The majority of adults on this planet have one thing in common and that is their love for a warm, tasty hot beverage. Where the divide happens though is whether that steaming cup contains coffee or tea.
There has long been a debate over what beverage tastes better and which is superior for your health. The truth is, both have positive and negatives that should be considered. It is quite staggering to see how many tons of beans and leaves are produced globally each year. These statistics show us how important these drinks are in the daily lives of most cultures. Chances are you are accustomed to having a morning eye opening beverage, but is it the best choice?
These brews have been around forever, right? Well, tea has a much longer history dating back thousands of years. Legend says the first cup of tea was a complete accident. The Chinese emperor was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled hot water. Some leaves from a nearby Camellia Sinensis plant blew into the water, creating the first cup of tea…And the emperor was delighted!
Since then, tea has played a significant role in history. By the 1600’s, tea was extremely popular and widespread throughout Europe, and in 1767, it played a significant role in American history. American colonists protested the British imposed tax on tea and boarded ships in the Boston harbor, throwing more than 300 chests into the sea. Known as the Boston Tea Party, this incident became a leading factor contributing to the start of the Revolutionary War.
Today the world is filled with a variety of exciting matcha, green, oolong, black and white loose leaf tea varieties. It is estimated that tea can be found in 80% of American households and on any given day over 158 million Americans are drinking tea.
Coffee, in comparison, is the new kid on the block. In 850, coffee berries wrapped in animal fat were eaten by Ethiopian tribesmen to act as a stimulant on long journeys. By the 11th century, the coffee plant had been imported to the Middle East. This was where the first concoction using boiled water to create a beverage similar to what we drink today was created. Coffee's popularity quickly spread through the region and the first coffee shops in the world opened up in Turkey in the 1400’s. Coffee became such a popular staple in Turkish culture that in 1475, a law was introduced that allowed women to divorce their husbands if they failed to provide an adequate daily amount of coffee! By the 1600’s, the craze had spread to Europe and was brought to the Americas shortly thereafter.
These days coffee is a 100+ billion dollar industry worldwide and drinks are no longer just regular filtered drip. Espresso shots, lattes and iced coffee are a common part of our daily routines, so much so that McDonald's even launched a McCafe within their restaurants to try and compete with other premium chains.
Globally, how much of these beverages are we consuming? A whopping 148,000 tons of coffee beans are produced annually and 3.21 million tons of tea leaves. Tea even ranks as the second most consumed drink in the world next to water. Countries also seem to have stronger preferences for whether their citizens tend to be coffee or tea drinkers and the average quantities consumed per capita vary greatly across nations.
The top 5 countries for coffee consumption per capita in kilograms are:
The top 5 countries for tea consumption per capita in kilograms are:
By comparison, the United States consumes 3.1 kg of coffee per capita and 0.33 kg of tea. Although it seems like there is a Starbucks on every corner, we are a long way from being the top caffeine consumers of the world.
Both famous brews offer a variety of unique health benefits. Tea is usually perceived as the healthiest; however, recent studies and research have discovered well-being properties in coffee as well. One interesting fact is that coffee actually contains trace amounts of Potassium, Manganese and a whole slew of B Vitamins: Niacin, Thiamine, Riboflavin and Pantothenic Acid. Another slightly scary fact is that coffee currently outranks fruits and vegetables in the western world for providing the largest amounts of antioxidants through our diets.
Tea does not contain any vitamins or minerals but does, however, have a significantly higher antioxidant content, most notably EGCG that has been shown to reduce the formation of tumors in certain types of cancers. It also contains Theanine, which is an amino acid with psychoactive properties that cross the blood-brain barrier and may reduce stress levels, aid relaxation and increase levels of serotonin and dopamine. Although all tea comes from the same Camellia Sinensis plant, the various levels of processing and oxidation is what delivers the final result producing either black, oolong, rooibos, green or white teas.
Caffeine is a naturally occurring plant substance that acts as a central nervous system stimulant. Most people enjoy the benefit it brings of increasing alertness and energy, but it also comes with side effects that can vary in significance amongst individuals. Tolerance can be developed to caffeine but other factors that attribute to how our bodies respond can be age, weight, health conditions as well as possible interactions with medications.
The Mayo Clinic advises that up to 400 milligrams of caffeine daily can generally be safely consumed by healthy adults. This average translates into approximately four 8 oz. cups of brewed coffee per day, however in a world that is increasingly supersized it is important to be aware of just how big that cup of coffee or tea may be. For example, a Venti at Starbucks contains 20 ounces.
When it comes to the amount of caffeine per cup, coffee contains significantly higher amounts than tea. Filtered and brewed coffee on average contain 130 to 150 milligrams of caffeine per cup whereas black tea has just over 60 milligrams. For those looking to reduce their caffeine intake, green and white tea offer the best alternative as they contain only 20 - 35 milligrams per cup.
The most common side effects of caffeine are headaches, jitters, increased anxiety, and heartburn Especially in coffee, the caffeine acts as a diuretic, meaning it triggers your body to get rid of water and may cause dehydration. Studies have also shown that caffeine can interfere with calcium absorption which can contribute to osteoporosis.
Ultimately, the decision on which beverage is right for you is based on your particular circumstance. Understanding caffeine content and how it can impact your system can help guide your decision as to which drink may benefit you the most.
Either way, in a world of rapidly changing brews, flavors and styles, it is certainly worth a try to reach out to the other side and experiment with the beverage you may have been ignoring all these years. You never know, you may just switch camps after all! Where to begin? Tea drinkers may prefer to experiment with lattes as they have a heavy milk base and coffee drinkers might want to start by trying organic green matcha tea as it has a higher caffeine content and may give them the similar caffeine ‘kick’ that they are accustomed to. There is a world of discovery on both sides ranging from Arabica and Robusta beans to delicious varieties of loose leaf tea’s that will make you forget about any stale tea bag you sampled in the past.
With both tea and coffee hosting multiple health benefits, lovers of both beverages will be happy knowing they can continue with their preferred choice. That being said, moderation is always key.
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