal preference or your sensitivity to caffeine.

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