Is Black Tea Healthier Than Coffee?

Posted by Elise Goldsworthy BHSc (Nutrition Science) on 6th Jun 2022

Coffee connoisseurs will tell you how good coffee is for you. Tea drinkers will sprout the many health benefits of tea. But is one really healthier than the other? Is there a meeting of these two worlds or perhaps even a clear winner?

Tea vs. coffee. There’s certainly arguments for and against both beverages. As a huge fan of both tea and coffee, I feel maybe it’s time for a truce. Because like any good debate, there’s always evidence to support your opinion, if you look hard enough. What it boils down to are a couple of simple things: the way your body metabolises either beverage and what your preference is for flavour. Below is a range of reasons why both tea and coffee are awesome. Importantly, there’s a few cons of both tea and coffee to consider. Read on and perhaps you’ll discover for yourself, is black tea healthier than coffee?

Health Benefits of Tea

Tea is one of the oldest beverages in the world. As a broad overview, tea can be classified into two main varieties - true tea and herbal tea. True teas are those derived from the camellia sinensis tea plant. These include black, green, oolong, pu-erh and white tea. Herbal teas, however, are not technically teas at all. They’re made from leaves, flowers, buds, blossoms, roots, spices and herbs from various different plants. So when it comes to categorically deciding if tea is better than coffee, I think the distinction needs to be clear with what we’re talking about when discussing tea. The most widely consumed tea is likely black tea, conferring a similar flavour profile and health benefits as coffee. So, black tea becomes the front runner tea of this debate.

Benefits of consuming tea include supporting:

  • Weight loss
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Brain Health
  • Digestive Health
  • Reducing anxiety
  • Brain function
  • Anti-cancer properties

Tea Is High in Antioxidants

This is the primary reason that tea is so healthy. Consuming tea may be one of the simplest and most effective ways to boost your antioxidant intake. Antioxidants are naturally occurring compounds that help reduce inflammation. Inflammation is considered a root cause of most major diseases. Excess inflammation causes damage to cells, which effectively impacts every other physiological process in the body. Chemical exposure, excess alcohol consumption, smoking, diets high in processed foods and stress are some of the biggest culprits of inflammation. There are some specific antioxidant compounds that are unique to tea leaves that aren’t present in coffee beans. Examples of these polyphenols include epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), tannins and L-theanine.

Tea Improves Cardiovascular Health

The risk of stroke and heart disease is lower amongst tea drinkers compared to non-tea drinkers. The polyphenols in tea also help to reduce blood pressure by lowering overall inflammation. Another term used interchangeably with inflammation as it pertains to cell damage is ‘oxidative stress’. This term is used to describe the mechanisms by which cells are exposed to oxidation, which then triggers an inflammatory response to try to fight the external agent. Tea is protective against the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease and therefore protective to human health.

Tea Aids Weight Loss

A well supported scientific finding published in the journal Advances in Nutrition is that tea helps with weight loss. Black tea has high levels of EGCG which is a compound proven to be very effective in weight management. According to some research, EGCG can promote an increase in basal body temperature, which causes the body to burn fat and use it as energy. This directly helps with weight loss as total fat mass is reduced. Tea also promotes the release of norepinephrine, which improves athletic and aerobic performance during exercise.

Tea Helps Cognitive Performance

Black tea can be a useful stimulant in the nervous system and for augmenting brain function. The combination of caffeine and L-theanine in tea helps promote synaptic plasticity, according to some studies. A clinical trial including 32 participants found that 250 ml of black tea improved executive function, memory, arithmetic and attention, compared to water. Cognitive processing in general can be improved with even a single cup of black tea.

Health Risks of Tea

For all of its health benefits, consuming tea comes with a couple of minor precautions. These are mostly related to the compounds in tea that can interfere with nutrients, herbs and medications in the body. The excess consumption of tea can also cause caffeine overdose, which manifests in nervous system irritation and nausea. In general these effects are short-lived and can be corrected by reducing tea intake.

Caffeine Content

It’s easy to just think of coffee when it comes to caffeine, but black tea of course contains modest amounts of caffeine as well. Demonstrated above, it’s clear to see that caffeine has some incredible uses in brain health and cognition. However, In high doses, consuming caffeine can affect sleep and your overall sustained energy throughout the day. Those who are particularly sensitive to caffeine may want to avoid black tea and opt for a gentler tea such as green or white tea. Excess caffeine consumption can also cause dizziness, jitteriness, nausea, upset bowels and heart palpitations.

Tea Inhibits Iron Absorption

Black tea has a high tannin content, accounting for the majority of its bitter flavour profile. Tannins are also found in chocolate, red wine and other herbal medicines. It’s been found that tannins from tea can bind to and inhibit the absorption of iron in the body. This is relevant to those who have iron metabolism issues or are taking iron supplements due to iron deficiency. Interestingly, vitamin C can increase the uptake of dietary iron. These considerations are worth taking if you’re an avid tea drinker and are concerned about your iron levels. If in doubt, always consult a trusted health provider for advice.

Health Benefits of Coffee

And in this corner, we have coffee. Coffee is the beverage of choice in the majority of the Western world, with increasing popularity in native tea-drinking countries. Surprisingly, coffee has moderate amounts of magnesium and B vitamins in a 100 g of ground beans. Once you dip your toes into coffee-drinking, it can be as complex and nuanced as quality wines. Each coffee bean variety, origin, growing conditions and history will influence the resulting coffee you brew. Then there’s the all-important roasting component to coffee which brings forth bold, toasted and robust flavours. You can enjoy a dark roast, medium roast or light roasted coffee, all with varying acidity, flavours and aromas. With all this lovely variation in coffee, it’s easy to want to dive in and enjoy a few cups of coffee a day. But, I urge you, it’s better to go slow. Like tea, coffee has its share of health benefits and health risks as well.

Coffee Helps Liver Function

Coffee has antioxidant compounds that are associated with chronic disease prevention, including protecting the liver. It’s believed that a combination of chemical compounds are responsible for the hepatoprotective effects of coffee. These include caffeine, diterpenes, cafestol and chlorogenic acid. Coffee consumption has been linked with a reduced prevalence of cirrhosis and chronic liver disease.

Further studies have reported on a reduction in cancer development in relation to coffee consumption. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common cause of primary liver disease. It’s strongly connected to type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol and hypertension. Coffee has been shown to be protective against NAFLD onset. The potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions of coffee appear to be integral to the prevention of this disease process.

Health Risks of Coffee

Just like tea, there’s two sides to the coin when it comes to coffee. Drinking coffee in moderate amounts will yield many health benefits. Going overboard with your coffee can lead to caffeine overdose symptoms and may impair nutrient metabolism in the body.

Caffeine Overload

Caffeine is a stimulant which can enhance cognitive performance, attention, memory and visual processing. However, in large doses, it can cause a jittery, uncomfortable feeling in the body. Caffeine can also cause a rise in blood pressure, which is something to consider if you’re someone who’s overweight or suffering from hypertension. The caffeine in a cup of brewed coffee is higher than a standard cup of tea. A coffee contains around 150-200mg of caffeine, compared to a modest 60mg of caffeine found in black tea.

Brewed Coffee Raises Cholesterol Levels

Boiled coffee has been demonstrated to increase total and LDL cholesterol. However drip-filtered coffee doesn’t have this same effect. This means an espresso coffee, which contains natural fats could theoretically increase total cholesterol levels. This may be a concern for those who have an issue with cholesterol levels. However, having high cholesterol on its own doesn’t always extrapolate to broader and more concerning cardiovascular disease risks. For more comprehensive advice, always seek the opinion of a trusted health provider.

Is There a Clear Winner?

So who wins this debate? Coffee or tea? The truth is, both tea and coffee have a range of health benefits and some minor precautions to be aware of if you’re mad for either beverage. Each drink will serve a different purpose and what you gain from either will largely depend on your personal preferences and individual biology and metabolism.

If you’re looking to lose weight, maybe give tea a go. Tea is also a great option if you’re wanting to cut back on total caffeine intake. If you want some enhanced cognitive performance, try a strong coffee during the day. The great news is that both tea and coffee have been proven to be preventative against heart cardiovascular disease and cancer. Perhaps neither is a winner here… or both? Why not enjoy what nature has to offer and sit with your favourite brew, be it tea or coffee and have a drink for your health.


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