- Tea and coffee are both good sources of caffeine and antioxidants, which can benefit your health in a number of ways.
- You should drink coffee if you want a quick energy boost, as it contains about twice as much caffeine as tea and can give you an immediate buzz.
- You should drink tea if you want more sustained energy and attention levels, as both green and black tea contain L-theanine, a chemical that metabolizes caffeine over a longer period of time.
- Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.
Coffee and tea are two of the most common drinks in the world. Both contain caffeine, antioxidants, and can help you feel energized, making it difficult to decide between the two.
Here is everything you need to know about the differences and similarities between coffee and tea and which is better for your health.
Coffee has more caffeine
Coffee and tea both contain caffeine, a stimulant that can make you feel awake and energized.
A large 2015 study found people who consume a moderate amount of caffeine have a lower risk for type 2 diabetes than people who do not consume any. They were also less likely to develop certain cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases — including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's — and cancers like colon cancer, uterine cancer, and liver cancer.
One cup of coffee typically contains 80 to 100 mg of caffeine, according to Christopher Gardner, PhD, the director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. One cup of tea, by contrast, only contains 30 to 50 mg of caffeine.
Matthew Chow, MD, an assistant clinical professor of neurology at the University of California Davis School of Medicine, backs this claim up. "Generally speaking, coffee has two to three times more caffeine compared to a similar-sized black tea," he says.
However, the exact ratio depends on several factors, including:
- The type of tea
- Amount of tea used to brew a cup
- The temperature of the water
- Length of time the tea is left to steep
Black tea, for example, contains 48 milligrams of caffeine, while green tea only contains 29. Pure herbal teas such as peppermint tea and chamomile tea contain no caffeine at all.
However, it's important you don't consume too much caffeine, which the FDA defines as more than four to five cups of coffee a day. That's because in excess, caffeine can cause:
- Elevated heart rate
In extreme cases, it can cause epileptic seizures. Everyone's caffeine tolerance is different, so it's important to note how your body reacts to it and adjust accordingly.
Tea provides more sustained energy and attention
Since coffee contains more caffeine than tea, it will give you a bigger buzz. Tea, however, appears to provide a more sustained boost in energy than coffee does.
That's because tea, unlike coffee, contains L-theanine, a chemical that metabolizes caffeine over a longer period of time. A small 2008 study found that participants who consumed a combination of L-theanine and caffeine did better on an attention test than those who consumed caffeine alone. The study concluded that a combination of the two improved both cognitive performance and attention.
Both green tea and black tea contain L-theanine — though green tea has slightly more, at about 6.56 mg, compared to black tea's 5.13 mg.
Coffee contains more antioxidants
Both coffee and tea contain antioxidants — chemical compounds that may reduce your risk of certain conditions like cancer or diabetes.
"Coffee has more antioxidants generally than tea preparations," says Chow. A 2013 study found that coffee contained more antioxidants than tea, hot chocolate, and red wine.
Common antioxidants in coffee include chlorogenic, ferulic, caffeic, and n-coumaric acids. Some experts even consider caffeine to be an antioxidant. A major component of green tea called catechin is also considered an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties.
Consuming antioxidants in the form of coffee or tea could "potentially prevent oxidative degradation," a chemical reaction that can cause cellular damage, says Gardner. "If you do that, potentially you could prevent or treat chronic degenerative diseases," such as stroke, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, he says.
Just remember to drink coffee and tea in moderation for antioxidant benefits, as having more than four or five cups per day can provide health risks from the amount of caffeine.
"There is no clear winner between tea and coffee," says Chow. In terms of your health, the choice basically comes down to which effects you are looking for.
If you'd like a quick buzz, coffee's high caffeine content will get you there. However, if you are more sensitive to caffeine, you may prefer tea due to its lower caffeine content and L-theanine levels which means you get a longer, more stable energy boost.