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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Final Showdown: Tea vs. Coffee


As with many things in life—Democrats vs. Republicans, mayo vs. Miracle Whip, and, of course, whether that infamous dress was black and blue or white and gold—the debate between coffee diehards and tea snobs may never end. Most of us have read or heard about the constant stream of studies that have “proven” the health benefits and/or risks of coffee and tea. These types of pronouncements by the scientific community can make it a challenge to know what to believe and what to do about it. While I don’t intend to forever settle this discussion, I do want to look at the differences between, tea and coffee, and see if we can’t provide a way forward to better health for all of us.

Coffee: The Reality

We know a lot of people love coffee. They need the morning jolt it gives, which they really should have gotten from a good night’s sleep. (New parents may count as the lone exception.) It’s a communal thing, too—coffeehouses all over the nation serve as extension offices, meetups, date locations, and places to make new friends while drinking snooty overpriced coffee (I see you, Starbucks). 

But really, how many people are dependent on their daily caffeine? How many people can’t function like sentient human beings at work or in family life until they “have their coffee”? (Who among us hasn’t had a parent growing up who warned us on pain of death or eviction to not pester them unless it was a life-threatening emergency before they had their first cup?) 

It may well be that caffeine in all its forms, but especially the in-a-mug with a deceptively alluring aroma kind, is the new legal drug of our day. And if your enforced sessions with D.A.R.E. taught you anything as a child, it’s that drugs are bad for you. So here are some nasty side effects to coffee drinking that you might not have heard.

Coffee: The Ugly Truth

  • Don’t assume all the health benefits are because of coffee. Researchers tend to ask people about their consumption habits and then note differences in those people versus others who drink less or no coffee.

    Scientists and other experts will be quick to tell you that just because lots of people who drink a certain amount of coffee have certain health benefits does not necessarily mean those benefits are from the coffee itself.


  • Coffee may be high in antioxidants, but we have no way of knowing how much, how quickly, or even if any of those are absorbed by the bloodstream, and any concrete way of telling how those increases may have health benefits.


  • While moderate coffee use isn’t a health issue for most people, the problem quickly becomes one of dependency or excess (how many people do you know who literally cannot function until they have coffee in the morning?). 

    Excessive caffeine intake (500-600+ mg/day), which is more of a risk for coffee drinkers than tea drinkers, has been demonstrated by the Mayo Clinic to lead to everything from nervousness, irritability, increased heartbeat, muscle tremors, migraines, insomnia, and other side effects.


  • Caffeine is notoriously tricky for pregnant women, and the studies remain somewhat controversial and inconclusive. Generally, authorities recommend less than 200 mg per day for pregnant women. 

    While the unborn baby is developing, he or she cannot fully metabolize the caffeine and could be adversely affected by it passing directly through the placenta. There is also some evidence that excessive caffeine intake can increase risk of miscarriage, though this evidence is not definite.


  • Because of its properties as a stimulant, it is easier for people to become addicted to coffee than tea. Indeed, some medical authorities have found that a small percentage of people who attempt to break a caffeine habit can go through withdrawal similar to people recovering from drug addiction. 

    This is because coffee, in a limited sense, can have some of the same neurological and chemical influences on the brain as actual drugs.
We’ve examined the pros and cons of caffeine consumption. Now, let’s look at some of the pros and cons of tea consumption.

Tea: The Pros