Tea vs Coffee: Which is Healthier?

First introduced to Europe by Venetian traders in the early 17th century, coffee and tea have been fueling the modern world for hundreds of years. Today, millions of people all over the globe depend on these widely popular caffeinated beverages to get them going in the morning and also give them an energy boost throughout the workday. For many coffee and tea drinkers, they can’t rise and shine without a daily ritual involving a piping hot cup of java, whether it’s brewed at home or at a cafe. But is caffeine healthy?

Tea vs Coffee

For lots of people, their love of coffee or tea goes beyond just a daily habit. They’re part ritual, part “necessity,” and part enjoyment, with their simultaneously energizing and comforting effects. Iron Flask has put together an outline of the health, nutrition, and other key differences worth knowing between tea and coffee.

Is Coffee or Tea Better for You?

People have many different opinions about whether or not coffee and tea are healthy. Some say caffeine is harmful and addictive, yet several studies suggest otherwise. In fact, as nutrition expert Adda Bjarnadottir of Healthline points out, "...Coffee is one of the largest sources of antioxidants in the human diet." Although it doesn't have as many antioxidants, tea also has its fair share, and since our body is constantly needing these oxidation-inhibiting compounds to fight cellular damage caused by free radicals and inflammation, it's easy to connect the dots in terms of their beneficial health effects.

What Has More Antioxidants: Coffee or Tea?

Scientists have found about 200 to 550 mg of antioxidants in a cup of coffee, making it a major source of antioxidants. Black tea has between 150 and 400 mg per cup, while green tea has slightly less at 150 to 300 mg. Keep in mind that the amount of antioxidants is an approximation due to different factors, primarily the region where the raw materials are sourced. For example, experts found higher concentrations of antioxidants in Arabica coffee beans from Mexico and India compared to coffee fruit grown in China.

Caffeine in Tea vs Coffee

Does tea have more caffeine than coffee? The answer is no. When we consider the amount of caffeine in tea vs coffee, the latter always wins. According to the Food and Drug Administration, a typical eight oz cup of coffee has about 80 to 100 mg of caffeine.

The caffeine content in coffee varies depending on brewing method, type of coffee, and brand.

  • Instant coffee has about 62 mg of caffeine, which is significantly lower than a regular cup of coffee brewed in a standard coffee machine. 
  • Surprisingly, espresso has less caffeine than a cup of regular coffee, although it still has more than tea with approximately 63 mg in a single one oz shot.
  • Cold brew coffee is another popular type of caffeine intake that involves steeping coffee grounds at room temperature for at least eight hours or overnight. Based on a 2017 study, a 12 oz cup of cold brew coffee has a whopping 153 mg to 238 mg of caffeine. 
  • For those that are sensitive to the effects of caffeine but still want the relaxing experience of sipping on a hot beverage with a distinctive coffee aroma, decaffeinated coffee contains between three and 12 mg of caffeine per cup. Coffee expert William D. Ristenpart, Ph.D., director of the UC Davis Coffee Center, recommends coffee that has been decaffeinated using the Swiss Water method. Not only does it produce the most flavorful brew, but it also limits your exposure to chemicals used in traditional decaffeination methods.

What about tea? This beverage is a popular alternative for those trying to lessen their caffeine intake or or wean off it entirely.

  • An eight oz cup of brewed black tea has 47 mg of caffeine, which is less than a traditional brew, instant, or espresso. 
  • Brewed green tea has 28 mg of caffeine per eight oz.
  • Bottled, ready-made black tea has even less caffeine at 19 mg.
  • Finally, brewed decaffeinated black tea contains about two mg of caffeine.

Health Effects of Caffeine

Along with its antioxidant-rich nature, the significant source of caffeine in coffee and tea has also been shown by researchers to have a long list of health benefits. One of the main benefits of caffeine is how it affects the brain. When caffeine enters the bloodstream it gets absorbed and broken down, affecting various organ functions. However, the primary effects of caffeine are on the brain. Here’s how it works.

Caffeine connects the specific receptors responsible for activating energy centers and blocking neurotransmitters that relax the brain. Caffeine also stimulates the brain even further by acting as a psychoactive drug that boosts adrenaline levels in the blood while also activating dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters, which cause an increase in brain activity. Studies on the effects of caffeine, particularly in coffee, have shown that it may reduce the risk of many diseases, including liver cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s, among others.

Although caffeine has well-documented health benefits, experts from the Mayo Clinic recommend no more than 400 mg of caffeine a day, which is considered safe for the average adult. Keep in mind that these are general guidelines; for example, "If you are bothered by headaches, restlessness, or anxiety, you may want to reevaluate your caffeine intake. Also, women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or breastfeeding are advised to limit their use of caffeine." They advise taking into account that some people are affected by caffeine differently.

Is Tea Better Than Coffee?

Tea and coffee have specific health benefits and effects, but every person is different, which is why nutritionists recommend carefully observing how tea and coffee affect you. Some people find the caffeine in coffee to be too strong, making their heart race and bringing on anxiety. For others, they feel inexplicably tired after drinking a cup of coffee. But for many people, the boost of energy and mental focus is significantly noticeable, with the effects kicking in within 10 minutes of drinking a cup and lasting up to an hour.

Tea vs Coffee for Energy

Coffee is the obvious and often favored choice for boosting energy levels in the a.m. and throughout the day, due to its greater caffeine content. In fact, researchers have found that coffee is the most popular caffeine delivery system in 80% of the worldwide population and 90% in North America.

Tea vs Coffee Health Benefits

Coffee might have significantly more caffeine and antioxidants, but what it doesn't have is L-theanine, an amino acid found in caffeinated tea such as green and black varieties. Studies have found many benefits of L-theanine, including increased mental focus, better sleep, and lower stress levels. Researchers theorize that these noticeable health benefits come from a boost in serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters, which regulate how the body not only deals with stress but also how the brain processes positive, feel-good emotions.

The Difference Between Coffee and Tea

Some people drink a cup of black or green brewed tea and report feeling relaxed yet more focused and alert at the same time. According to experts, these benefits could be from a combination of the neuroprotective effects of improved brain function and the reduction of cortisol, which reduces stress and lowers the heart rate.

Does Tea and Coffee Count as Water Intake?

It all depends on your overall water intake and the amount of coffee or tea consumed throughout the day. When used in moderation, coffee or tea can be hydrating, but drinking many cups of coffee without any water can actually dehydrate the body. Caffeine is a diuretic, which means that it increases the amount of water in the body and stimulates the bladder. According to Catherine Waldrop, M.D., this is why you can consider it part of your water intake but only counted as half of the actual liquid. For instance, one cup of coffee would be the equivalent of a half cup of water.

The Acidity of Tea vs Coffee

Similar to the number of antioxidants, the acidity in coffee and tea depends on where it comes from and the different varieties. Based on nutrition research, black tea is typically less acidic than coffee. Although acidity can be harmful to tooth enamel, the British Dental Journal has found that the body’s PH levels go back to normal after a few minutes, so you don’t have to worry about damaging your teeth. But if you’re concerned about your teeth getting stained or damaged over the long term, they recommend drinking with BPA-free plastic or silicone straw.

Now that you know what all the buzz is about, you can make a more informed decision on whether or not to caffeinate based on the nutritional value of coffee and tea and your own instincts. Whether you go with tea, coffee, or hot water with lemon, we recommend Iron Flask’s best-selling coffee mugs and accessories to keep your hot brews warm wherever you’re enjoying them.