Coffee or Tea… Which Brew is Healthier?

HWN Team | Heads or Tails
Coffee or Tea… Which Brew is Healthier?

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Nowadays hot drinks are hot! Unlike soft drinks and hard drinks, tea and coffee are healthy. But are they?

What did you have for breakfast this morning? Most likely it was a hot drink. And it's usually a cup of 'Morning Joe' probably because of its higher caffeine content. Many of us need our "caffeine fix" to jolt us awake and it only takes about 10 minutes for the so-called "caffeine rush" to set in and get one started for the day. 1

Caffeinated drinks are performance enhancers and there seems to be some truth in this perception. The positive effects are mainly verbal memory and reaction time plus caffeine enhances physical performance when consumed in low-to-moderate dosages.

But, research suggests that there may be hidden benefits besides that caffeine fix. A landmark study released in 2012 concluded that coffee may be been linked to a number of potential health benefits, including protection against cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.  2

What's in that cup you are sipping right now?

Tea and coffee turn out to be a great source of natural antioxidants and it turns out coffee is the main source of antioxidants in most people's diets.  3

According the USDA Nutrient Database a cup of black, unsweetened brewed coffee (8oz or 237 g) contains approximately: 4

  • 95 mg caffeine
  • 0 carbs
  • 0.05 g lipids
  • 0.28 g protein
  • 0 sugar
  • 0 cholesterol
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • 2 kcal energy
  • Antioxidants include chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid and melanoidins

A cup of black, unsweetened brewed tea contains approximately:

  • 47 mg caffeine, interestingly raw tea leaves contain more caffeine than coffee beans, but most of the caffeine is lost during the processing of tea leaves
  • 0.71 g carbohydrates
  • 0 fat
  • 0 protein
  • 0 sugar
  • 0 cholesterol
  • 0.016 g lipids
  • vitamins
  • minerals
  • 2 kcal energy
  • Antioxidants include cathecins which has strong anti-cancer properties and epigallocatechin-3-O-gallate (EGCG) found especially in green tea, a polyphenol which may boost the immune system

According to the 2012 study, coffee drinkers may live longer because it appears to be disease protective but does other coffee and tea research substantiate this conclusion?

Tea and coffee drinkers have a lower risk for type 2 diabetes. A 2009 meta-analysis study reported that the protective effects are strongest in decaffeinated coffee, followed by normal coffee, then by tea. Drinking 3 to 4 cups of your favorite brew each day can lower the risk by one third. 5

Whereas certain types of aromatic tea have a more relaxing effect, thus in the short-term can slow down the heart rate, it is often thought that the frequently reported palpitations from coffee are deleterious. 

But evidence suggests that there is no overall association between moderate coffee intake and coronary heart disease (CHD) and habitual moderate coffee drinking has been associated with a lower risk of CHD in women according to the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (ISIC). 6-9

On the other hand, tea, one of the main dietary sources of flavonoids, may improve endothelial function, but the evidence for preventing oxidative damage and cholesterol reduction remains weak. 10

Only a few clinical trials have been conducted looking at tea consumption and the results have been inconclusive according to the National Cancer Institute. However, there are indications that coffee consumption does not increase the risk of developing many types of cancer including throat cancer. 11

Stroke and Neurodegenerative
There appears to be a small inverse association between coffee drinking and risk of stroke in women only. This negative association is especially strong in women who are past smokers or who have never smoked. And, coffee seems to boost cognitive function and may be able to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. 12, 13

Weight Loss - Caffeine curbs appetite and as long as you take your coffee or tea without sugar or cream or milk, both drinks can help in weight loss. 14

OK, what's the downsides?

Caffeine is addictive
Just ask any of us who have experienced caffeine withdrawal symptoms at one time or another.
But,what is more disturbing is the increased consumption and abuse of caffeine-containing energy drinks, especially among the younger generation including tweens and teens. One drink can contain up to 10x caffeine than a normal cup of coffee, that's 500 mg of caffeine!  Although the usual symptoms of caffeine intoxication include insomnia, agitation, anxiety, heart palpitations with even deaths in teens gaining media attention. 15

What about coffee and alcohol?
Caffeine does not counteract the effects of alcohol, although many of us would like to believe it does. This misconception leads to dangerous risk behavior. In recent years, food manufacturers came up with the so-called caffeinated alcoholic beverages (CABs). "Although several manufacturers of caffeinated beer have withdrawn their products from the market, there is no sign that young people have decreased the practice of combining alcohol and energy drinks. Critically, CABs may increase alcohol-related risks in a number of different domains, but have been subject to very little systematic research."  16

What about pregnancy?
Over the years, many studies have been conducted mainly on caffeine intake in general as opposed to either tea or coffee. Unfortunately many of these studies reported unclear, sometimes contradictory results. The current clinical guidelines for caffeine intake during pregnancy is 200 mg per day or  2 cups of coffee or 4 cups of tea each day. 17

And tea is not all that perfect either. Toxins may be an issue including aluminum and fluoride and another adverse effect of tea is the possible inhibition of iron absorption from the diet, thus causing iron deficiency anemia.18, 19

The Bottom Line

Although research suggests that coffee may be disease protective, there is still no real face off comparison between tea and coffee when it comes to health benefits.

Both hot drinks have their pluses and minuses. But, some messages are clear. Drink your coffee and tea (preferably green) in moderation without sugar and/or milk. And if you are pregnant limit your caffeine intake.

So, which is the better choice, Leaf or Bean? The answer is up to you – Cheers!


  1. Cirilli K, The Face-Off: Coffee Vs. Tea, Men'sHealth, 6 April 2012
  2. Freedman et al, Association of coffee drinking with total and cause-specific mortality, N Engl J Med. 2012 May 17;366(20):1891-904
  3. Coffee is number one source of antioxidants, PHYS. ORG, August 29, 2005
  4. National  Nutrient Database for Standard Reference,  National Agricultural Library, USDA
  5. Huxley R et al (2009), Coffee, Decaffeinated Coffee, and Tea Consumption in Relation to Incident Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Arch Intern Med; 169 : 2053-63
  6. Lopez E et al (2011), Coffee consumption and mortality in women with cardiovascular disease, Am J Clin Nutr. 94(1): 218–224
  7. Zhang WH et al (2009),  Coffee consumption and risk of cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality among women with type 2 diabetes, Diabetologia 52(5):810-817
  8. Ahmed H et al (2009), Coffee Consumption and Risk of Heart Failure in Men: an Analysis from the Cohort of Swedish Men, Am Heart J. 158(4):667–672
  9. Mostofsky E. (2012), Habitual coffee consumption and risk of heart failure: a dose-response meta-analysis, Circ Heart Fail. 5(4): 401-5
  10. Hodgson J, Tea flavonoids and cardiovascular disease, Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2008;17(S1):288-290
  11. Tea and Cancer Prevention: Strengths and Limits of the Evidence, National Cancer Institute, 11/17/2010
  12. Larsson SC et al, Coffee consumption and risk of stroke in women, Stroke 2011, Apr;42(4):908-12
  13. Mystery Ingredient in Coffee Boosts Protection Against Alzheimer's Disease, Study Finds, ScienceDaily, June 28, 2011
  14. Hill D, Does Coffee Curb Hunger,, September 1, 2011
  15. Meier B, Monster Energy Drink Cited in Deaths, The New York Times, October 22, 2012
  16. Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages: A Growing Public Health Problem? ScienceDaily, Nov. 30, 2010
  17. No Link Between Moderate Caffeine Consumption and Miscarriage,  American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, July 21, 2010
  18. Blaylock, Tea and Aluminum, NewsMax, January 31, 2011
  19. O'Connor A, The Claim: Drinking Tea Can Lower Your Levels of Iron, The New York Times, June 29, 2009

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