I recently received an inquiry from a woman who was having a debate with her husband about which is healthier: coffee or tea.
This debate has existed since these two most famous beverages on the planet were discovered. They both have been linked to wars that were waged over access to their mother plants and the mystical effects both drinks have on the human body. When interviewed, coffee drinkers enjoy warm cups of this delight for very different reasons than tea drinkers. So, in a match between Mr. Coffee and Mr. Tea, you may expect one to knock out the other but the fight is lasting much longer than twelve rounds. Let’s look at a play-by-play of each scientific round.
Tea was said to be discovered around 2700 BC in China by a Chinese ruler only after a leaf fell into his hot water. There began the existence of tea as a new ruler over beverages. It wasn’t until the 9th century (AD) that coffee stepped on the scene. According to history, the effect of coffee beans on behavior was noticed by a sheep herder from Caffa Ethopia (where the plant originally grew before transplantation) as he tended his sheep. He noticed that the sheep became hyperactive after eating the red “beans” from a certain plant when they changed pastures. Curious, he ate some of them and was soon as overactive as his herd. Apparently, the name (mocha or coffee) came after an Arabian and his followers were exiled to the desert without food. In desperation, they boiled and ate the fruit (bean) from an unknown plant. Not only did the drink save them nutritionally, but their survival was considered a miracle from God by the natives of a nearby town called Mocha. The plant and its beverage were named mocha to honor this miracle. The heavyweight championship fight began as soon as the word spread about how spiritually stimulating this mocha was found to be.
As a reminder, antioxidants are disease-preventing agents that occur naturally and variably in many food items. It has been found that antioxidants are present in tea and at different concentrations depending on the color of the tea. White tea has the highest concentration of these life-saving chemicals, followed by green tea, black tea and coffee. Green and white tea are made from different parts of the tea leaves while black tea is a product of fermentation which lowers the levels of both caffeine of antioxidants.
What makes these drinks the world’s favorite is the chemical that many of us are addicted to – CAFFEINE. This drug augments productivity, increases alertness, improves memory and concentration and enhances athletic performance. Coffee has the highest concentration, followed by black tea, green tea and white tea. Coffee has about 150 -200 milligrams of caffeine per cup. Decaffeinated coffee does have a small amount of caffeine in it because the removal process is not 100% accurate. Tea only has an average of 55 milligrams of caffeine per cup.
Coffee contains caffeine, trigonelline, chlorogenic acid, phenolic acid, amino acids, carbohydrates, minerals, organic acids aldehydes, ketones, esters, amines and mercaptans. Tea contains caffeine, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, tannin, catechin, fluorine and polysaccharides.
Tea is good for your heart as it decreases the serum cholesterol, triglycerides, and free fatty acids. Coffee has a fat-like chemical called cafestol which may increase cholesterol levels. Recent studies have shown coffee to be a heart attack-preventing drink, although too much of it may have a deleterious effect on your cardiovascular system.
Chemicals found in tea suppress the growth of cancer cells. The secret of the teas lies in the fact that it is rich in a catechin polyphenol, particularly epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG is a powerful antioxidant that inhibits the growth of cancer cells. Unlike many of the chemotherapy agents, it kills cancer cells without harming healthy tissue. At this point, coffee has not been found to be a risk factor or of any benefit to cancer.
Because of caffeine, it has been suggested that those who drink coffee or tea during pregnancy could find their babies to be nervous and restless for a period of time after birth.
In medicine, a medication called theophyline is used for the treatment of asthma. Caffeine is a sort of a chemical cousin to theophyline and also opens up the airways of asthmatics allowing them to breathe much easier. Coffee, with its high caffeine concentration, makes a notable difference. Tea, having lesser caffeine, does not offer asthmatics much help at all.
Both tea and coffee aid in digestion, but coffee’s high caffeine level makes indigestion (or heartburn) more likely.
Tea has a calming effect requiring patience in preparation and time to sip it for enjoyment. It is associated with peace and tranquility. Coffee is a different story. It represents a fast-paced lifestyle. It is associated with a fast-moving urban setting, drive-through shops, long lines and little time.
There is a less popular type of tea called oolong. Most people commonly recognize oolong tea as the Chinese tea or the wu long tea served in Chinese restaurants. Oolong tea is semi-fermented, yielding a lower concentration of caffeine in comparison to black tea. Oolong tea is also full-bodied with a flavorful fragrance and sweet aroma. Oolong teas can be a healthy part of your weight loss plan as well.
Beverage Caffeine Per 8 oz cup
White tea 30-55 mg
Green tea 35-70 mg
Oolong tea 50-75 mg
Black tea 60-90 mg
Coffee 150-200 mg
During my stint in medical school, my study partners and I took advantage of caffeine’s stimulating properties. After learning more about the differences between coffee and tea, we too were divided into different corners of the boxing ring. The reality of it all is that we are segregated by our coffee vs. tea preferences but united by the common denominator of both drinks – caffeine. Whichever you drink, make sure that you keep the maximum daily recommended amount of caffeine in mind. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, and is classified as an analeptic, along with amphetamines and cocaine. To avoid caffeine toxicity, limit yourself to less than 3 cups of coffee or 4 cups of black tea per day. Avoid adding sugar to your coffee or tea and consider using natural sweeteners (e.g. Stevia) instead. Beware of the deceiving green tea drinks as the additives (e.g., sugar) actually make the drinks an unhealthy choice.
Peace & Blessings,
Dr. Reginald Eadie
DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital
Please note that the views expressed by Dr. Eadie through PagingDrEadie.com are that of the individual only and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Detroit Medical Center.
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