What is the difference between the two?
Both coffee and tea as beverages have a long history. Of the two beverages, tea was the first one to be consumed by humans. Legend has it that the Chinese ruler Shen Nong discovered tea in 2737 BC when a tea leaf accidentally fell into boiling water.
As for coffee, scientists say it was first known to be cultivated in 674 AD in the area surrounding the Red Sea. Ethiopia and Yemen were the first countries to enjoy coffee, with one legend saying that the energizing effects of the coffee bean were discovered by a clever shepherd named Kaldi who noticed that a sheep who ate a coffee bean was unusually active. Kaldi then tried one of the beans himself and felt instantly energized and full of strength.
Since their beginnings, both beverages and the way we process and prepare them have changed a lot, and today, we have many varieties of tea and coffee beverages that vary in taste, aroma, and even color. And while coffee comes from the beans of Coffea plants, and tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, their properties and health benefits are more similar than one might expect.
1. Both beverages are rich in caffeine
While we typically only associate coffee as a caffeine-rich beverage, tea leaves are likewise very high in this ingredient. Caffeine is the most widespread stimulant in the world, and it is associated with both positive and adverse effects on human health. On average, coffee is richer in caffeine than tea, but certain tea varieties, such as the Japanese matcha tea powder, are just as caffeinated as coffee itself.
For comparison, 1 cup (8 oz or 230 ml) of brewed coffee can contain between 70-140 mg of caffeine depending on the brewing method, whereas the same amount of black tea contains 47 mg and matcha has 70 mg of caffeine in a cup.
But why is the amount of caffeine so important? Well, this is because moderate amounts of caffeine are associated with many beneficial health effects, such as the prevention of type 2 diabetes, increased alertness, better cognition, higher productivity, and improved athletic performance. Those who drink moderate amounts of coffee are also known to have a lower incidence of dementia, Alzheimer's, fatty liver disease, and metabolic syndrome. Though most research pertaining to caffeine has been conducted on coffee, the caffeine content in tea should confidently yield the same results when consumed moderately.
However, all these beneficial changes in one's health and wellbeing are only relevant for consuming caffeine in moderation because the moment you increase your caffeine intake to more than 400 mg a day, the negative effects, such as a racing heart and cardiovascular issues start to kick in. Since coffee is higher in caffeine, these negative effects were first observed in coffee drinkers, but technically speaking, a large intake of tea, especially strong brews and matcha, could likewise bring you into the risk zone.
2. Both tea and coffee are packed with antioxidants
Modern science links many chronic diseases, such as cancer, dementia, arthritis, and type 2 diabetes, as well as aging to the process of oxidation and the lack of antioxidants in the human body. Luckily, we can get many antioxidants from foods, namely fruit, and vegetables, but also other plant-based foods and beverages, including coffee and tea. If you want to learn more about antioxidants, take a look at our previous post titled Understanding Free Radicals, Oxidation, and Antioxidants.
When it comes to the specific antioxidants present in tea and coffee, most of them belong to the group of antioxidants called polyphenols. While green tea is famous for EGCG, an antioxidant mostly associated with weight loss, tea, in general, contains many other antioxidants, such as catechins, theaflavins, and thearubigins. The last two were confirmed to prevent colon and lung cancer just recently, and the antioxidant content of green tea is famously known to prevent and aid many chronic diseases, such as arthritis, UTIs, heart issues, and cancer.
That said, it's not just tea that boasts of having an impressive antioxidant profile. Coffee, too, is rich in these beneficial compounds, with the most common antioxidants present in coffee being flavonoids and chlorogenic acid (CGA). The latter in particular boasts of having anti-cancer properties itself. In spite of coffee's bad rep, recent studies have found that the antioxidants present in coffee could actually have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health, too, capable of preventing stroke in women if consumed regularly.
Therefore, both tea and coffee contain quite a lot of antioxidants associated with numerous health benefits.
3. Tea and Coffee can help you lose weight
The particular cocktail of caffeine and antioxidants may have another beneficial effect on the human body - lowering its proneness to gain excess fat. Both coffee and tea have a number of studies proving their weight gain prevention and weight loss benefits. Specifically, caffeine as well as CGA in coffee have been suggested to lower body fat tissue and boost metabolism according to multiple studies. The antioxidant EGCG in green tea and theaflavin in black tea have likewise been found to boost liver function and promote fat metabolism.
Finally, polyphenols present both in tea and coffee may be able to boost the gut microbiome according to animal model studies, which can likewise help prevent excessive weight gain. Thus, both tea and coffee can help you prevent weight gain and help your weight loss journey when consumed in moderation. Needless to say, adding sugar, syrups, and sweeteners to any of these beverages will cancel out these weight loss benefits, so stick to unsweetened tea and coffee.
4. The energy-boosting effects of tea and coffee
So far, we have compared both coffee and tea and seen that they are more similar than different when it comes to their active ingredients and health benefits. And while it is certainly true that both coffee and tea can give you energy and boost your cognition, the two beverages actually have quite a different effect on the human brain.
The active ingredient giving you energy but also making some people jittery when drinking coffee is caffeine. This ingredient's effect on the brain is twofold. On one hand, caffeine binds to the dopamine receptors, giving you energy and also making you jittery at times. On the other hand, caffeine also blocks the adenosine receptors in the brain, which are the receptors in your brain responsible for making you sleepy. This way, coffee can both energize and make you resistant to falling asleep, at least for the first hour or so until the caffeine levels in your brain will start to drop again and the effect wears off.
Tea also has caffeine, so it will also have a similar effect to that of coffee, although much weaker since the concentration of caffeine in tea is somewhat lower for most tea varieties. In addition to caffeine, however, tea also contains an antioxidant called L-theanine, which has calming and anti-stress effects on the brain. This combination helps those who drink tea feel alert and more focused, but also calm and not jittery or anxious.
What's the verdict?
As you can probably conclude on your own, the differences in tea and coffee are fewer than many people think, and in most cases, what beverage to drink comes down to personal preference and taste. That said, you should definitely watch how much coffee or tea you drink to not exceed the daily allowed caffeine limit, which is why most doctors recommend drinking no more than 4 cups of coffee (or matcha) a day, and no more than 5-6 cups of tea. Of course, you can definitely mix and match both coffee and tea to get all the health benefits the two drinks have to offer.
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