The Ultimate Beverage Battle: Coffee vs. Tea

Hannah Rueber
August 28, 2022

They’re both made with hot water and plant bits, and they’re the top morning drink choices. They can be purchased in bags or cans, whole or crushed, loose or prepackaged. Either one can be “doctored up” with milk/creamer and a sweetener. With completely different tastes, most people have their preference for their morning brew. Tea or coffee: the ultimate beverage battle.

What are the numbers?

In the USA, consumption of tea and coffee is quite close to being even. The culture doesn’t heavily lean towards one or the other if you look at the numbers. Despite seeming to have a Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts on nearly every street corner, only “59% of Americans consume coffee every day” (Gunter, 2022). Over 50% of Americans drink tea on any given day with millennials being the most likely (87%+ of millennials) (Association, 2022).

Social Elements:

A friend once told me that “coffee is a social necessity.” More often than not, American friends will meet at a coffee shop to grab a drink to catch up on life and spend quality time together. Yet in European countries (predominantly Ireland or the UK), you’ll find people gathering for a cuppa (tea) as their social setting. Depending on the overall setting and nature of the meeting, you may default to one more than the other. Early morning meeting? Coffee, because it fires you up for the day. Late evening hangout with friends? Tea, because it slows you down at the end of the day.

“Tea is considered the drink of relaxation, which is why friends often use it as a way to unwind after a long day. Coffee, on the other hand, has come to be associated with the work world. Coworkers frequently gather around the coffee pot to take a break from their duties and charge up for the rest of the day” (Teatulia, 2022).

Caffeine Content:

Anyone who has had coffee and tea can tell you: coffee has the caffeine! Now before you write off tea as “useless, dirty water,” there is a marked difference between herbal tea (no caffeine) and black tea (47 mg of caffeine). While you’d need to consume two cups of black tea to reach the same amount of caffeine as one cup of coffee (95mg), there is still an element of caffeine in black tea that is worth acknowledging. For those who want to have a hot beverage constantly at hand throughout the day, black tea is going to be your way to go because you can drink multiple cups with only half of the caffeine intake.

Having a cup of coffee late in the afternoon may keep you awake later than you want with its caffeine level. A cup of black tea, however (and properly doctored with milk and honey), will be less likely to keep you awake. If you know that you’re a little too dependent on caffeine to get you going in the morning, try substituting black tea a couple mornings per week and slowly increase your number of tea mornings.

“Here’s what’s uniquely insidious about caffeine: the drug is not only a leading cause of our sleep deprivation; it is also the principal tool we rely on to remedy the problem. Most of the caffeine consumed today is being used to compensate for the lousy sleep that caffeine causes – which means that caffeine is helping to hide from our awareness the very problem that caffeine creates” (Pollan, 2021).

Addictions:

Here is where the battle between tea and coffee really takes off the ground. In their enjoyment of the taste of coffee, many have come to also enjoy (and dare I say depend on) the energy kick that comes with that morning java. It’s not so much the taste that people come to look forward to as the effects of their caffeinated beverage. For some, they only need that one cup to kickstart the day. For others, they need a sustained supply of coffee to keep them functioning

When someone is addicted to coffee (or rather, the caffeine content), they will experience minor to severe symptoms of withdrawal if they skip their morning drink or don’t have access to it. They have developed a physical dependence on the caffeine, and not having it will impact their concentration levels and ability to complete the tasks of their day.  That’s not all. “When consumed in excess, caffeine can lead to reduced concentration and even panic attacks. Both coffee and several types of tea include caffeine, but coffee contains a much higher concentration. For this reason, those apt to drink large quantities are better off sticking to tea so that they don't exceed the daily recommendation of 300 milligrams” (Teatulia, 2022).

Coffee addiction is well-known, but what about tea? If you look up ‘tea addiction,’ you won’t find any serious symptoms. In fact, they’re usually quite silly: you no longer have space to store your tea; you have multiple steeping options; you have a tea recommendation for every ailment, traumatic event, and mood (Barnes, 2017). Addiction to tea is more about the taste rather than the effects, so you won’t have serious withdrawal symptoms if you don’t have your morning cuppa.

Conclusion:

You will rarely be able to convince someone to change from coffee to tea or vice versa. In some situations, you may be able to make your case for the occasional substitute, but you’ll rarely be able to turn a strong coffee lover into a tea fanatic. I do like my cup of coffee in the morning, but after living in the Republic of Ireland for three years where black tea was the norm, I’ve also come to enjoy a lovely cup of tea on any given day.

It's about the taste. Tea (even black tea) can be consumed multiple times per day at any time of day without major effects on your concentration levels or ability to fall asleep. It can be enjoyed plain or treated with milk and sweetener of your choice.

It’s about the caffeine kick. Let’s be honest: if you’re addicted to coffee and its effects, it’s going to be a journey to walk back from that. Without it, you’re currently unable to get going in the morning. If you’re wanting to try weaning off that addiction, start with strongly brewed black tea.

References

Association, T. (2022). Tea Fact Sheet- 2022. Retrieved from Tea Association USA: https://www.teausa.com/teausa/images/Tea_Fact_2021.pdf

Barnes, S. (2017, October 14). 6 signs your tea addiction is getting a little out of hand. Retrieved from Hello Giggles: https://hellogiggles.com/lifestyle/food-drink/6-signs-tea-addiction-getting-little-hand/

Gunter, M. (2022, May 10). Tea Drinkers vs. Coffee Drinkers: 30 Statistics to Know in 2022. Retrieved from Coffee Affection: https://coffeeaffection.com/tea-drinkers-vs-coffee-drinkers-statistics

MacDonnell, K. (2022, May 13). Black Tea vs Coffee: Which Has More Caffeine? Retrieved from Coffee Affection: https://coffeeaffection.com/black-tea-vs-coffee/

Pollan, M. (2021, July 6). The invisible addiction: is it time to give up caffeine? Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/food/2021/jul/06/caffeine-coffee-tea-invisible-addiction-is-it-time-to-give-up

Teatulia. (2022). Tea vs. Coffee. Retrieved from Teatulia: https://www.teatulia.com/caffeine-in-tea/tea-vs-coffee

Photo Credit: Sirichai Thaveesakvilai

 

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