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Coffee vs. tea: Is one healthier than the other?

If you drink one or both, read our guide on coffee vs. tea

Cups of tea, coffee and hot chocolate
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Over the last several years, there have been many debates about coffee vs. tea and which is better for you. And people ask the questions, “Is coffee good for you?” and “Is tea good for you?”

Some influencers and health advocates advise switching to green tea, chai tea, or matcha to forgo the “jolt” that often comes with drinking caffeine from coffee. You can instead opt for the slower and steadier stimulation that comes from the caffeine in green tea or the more concentrated version of green tea, matcha.

What is coffee and tea made of?

Black tea leaves spilling out from white and red ceramic jar onto dark wooden table
Petr Sidorov / Unsplash

Turns out, the different types of tea (black, green, and oolong) actually all come from the same plant, but differ in nutrient and caffeine content depending on when the leaves are harvested and how they are processed. To keep it simple, black tea is fermented, green tea is non-fermented, and oolong tea is semi-fermented. Matcha is a powdered and concentrated form of green tea. Coffee beans come from the seeds of the fruit of coffee trees. Coffee trees grow in tropical regions and originated in Africa.

Both beverages are lauded for their stimulating and medicinal effects. Now that we know some of their differences, let’s answer the question: Which is healthier, tea or coffee?

Nutrients in tea vs. coffee

Coffee beans in white bowl
Mae Mu / Unsplash

Coffee contains significant amounts of B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid), which help with energy metabolism and nervous system health, and thus, can likewise improve how you feel throughout your day. Coffee also contains minerals like choline, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and manganese which help with hydration and regulating the nervous system. Coffee also contains polyphenols, which are antioxidants that are found in plant-based foods. Research shows that these nutrients can be important for disease prevention.

Black tea does not contain as many B vitamins as coffee, although it does contain a small amount of folate, similar to coffee. Tea contains the minerals magnesium, potassium, manganese, and theobromine. The polyphenols commonly found in tea are flavonols, theaflavins, quercetin, and catechins.

Green tea is nutritionally similar to black tea, but the vitamins and minerals vary depending on when the green tea is harvested. Green tea contains lots of polyphenols, including flavonols, quercetin, and catechins. The total polyphenol content of green and black tea is similar, but depending on the degree of oxidation during processing, can vary.

There are trace amounts of omega fatty acids in both coffee and tea, but not enough to make a difference in one’s diet and overall health.

Caffeine in coffee vs. tea

Freshly brewed espresso
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Most of the adverse effects related to tea and coffee come from taking in too much caffeine. Adverse effects are usually associated with taking more than 500mg of caffeine. High levels of caffeine intake have been associated with higher levels of anxiety, headaches, and migraines.

Here is how much caffeine is in the average cup of coffee:

  • 8-ounce cup of black coffee: 95 mg
  • 1 ounce of espresso: 64 mg
  • 8-ounce cup of instant coffee: 62 mg
  • 8-ounce cup of decaf coffee: 2 mg

Here is how much caffeine is in the average cup of tea:

  • 8-ounce cup of brewed black tea: 47 mg
  • 8-ounce cup of long tea: 38 mg
  • 8-ounce cup of green tea: 28 mg

How acidic is tea vs. coffee?

Brewing tea in a kettle
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Generally, tea is less acidic than coffee. Coffee has a pH level of around 5.0 to 5.5, which falls on the acidic side of the scale. Black tea and green tea typically have a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0, which is closer to neutral or slightly acidic.

When it comes to acidity, it’s important to note that the type of tea can also affect its acidity. Herbal teas may vary more widely depending on the ingredients but are generally less acidic than black tea. Also, brewing methods can slightly impact acidity. Stronger brews may be slightly more acidic. The pH scale is logarithmic, so a small difference in numbers reflects a bigger difference in acidity. For example, coffee at a pH of 5.0 is 10 times more acidic than tea at a pH of 6.0.

What’s the verdict?

Glass teapot pouring black tea into a small glass cup
Petr Sidorov / Unsplash

More research is needed before we decide which drink is actually healthier for you. But based on what we know so far, coffee is a good source of B vitamins and minerals, while tea is a good source of polyphenols. In other words, your average cup of joe provides nutritional benefits for your metabolism and nervous system.

Tea has lots of antioxidants that help prevent diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, but some of these nutrients in tea haven’t been studied as well as the vitamins and minerals in coffee have. Regardless of which drink you choose, you’ll still need a balanced diet to reap the nutritional benefits of both beverages.

A word of caution: It’s easy to chug down too much caffeine with either drink. Make sure to limit your coffee to four small cups per day. If you’re a French press or pour-over devotee, keep it to two to three cups a day. With tea, it’s much harder to OD on caffeine, but if you’re drinking a strong matcha, also keep it to four cups. Whether you decide to drink coffee or tea, rest assured: Both contain more nutrients than the isolated caffeine in energy drinks, so you’re probably better off drinking a cup of joe than a Red Bull.

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Sheena Pradhan
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Sheena Pradhan is a serial entrepreneur and digital marketer. She started her career as a Registered Dietitian and…
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