It seems like there’s always a new study or article out on the health benefits of tea or coffee, but rarely are these two favored drinks put head-to-head in a direct comparison. Which one is healthier? Which has the most concerning drawbacks? Which should we choose for our morning cup or afternoon pick-me-up? Let’s examine and compare the health benefits and drawbacks of tea and coffee so you can finally put the debate to rest.
History of Tea and Coffee
Both coffee and tea have rich backgrounds and ancient history. We’ll explore a brief history of both, explaining different types, origins, and the growth in popularity across the world.
History of Tea
Tea, an aromatic beverage made by pouring hot water over cured leaves, comes in a variety of flavors and aromas. Aside from water, tea is the most widely consumed drink in the world. Could that be a hint that it’s the best drink for your health? Or is this just a side-effect of its long history?
Tea was originally used in Southwest China as a medicinal drink, later gaining popularity as a recreational drink, where it began to spread across other East Asian countries. Later, it became fashionable to drink tea among Britons.
There are at least six different types of tea, categorized by how the leaves are processed:
- White: White tea is wilted and unoxidized, and generally uses young or minimally processed leaves.
- Yellow: This tea is unwilted and unoxidized, but allowed to become a yellow color, referred to as Chinese huang cha or Korean kwang cha.
- Green: Green tea is made from unwilted and unoxidized leaves of the Camellia sinensis bush.
- Oolong: Leaves are wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized to create oolong tea.
- Black: Black tea is made with wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized leaves.
- Post-fermented: Post-fermented tea is green tea that’s been allowed to ferment.
In addition to these true teas, infusions of other plants and herbs are often described as herbal tea. Herbal tea can contain fruit, leaves, and other parts of plants which are combined to create flavors such as rosehip, chamomile, and rooibos. Herbal teas can also be made by steeping pure herbs; mint tea is a popular herbal option, while kratom tea is a common preparation for pure kratom powder.
History of Coffee
Coffee, made by brewing roasted coffee beans sourced from the seeds of berries from the Coffea plant, most likely originated in Ethiopia. However, its true origin remains a mystery. The Coffea plant and its energizing berries were said to be discovered by a goat farmer in Ethiopia, whose goats had eaten the berries. Word spread of these energizing berries, and coffee migrated across the Arabian Peninsula and later into Europe.
Not all people believed that coffee could be the healthy and delicious drink we often call it today. Some even thought it was evil, and it was condemned when it arrived in Venice in 1615, until Pope Clement VIII stepped in to taste the drink and found it delightful. People then found that drinking coffee in the morning could make them more alert and even more productive throughout their day.
In the mid-1600s, tea was the most popular drink among citizens of the new world (later named the Americas) but coffee suddenly took over the top spot during the Boston Tea Party. Now, most Americans would say that coffee is firmly the favorite breakfast drink of the country. But should we continue this trend if there is a healthier option?
Health Benefits of Tea
Although tea has not been approved by the FDA for any medical applications, it is a mainstay in homeopathic medicine, and has a fair amount of research suggesting its value. The experts of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explain that not only can tea soothe, restore, and refresh the mind and body, it has many other potential health benefits. Since tea contains antioxidants, it is believed to promote better heart health. Studies have found that drinking black tea can decrease chances of a heart attack, and green tea can improve cholesterol levels.
Some believe tea can also have cancer-preventing properties, but research and studies are limited. Stronger research shows that tea’s anticarcinogenic effect paired with its fluoride content can decrease tooth loss. However, one should consider the staining effect darker teas may have on teeth.
It should also be noted that the caffeine content in tea can vary widely depending on the kind and the way it was brewed. Typically, tea has less than half the amount of caffeine that coffee contains.
Disadvantages of Tea
Despite the fact that tea can strengthen teeth and prevent tooth loss, it can also cause severe stains on a once bright smile. Drinking too much tea can also be harmful to your health. In a study from 1982, researchers found that drinking tea while eating can actually result in a drastic reduction of iron absorption from your food. Considering this surprising fact, you might keep your tea ritual to breaks and drink water during lunch. It should also be noted that adding sweetener to your tea minimizes any healthy effects and adds to its disadvantages.
Health Benefits of Coffee
Plenty of information floats around on the health benefits of coffee. Does that make it a better choice over tea? Or does that mean we’re just putting more money into research on coffee specifically? It may be up to you to decide. But here are some of the known benefits of coffee:
- Caffeine can give you a brain boost that improves your concentration and memory.
- Coffee can be a valuable source of antioxidants.
- A regular cup of coffee habit can protect you from cognitive decline.
- Coffee can reduce your risk of developing diabetes.
- Coffee supports heart health.
- Coffee can support a healthy liver.
- Regular coffee drinkers have a lower risk of developing gout.
- Since caffeine is known to activate neurotransmitters that affect mood, coffee consumption has been linked to lower rates of depression.
Disadvantages of Coffee
In the US, caffeine is a Schedule III controlled substance, and it can have negative side effects when consumed in excess. Coffee contains more caffeine than tea and is also more acidic, so some people may find that coffee can lead to indigestion, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and insomnia. Coffee can also dehydrate the body, so many sources suggest two to four cups per day at the most. If you feel jittery after your morning cup of joe, try eating a banana, drinking water, and avoiding caffeine for the rest of the day.
Coffee has also been thought to decrease bone density, especially in women. So if you love your coffee habit but you already have low bone density, it’s worth talking to your doctor about how much consumption is save.
Tea vs. Coffee: Who Wins?
It’s difficult to declare a clear victor in this battle of the beverages. But as you can see, research gives us a lot of pros and cons to work with, most of which apply to caffeine (which is present in most coffees and teas). Determining the best drink for your health will depend largely on your preferences, your tastes, and you caffeine tolerance. For a healthy person that enjoys both, there’s no reason not to drink both with moderation. But if you have heard issues and feel jittery and nervous after a few cups of coffee, try switching to tea and see if you feel a major shift.
Alternatively, there are many other drinks out that that can provide the pick-me-up that we depend on. An all-natural Kratom powder comes from a plant similar to where we source coffee beans, but it’s generally packaged, sold, and served as a powdered tea, and possesses its own distinctive flavors, characteristics, and homeopathic applications. Learn more and shop our selection.