Coffee versus Tea: Is One Better for Me?

Should you drink coffee or tea?  Is one better for you?

(  We often associate drinking tea with health and overall well-being whereas coffee is seen as more of a guilty pleasure or simply a way to wake up in the morning.  While there are certainly health benefits that come from drinking tea new research is beginning to highlight the benefits of coffee consumption as well.  Both of these beverages have antioxidants that help the body fight off disease and caffeine, which has also been associated with health outcomes when consumed in moderation. 

Coffee factoids:

  • Coffees made using boiling techniques, a French press or espressos are considered “unfiltered” while drip coffee is “filtered”. 
  • Filtered coffee is often recommended over unfiltered. A pooled analysis of several studies found that the more unfiltered coffee study participants drank per day, the higher their levels of LDL cholesterol – an effect that researchers have attributed to a compound called diterpene.  The filter in filtered coffee appears to remove most of the diterpenes.
  • Both brewed and instant coffees have antioxidants, with medium roast coffees having the highest levels, light roast having  slightly less, and a dark roast having the least amount of antioxidants.

Reasons to think about drinking coffee: 

Some well-known potential benefits of coffee consumption include:

  • Improvements in mental alertness and reasoning
  • Increase in muscle endurance when consumed prior to exercise
  • Decreased risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, chronic liver disease, heart disease and Parkinson’s disease 
  • May improve cognitive abilities in older and elderly populations  

How much coffee should I drink to get possible health benefits?

The best dose of coffee for health benefits is not agreed upon.  Studies showed benefits with coffee intakes ranging from 1-6 cups per day.  Brewed coffee can have between 65 and 120 mg of caffeine in just 1 cup.  However, Health Canada recommends consuming no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day, so remember your cup size – we are talking 8 ounce cups, not a tall coffee from Starbucks which is 12 ounces. To maximize benefits from coffee, choose a filtered medium roast coffee and limit your intake to 3-4 cups per day [less if you are pregnant or breastfeeding].

Tea factoids: 

  • There are many different types of tea on the market right now.  Among them are white, green, oolong, and black teas which all come from the same plant and differ in their processing methods.
  • Green and white teas are an unfermented tea, oolong teas are partially fermented, and black tea is fully fermented.  
  • Herbal teas can be made from several types of plants and different parts of the plant such as the roots, leaves, seeds and berries. 
  • The antioxidants in teas may yield health benefits.  Antioxidant levels are highest in green and white teas followed by black, oolong and then herbal varieties.
  • Loose leaf teas are quite popular at the moment.  Loose leaf teas are more efficient than a bagged tea at infusing beneficial compounds and caffeine into the surrounding liquid.  However, agitation of bagged tea or an increased bag size does help to increase the infusion rate of these compounds.

Reasons to think about drinking tea:

Some well-known potential benefits of tea consumption include:

  • Immune boosting – The antioxidants and antimicrobial effects of tea stimulate the immune system’s production of cells that help to prevent and fight disease
  • Help protect against diseases such as cancer, inflammation, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke
  • Help improve the cognitive abilities of older and elderly populations 
  • Green tea specifically, may help lower LDL cholesterol and may help preserve bone mass while aging

How much tea should I drink to get possible health benefits?

Currently, there is not enough research to recommend drinking a specific amount of tea.  Benefits have been demonstrated with intakes ranging from 3-6 cups or more per day.  An 8 ounce cup of tea can have 20 - 90 mg of caffeine which is, on average, less than a cup of coffee so one can drink more tea without over-doing it on caffeine.  Most herbal teas are naturally caffeine free so these types of teas are an option when limiting caffeine intake.  Choose a type of tea that suits your taste and reap the benefits.

Coffee versus Tea: the Verdict?

There are positive aspects to consuming both coffee and tea in moderation.  I don't see a clear winner, so the choice is up to you!  Phew, now I can feel good about my morning coffee.  However, be aware of the amount of added sugars and extras that you may add in your coffee and tea.


Written by Calgary Dietitian Kristyn Hall MSc, RD, Director and Dietitian, HealthCastle Calgary.  Thank you to Laurel Zvaigzne BSc Natural Science and BSc Dietetics [candidate] for her contributions to the research behind this post.

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