After water, tea and coffee are the most popular drinks in the world.
In fact, tea is the world’s most popular drink, heavily consumed in the majority of Asia, Ireland, the British Isles, and other regions along the former Silk Road where the camellia sinensis plant was traded.
Source: United Nations FAO
Meanwhile, coffee has taken root as the popular drink of choice in mainland Europe, tropical countries hospitable to its growth like Brazil, and anti-British countries like the United States, which revolted against the heavy tea tax imposed by King George III.
Thomas Jefferson called coffee:
“the favorite drink of the civilized world”
But, which one is better for you?
The Science: Is Tea or Coffee Better for You?
In terms of health, both tea and coffee have been grouped together as the healthiest beverages after water by the Beverage Guidance Panel, which based their findings on calories delivered, contribution to intake of energy and essential nutrients, and evidence for positive and negative effects on health.
The truth is both are outstanding beverages, high in antioxidants, flavonoids, and other healthy and biologically active substances.
Plus, there’s caffeine.
Why are we drinking this stuff anyway?!
Camellia Sinenis (a.k.a. Tea)
Photonutrients exclusive to the camellia sinensis plant are what make tea so special, writes Dr. Michael Greger, author of How Not to Die. ☠️
In fact, those phytonutrients are so powerful that they can reverse disease just through topical application to the skin.
“There was a remarkable case report of a woman whose skin cancers were apparently stopped with topical green tea application,” wrote Greger, prompting the question:
“If green tea’s so powerful on the outside of the body, what can it do inside?”
Apparently, quite a lot.
Tea is associated with a decreased risk of ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high body fat, tooth loss, pneumonia, and diabetes, according to Greger.
It’s also capable of inducing its drinkers with alpha state brain wave activity, which is relaxed, aware, and attentive, and associated with reduced depression, greater creativity, and reduced anxiety.
This state can be induced through meditation, mindfulness, yoga, or simply drinking a cup of tea, explained Greger.
According to the British Journal of Nutrition, tea has the potential to decrease your risk of diabetes and its complications.
Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a tea catechin found in all camellia sinensis plants but not in coffee, has been found to reduce blood sugar levels through multiple chemical processes. EGCG is especially prevalent in green tea.
Meanwhile, theaflavins, which are sometimes used as a medicine and may normalize blood sugar levels, occur naturally in tea. They have been shown to play a hypoglycemic role in mice, and could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Another hero among studies done on mice is polysaccharides, a carbohydrate found in all tea. It’s been shown to lower blood sugar levels in mammals.
Then there’s caffeine.
The stimulant has been shown to potentially improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels.
The combination of these compounds – tea catechins, particularly EGCG, theaflavins, polysaccharides, and caffeine – form a unique profile in tea, which likely helps to regulate blood sugar levels.
The British Journal of Nutrition states, “these bioactive compounds in tea can regulate signal pathways and key molecules involved in the regulation of insulin, blood sugar, and energy metabolism.”
The Obesity Society, a research journal dedicated to the study of obesity and its treatment, published a study in which patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes were given one can of green tea with varying amounts of catechins (mentioned above) over a 20-week period, and found that just one cup of green tea daily can decrease blood sugar levels, increase insulin, and make you thinner.
Meanwhile, EGCG plus caffeine, both naturally occurring compounds in tea, may have a synergistic effect that helps shrink fat cells. However, the jury’s still out on exactly how that may or may not work.
Tea’s most magic component, however, may be the amino acid L-theanine, which does not exist in coffee.
The combination of caffeine and L-theanine eliminates one of coffee’s more negative effects – vasoconstriction, the tightening of your muscles around your blood vessels, according to the journal Psychopharmacology.
In other words, coffee constricts cerebral blood flow while tea does not.
L-Theanine is responsible for the relaxed yet alert feeling induced by tea.
So, clearly camellia sinensis’ wonderful.
But coffee’s no slouch.
Coffea (a.k.a. Coffee)
Coffee is associated with less liver inflammation, according to studies both in Norway and the US.
In 1986, The Tromsø Heart Study found a strong negative association between coffee consumption and the presence of liver enzymes connected to liver disease. Nine or more cups per day compared to one or less cup a day showed a 23% lower incidence of the enzyme, Gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT), which is associated with liver disease and bile duct damage.
Meanwhile, the American study showed that people who drank more than two cups of coffee daily appeared to have less than half the risk of developing severe liver problems than those who drank less than a cup. ☕
Further, people that regularly drink coffee may half the risk of developing liver cancer. The beverage even helps smokers and heavy alcohol drinkers, the former having a 92% lower risk of dying of chronic liver disease if they regularly drink coffee and the latter having lower prevalence of liver inflammation. However, both groups would be better off cutting down on alcohol and tobacco consumption.
Mind & Brain Health
Coffee is also linked to beneficial effects on one’s mind and brain.
A Harvard study found that people who drink two or more cups daily appear to have half the risk of suicide than people who don’t drink coffee.
Coffee is associated with a one-third lower risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease with the key ingredient being caffeine as decaf coffee does not show these safe effects. The beverage may even be helpful in treating the disease. “In a randomized controlled trial, giving Parkinson’s patients the caffeine equivalent of two cups of coffee a day (or approximately four cups of black tea or eight cups of green tea) significantly improved movement symptoms within three weeks.”
According to the National Institutes of Health–AARP Diet and Health Study, people who drink coffee live a moderately longer lifespan. “People who drank six or more cups per day had a 10–15 percent lower mortality rate due to fewer deaths from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections.” However, for people under the age of 55, drinking six cups or more of coffee increased their risk of death.
Problems: Is Tea or Coffee Better for You?
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Coffee can be problematic for people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Scientists found that coffee does induce acid reflux while tea does not.
Coffee is associated with bone fractures among women and decreased fractures among men. “However, no association was found between coffee and hip fracture risk. Conversely, tea may reduce hip fracture risk but appears to have no significant effect on fracture risk in general. This is an important distinction, because hip fractures are associated with a shortened life span more than other types of bone fractures.”
Glaucoma & Bladder Control
People with glaucoma or a family history of the disease may also want to avoid caffeinated coffee as it can increase pressure inside the eye, which is an integral risk factor for the disease.
Coffee is also associated with urinary incontinence. ☕
However, Greger argues that drinking a few cups of coffee daily could extend one’s life and potentially lower the risk of cancer.
But the doctor’s caveat is sharp.
“I cannot recommend drinking coffee, though.”
Because every cup of coffee is a lost opportunity to drink a potentially even healthier beverage—a cup of green tea,” he writes.
Caffeine & Sleep: A Word of Caution
The health benefits of caffeine and its detriments are prevalent in both tea and coffee, so must be addressed together.
According to the journal Nutrition, caffeine consumption, including in both coffee and tea, is generally beneficial for healthy, non-pregnant adults.
Most obviously, caffeinated drinks increase energy, decrease fatigue, decrease the sense of effort for physical activity, enhance physical performance, and enhance cognitive and motor performance.
It also quickens reactions, increases the ability to concentrate and focus, enhances short-term memory, increases problem-solving ability, helps make correct decisions, and enhances functioning capabilities and neuromuscular coordination, according to the journal.
However, Dr. Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep, suggests people should be hesitant of caffeine.
“Its effects can take as long as eight hours to wear off fully,” he wrote.
According to the CDC, one of the most important factors that determines wake and sleep is something called “sleep pressure,” which builds up in our body every minute we’re awake increasing our desire to sleep at the end of the day.
Walker explains that the effect of sleep pressure is caused by a chemical called adenosine, which builds up in the brain over the day.
“Think of adenosine as a chemical barometer that continuously registers the amount of elapsed time since you woke up this morning,” he wrote.
According to Walker, two factors put us to sleep: adenosine and one’s internal circadian rhythm. ☀️
He says you can artificially mute the sleep signal of adenosine, however, by using caffeine, which makes you feel alert and awake.
The problem, according to Walker, is caffeine’s half-life, the length of time it stays in your body.
Caffeine has a half-life of five to seven hours.
Walker argues that with such a strong half-life one should not drink it late in the day as it will hinder sleep and upset the sleep you do get by battling your brain for adenosine receptors when you sleep.
The moral of the story is that you should take everything in moderation and test what works best for you. But tea and coffee are some of the best beverages in the world when left unsweetened and without additives. ☕
The writers of this blog drink both.