We Brits love to solve all of life’s woes with a hot cup of something. It’s the first thing we offer when we welcome someone into our home and it’s the lubricant for which awkward conversations are facilitated.
Although we are well-known tea drinkers - drinking approximately 165 million cups of the stuff a day - we love our coffee too. But which is better? Taste is down to preference, but in terms of our health, which should we be drinking more of and which should we be leaving on the shelf?
One of the aspects of drinking tea and coffee that we are constantly told to be cautious of are their caffeine contents. The NHS explains that caffeine is a stimulant. “Drinks containing caffeine can temporarily make us feel more alert or less drowsy. Caffeine affects some people more than others, and the effect can depend on how much caffeine you normally consume.”
For context, a cup of brewed coffee has around 92 milligrams of caffeine, a cup of brewed black tea has 47 milligrams of caffeine and a cup of brewed green tea has 29 milligrams of caffeine.
The NHS advises that pregnant women should limit their intake of caffeinated drinks and that they are also unsuitable for toddlers and young children.
They add: “It’s fine to drink tea and coffee as part of a balanced diet. Bear in mind, though, that caffeinated drinks can make the body produce urine more quickly. Some people are more susceptible to this than others, but it also depends on how much caffeine you have and how often you have it. If you have problems with urinary continence, cutting down on caffeine by changing to low-caffeine tea and coffee, fruit or herbal teas, or other types of drinks can sometimes help.” Going to the toilet more often could make you dehydrated.
Another thing to be cautious of is added sugar when it comes to tea and coffee. They explain: “If you drink tea or coffee with sugar or you have flavoured syrups in your coffee-shop drinks, you could be unwittingly damaging your teeth and adding unhelpful calories to your diet.”
In favour of tea, health.com says that tea is rich antioxidants and helps to fight inflammation. “Tea drinkers have a significantly lower risk of stroke and heart disease, and tea is known to boost brain health. One study, for example, found that compared with older adults who drank less than three cups a week, those who drank more than two cups of green tea a day had a significantly lower risk of age-related declines in memory." It’s been found that regular tea drinkers also have higher bone density levels and slower rates of bone loss and tea has also been associated with anti-ageing.
However, tea isn’t all great. Unfortunately, it can impact your iron levels due to the tanins in it, which is a type of antioxidant that interferes with the absorption of non-heme, or plant-based iron. In one study from 1982, drinking tea with a meal resulted in a 62% reduction in iron absorption compared to 35% for coffee.
The BBC adds that tea is also staining for your teeth. “Most dentists seem to agree that tea’s natural pigments are more likely to adhere to dental enamel than coffee’s – particularly if you use a mouthwash containing the common antiseptic chlorhexidine, which seems to attract and bind to the microscopic particles.”
So what’s good about coffee? health.com say that “a brand new Harvard study found that those who drink about three to five cups of coffee a day may be less likely to die prematurely from some diseases than those who drink less or no coffee.” Coffee is a rich source of antioxidants and has also been linked to protection against type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s, and certain cancers.
However, in some cases coffee has been shown to raise cholesterol levels slightly. Also, coffee is more acidic than tea, so if you have stomach or digestive issues, tea might be more soothing for you. health.com adds that “coffee has long had a reputation for bone issues, but it remains unclear how significant the effects are”. One study found that a high intake of coffee reduced bone density by 2-4%.
Another con of drinking coffee is that due to it’s high caffeine content it could leave you feeling overstimulated, jittery and anxious. If you have high blood pressure, you should limit your caffeine intake because it can cause a dramatic spike in blood pressure. The BBC adds that coffee can negatively affect your sleep quality more so than tea. They said that University of Surrey researchers found that coffee drinkers tend to find it harder to drop off to sleep at night because of the higher caffeine content.
The conclusion seems to be that neither coffee or tea are particularly harmful to your health if consumed in small quantities (like everything). It’s more dependent on taste preference and lifestyle choices as to which you’d rather drink more of.