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Coffee or Tea?


    * Coffee and tea are rich in antioxidants, but white tea has the most
    * Herbal tea is really not “tea” but an infusion of herbs & spices
    * Coffee has more caffeine than tea
    * Tea is easier to prepare and typically costs less
    * Coffee stains your teeth more than most teas

Coffee or Tea? While there are loyalists on each side, if you really want to know “which is better” it pays to dig in beyond taste and consider the health benefits of each, the amount of caffeine, variety, cost, and preparation.

Health Benefits

It is all about the antioxidants, and both coffee and tea have them.  Antioxidants protect the body from “free radical damage” which can lead to cancer, blood clots and other bad stuff.   Numerous studies attest to the antioxidant benefit of drinking tea, everything from fighting bad breath to protecting against Parkinson’s disease, lowering blood cholesterol and fighting cancer.

White, green, oolong and black tea are all derived from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant and it is this plant that is rich in “catechins” a type of polyphenolic compound – meaning antioxidant.  (Note that “flavonoids” are also type of polyphenol, but the two terms are often interchanged.) White tea delivers the biggest antioxidant bang followed by green, oolong, and then black.  What about herbals?  They miss out.  Only teas derived from the Camellia sinensis plant contains those wonderful polyphenols and processing reduces the content. Because white tea is processed the least, it is the most powerful with some research suggesting it has 3x as many antioxidants as green tea.

Coffee is no slacker in the antioxidant competition.  While java’s antioxidants go by the names of “cholrogenic acid” and “quines”, they too are cancer fighters and reduce the risk of Type II diabetes and gout.  One study shows one cup of coffee offering 350mg phenolics—the broader antioxidant category.  While nearly all the research regarding the full potential of antioxidants is more suggestive than conclusive, coffee consumption’s (4+ cups/day)  link to reducing the incidence for Type II diabetes is strong.  Studies also say that it isn’t the caffeine that delivers these results.

Comparing the amount of antioxidants in coffee versus tea gets complicated.  One study did a cup by cup comparison and found that coffee has nearly 10x the amount of antioxidants as black and green tea. Another study shows total polyphenol (TP) contents for coffee 200 for coffee, 115 for green tea, 96 for black and 39 for oolong.  But what about white?  It’s unclear once again.


How much is too much?  The American Heart Association says 2 cups/day is A-okay for coffee.  But another well-regarded study indicates that as much as 6 cups per day of drip coffee (not French press or unfiltered) will not adversely affect heart health (there may be other consequences).  For this study over 100,000 participants were followed for 14-20 years.  Keep in mind that 6 cups is 48 oz! – That is more than 2 Large or Venti coffees.  Tea drinkers, however, can just drink, drink, drink.  6 to 8 cups a day is perfectly healthy and even recommended.  Why?  Because tea has significantly less caffeine than coffee.  In “general” (meaning a regular cup of Joe), coffee has 2x the caffeine as black tea and black tea is the most caffeinated of the teas.  Oolong comes next followed by green and then white.  Specifically for 8oz:  White tea 15 mg; Green 20mg; Black 40mg; brewed coffee 85mg.  BUT 8 oz of Starbucks coffee has about 160 mg – that is 2x the amount in a home-brewed mug.  Decaf coffee has about 15 mg of caffeine.

Most studies will suggest that 200-300 mg of caffeine is not harmful and 300 mg is widely considered “moderate” (the amount in 2 to 4 cups).  But at levels of 500mg and higher, (4 to 7 cups), drinkers may notice insomnia, nervousness, irritability, headaches, anxiety etc.   Other potential side-effects of caffeine: increase risk of miscarriage (if drink more than 12 oz), increase blood pressure, increase blood levels of epinephrine, and a potential increase risk osteoporosis.  However the science behind the osteoporosis risk is conclusive, but caffeine is a diuretic and it will increase calcium excretion from the body.

But there are pros to caffeine too.  Recent studies suggest that caffeine lowers the risk of Parkinson’s disease and dementia and increases alertness and concentration


Coffee comes in varying flavors and brewing styles.  Strong and weak, sweet and bitter, flavored and plain, creamy and black.  Peet’s, Starbucks and others have generated millions in catering to personal preferences for the brew.  Tea is equally varied

Also, white, green and herbals won’t stain your teeth.  Black tea will, but less than coffee

Preparation & Cost

If you opt for white or green tea, you won’t stain your teeth and can potentially save some dental dollars!  However both black tea and coffee will do no good to your pearly whites.  Coffee can be made in a snap if instant coffee is used.  But most coffee lovers prefer a more sophisticated brew. The same holds true for tea.  Tea bags are easy, travel friendly and most often less expensive on a cup for cup basis than beans for coffee.    


White tea has it all.  It is loaded with antioxidants, won’t stain your teeth, can simply be brewed via a tea bag, comes in a variety of flavors and you can drink as much as you want without worrying about jitters or other negative effects.  But let’s be honest, no matter how good white tea is for you, if coffee is your thing, it will remain your thing.  But now you know a lot more!

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Thanks for sharing this post.

Thanks for sharing this post. It brings some more light on this part of coffee or tea world. Great insight stimulates me to check more often for new write ups. I like how you cover a lot of topics in a short amount. Keep posting!

Don't forget that a study

Don't forget that a study showed that drinking a few mugs of green tea can help control allergy symptoms. Score one for Green Tea.

"In a 2002 study, researchers at Kyushu University in Fukuok concluded that a compound known as methylated epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) in green tea can block a key cell receptor involved in producing an allergic response. Green tea also has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties."

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