Coffee v/s Tea

December 6, 2014 at 7:06 AM

The debate between coffee and tea is time worn and well researched. Everyone needs their special cup of pick-me-up-in-the-mornings to starts their hectic day. Some people are coffee lovers and some are tea drinkers yet some are partial to both.

Coffee and tea due to their strong flavors are an acquired taste. Coffee has more bitter taste and gives a better energy boost. Tea has less caffeine so its ability to boost the nervous system might be a little low but tea has a soothing effect on the body. The aroma of tea leaves is also used in many aroma therapy candles because of its soothing effect. Coffee and tea both contain caffeine. Caffeine is the most commonly and widely consumed psychoactive drug. It is stereotyped that the cultural association of coffee is fast paced while that of tea is genteel. Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the whole world after water. The use of tea is preferred over coffee by many simply because tea is easier to prepare. The preparation of coffee requires a coffee machine, which is expensive and brewing of coffee takes longer than tea.

Coffee: Coffee is a brewed beverage prepared from the roasted or baked seeds of several species of an evergreen shrub of the genus Coffea.

Tea: Tea is an aromatic beverage commonly prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured leaves of the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis.


Composition of roasted coffee.*[1]

Components  Contents (%), Arabica 
Caffeine 1.3 
Lipid  17
Protein  10 
Carbohydrate 38 
Niacin  1.0 
Aliphatic acid  2.4 
Chlorogenic acid  2.7 
Volatile compounds 0.1
Minerals 4.5 
Melanoidins 23

*coffee that has undergone roasting to enhance the flavor.

Composition (%, dry weight basis) of fresh tea leaves.[1]

Components  Contents (%) 
Phenolic compound 30
Protein 15 
Amino acids
Crude filler 26 
Other carbohydrates 
Volatile coupounds  0.1 
Minerals 5

What is quite funny here is that tea actually contains more caffeine than coffee, yet many people still think that coffee should be richer in caffeine than tea.



Earliest credible account of coffee drinking appears in the middle of 15th century in the Sufi Muslim monasteries around Mocha in Yamen.[2] It is believed that coffee was initially used as a therapeutic agent for many aliments like stomach upset and chills. From Yamen coffee spread to Middle East, Turkey and Northern Africa. Coffee seeds were first exported from Ethiopia to Yamen. Coffee gained rapid popularity after people observed that drinking coffee increases their level of alertness and helps to reduce fatigue. The consumption of coffee greatly increased during the revolutionary war and due to scarce supply of coffee, the merchants started to secretly store their supply of coffee against the increased demand, so that they could dramatically increase the prices. The scarce supply was mainly due to reduced availability of tea from British merchants.[3] Coffee exceedingly became popular in Europe while in North America alcoholic beverages were preferred.

Tea vs Coffee


Tea plants are native to South and East Asian region. The exact origin period of tea is unclear but most credible and accepted account is that tea originated in 2737BC in China.[4] Tea leaves were likely used initially for medicinal purposes. The tea leaves were used in many old medical salves. Tea became popular in the Tang Dynasty, when it spread to Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Tea was used for medical reasons for an uncertainly long time in subcontinent, only people in Himalayan region used tea as a beverage. Tea became widely popular and was used as a beverage when it was introduced in the subcontinent by the British. To this day, the beverage of choice in Sub continent and Britain is still tea. Tea is a major part of Chinese and Japanese cultures, traditions and heritage.



Plant from which coffee is extracted is from Genus Coffea[5] which is an evergreen shrub. The part of plant used to make coffee are seeds. The flesh is removed from the berries obtained from coffee plant to get the seed within. The two main commercially cultivated species of Genus Coffea are:

  • Coffea Canephora (Robusta)
  • Coffea Arabica


The plant from which tea is extracted is an evergreen plant called Camellia Sinensis.[6] The part of plant used to make tea are its leaves. The leaves are mostly handpicked. The two main commercially cultivated species of Camellia sinensis are:

  • Camellia sinensis sinensis
  • Camellia sinensis assamica

Types of consumptions


Coffee can be consumed in many forms and many additional substances like sugar, milk, cream and alcohol are added in brewed coffee to enhance the taste to a person’s liking.

  • Espresso: Strong black coffee made by forcing steam through ground coffee beans.
  • Brewed: Coffee made by boiling water and adding ground roasted coffee in it.
  • Instant: It is also called soluble coffee and it is commercially made by freeze-drying.
  • Decaf: Coffee that has caffeine removed from coffee beans.


Tea can be consumed in many forms ranging from strong to mild. A variety of additional substances are added to enhance the taste like cream, milk, lemon, mint, honey, salt and sugar.

  • Black tea: Highly oxidized tea leaves are used to make black tea.
  • Green tea: Unfermented tea leaves are used to make green tea.
  • Yellow tea: Special type of tea that is formed when damp tea leaves undergo slow drying process.
  • White tea: Lightly oxidized tea mainly grown in China.



The common commercially grown coffee species are Coffea Arabia and Coffea Canephora. The Coffea Canephora species is less expensive and is used in many blends. Coffea Canephora is less susceptible to disease and can grow in lower altitudes where Coffea Arabia would not grow.[7] The flavor of Coffea Arabia is milder than Coffea Canephora. The 65% of worlds coffee output is Coffea Arabia and 35% is Coffea Canephora.


Camellia Sinensis is an evergreen plant that grows in tropical and subtropical regions.[8] A tea plant will grow up to 16 m if left undisturbed. Cultivated plants are usually pruned to waist height for ease of picking of tea leaves. Shorter plants rapidly give rise to more new shoots which provide new and tender leaves; this enhances the quality of tea.[9] Only top 1-2inch of mature plant is plucked. These buds and leaves are called flushes. A plant will grow new flushes every 7 (seven) to 15 (fifteen) days. Leaves that are slow in development tend to have better taste.

Production and processing


The production and processing of coffee is a long, time consuming and laborious process.

1. Picking

The berries (Genus Coffea) are picked by two methods

  1. Strip picking: The entire crop is harvested at one time.
  2. Selective picking: This is labor intensive method, the berries are handpicked.

2. Processing

In this step the flesh from berries is removed. This can be done by two methods

  1. Wet processing: Coffee processed by this method is called washed coffee.[10] The coffee berries are immersed in water. The ripe berries sink to the bottom and the bad or unripe berries float on the surface. The ripe berries are then passed through screen to remove flesh. If flesh is still present it can be removed by fermentation of beans with microbes.
  2. Dry processing: Coffee processed by this method is called unwashed or natural coffee.[11] This is the oldest method used. The entire harvest is first cleaned and the placed in the sun on tables to dry.

3. Milling

This is the final step of coffee production. In this the last layer of dry skin and fruit residual is removed.[10] It consists of five steps:

  • Hulling
  • Polishing
  • Cleaning
  • Sorting
  • Grinding

4. Additional (optional) steps

  • Aging: Coffee is left to mature over a period of time before using.
  • Decaffeination: It is the process of removal of caffeine from coffee beans.


The production of tea is a long process and involves intensive labor.

1. Plucking

The leaves and flushes are plucked from Camellia Sinensis bush twice a year e.g. early spring and early summer time.[12] Plucking can be down by two methods:

  • Hand plucking: This is an intensive labor method and selective tea leaves are plucked.
  • Mechanical plucking: In this method the entire crop is harvested.

2. Wilting

The leaves will start to wilt soon after plucking. Wilting is used to remove water and allow slight oxidation to occur.[12]

3. Disruption

Also called leaf maceration.[13] The tea leaves are torn and bruised to promote and quicken oxidation.

4. Fermentation

The tea leaves are left in a climate controlled environment to progressively darken.

5. Fixation (kill green)

This is done to stop tea leave oxidation at a desired level.[12]

6. Rolling

It can be either done by hand or machine. By rolling, oils and any juices are removed from leaves.

7. Drying

This step is really important for inducing flavors. Great care must be taken not to overcook the leaves.

8. Grinding

The tea leaves are ground in to small sized particles.

9. Aging

The tea is left to mature over a long period to time.



The top 5 producers of coffee:[14]

  1. Brazil
  2. Vietnam
  3. Indonesia
  4. Colombia
  5. Ethiopia

The top 5 consumers of coffee:[15]

  1. Finland
  2. Norway
  3. Iceland
  4. Denmark
  5. Netherlands


The top 5 producers of tea:[16]

  1. China
  2. India
  3. Kenya
  4. Sir Lanka
  5. Turkey

The top consumers of tea:[17]

  1. Turkey
  2. Morocco
  3. Ireland
  4. Mauritania
  5. United Kingdom

Famous brands all over the world

Top five world famous brands of coffee:[18]

  1. Flogers
  2. Maxwell house
  3. Starbucks
  4. Boss coffee
  5. Millstone

Top five world famous brands of tea:[19]

  1. Twinings
  2. Tazo
  3. Celestial seasonings
  4. Harney and sons
  5. Bigelow

Culture and social aspects

Coffee culture

Coffee culture describes a social atmosphere or a series of associated social behaviors that depends heavily on coffee. Coffee is now widely acclaimed as “social lubricant”. Coffee culture also refers to the fact that it has been adopted as a widely consumed stimulant by a culture. The formation of culture around coffee and coffeehouses dates back to the 14th century in Turkey. In the late 20th century, particularly in the Western world and urbanized centers of the globe, espresso (very strong coffee) has been increasingly dominant. In the Western Europe the coffeehouses are social hubs as well as artistic and intellectual centers. The people that participate in coffee culture are referred to as café au laiters. In the Western world the breaks during work time for snacks and downtime are referred to as coffee breaks.

Tea culture

Tea culture is the way tea is made and consumed, the way people interact with tea and the aesthetics surrounding the tea drinking. Tea culture includes the aspects of tea production, tea brewing, tea art, ceremony, history and health effects of tea. Tea is a commonly consumed beverage in social events and gatherings and many cultures have created intricate formal ceremonies for these events. Tea ceremony has its root in Chinese tea culture and it differs from the tea ceremony in Easter countries like Korea and Japan. Different regions of the world favor different varieties of tea. The temperature and the strength of tea preferred also varies in different parts of the world. In Asia and Britain the breaks during work time for snakes and downtime are referred to as tea breaks.

Mechanism of Action


The primary psychoactive chemical in coffee is caffeine (white crystalline xanthine alkaloid). Caffeine acts on the sympathetic nervous system as a stimulant. Other psychoactive chemicals in coffee are monoamine oxidase inhibitor & beta carboline.


Tea contains mainly two psychoactive chemicals caffeine and theophylline. Caffeine is a xanthine alkaloid and acts on the sympathetic nervous system as a stimulant to reduce sleep and increase alertness. Theophylline is a methyl xanthine, it acts on the central nervous system as a stimulant, increasing the alertness and attention.

Metabolism and Elimination


Caffeine is mostly metabolized in the liver by microsomal hepatic enzyme system (cytochrome P450).[20] Caffeine is broken into dimethylxanthines. These metabolites also act on the body. The metabolism of caffeine greatly depends on the state of hepatic enzyme system. The half-life (elimination time) of caffeine varies in individuals based on their intrinsic body metabolism, whether they are smokers or non -smokers, and on the fact if they have any hepatic or renal disease. The half-life of caffeine in a healthy adult is 3(three)-7(seven) hours.[20]


Caffeine and theophylline present in tea both undergo metabolism in the liver by microsomal enzyme system (enzyme cytochrome P450 - the same which are involved in the metabolism of coffee). Theophylline undergoes N-demethylation in the liver. The presence of nicotine increases the metabolic rate of theophylline.[21] Metabolism of caffeine and theophylline greatly depends on the functioning condition of liver. Factors effecting metabolism are smoking, renal disease or hepatic disease. The half-life of tea is about 5(five)-8(eight) hours.

Effects on the body


Coffee has following effects on the body:

  • Central nervous system:
    • Decreased sleep
    • Increase alertness
  • Teeth:
    • Staining of the teeth
  • Eye:
    • Increase intraocular pressure
  • Mouth:
    • Dryness
  • Heart:
    • Elevates heart rate
  • Blood:
    • Increase blood pressure
  • Gastrointestinal tract:
    • Increase bowel movements
  • Urinary tract:
    • Increased urination
  • Skin:
    • Flushing


Tea has following effects on the body:

  • Central nervous system:
    • Increase alertness
    • Reduced sleep
    • Soothing effect
  • Teeth:
    • Protects the teeth from decay
  • Mouth:
    • Hydrates
  • Heart:
    • Increase heart rate
  • Metabolism:
    • Increased basal metabolism rate (BMR)
  • Gastrointestinal tract:
    • Increase bowel movements
  • Urinary tract:
    • Increase urination
  • Skin:
    • Flushing
  • Weight:
    • Helps weight loss

Health benefits

Coffee: [22][23][24]

  • Antioxidants: Oxidation is a normal chemical reaction that occurs in the body especially during metabolism. Oxidation is enhanced by pollutants, prolonged exposure to sun. Oxidation forms free radical that damage the cell in the body. Coffee contains many antioxidants that are really good for the body. Antioxidants not only have disease fighting ability, it also has a reducing effect on signs of aging.
  • Memory: Coffee has memory enhancing ability and it is especially beneficial in older people as regular coffee consumption is linked to slower rate of cognitive decline.
  • Alertness: Coffee contains caffeine that is a sympathetic system stimulant. So due to presence of caffeine, alertness level and attention span increase.
  • Heart disease: Drinking coffee can decrease the risk of death by heart disease by about 25%. This effect of coffee is mainly due to presence of antioxidants.
  • Gout: Gout is a disease in which defective metabolism of uric acid causes arthritis. People who drink coffee regularly are less likely to develop gout.
  • Liver cirrhosis: It is a progressive disease of liver in which healthy hepatic tissue is replaced by scar tissue and hinders liver functioning. Coffee drinkers have a reduced risk of getting liver cirrhosis by about 80%.
  • Diabetes type 2: Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterized by hyperglycemia. Drinking coffee can lower the risk of diabetes mellitus type 2 by 60% due to the presence of antioxidants and minerals in the coffee.
  • Cancer: It is the disease caused by uncontrolled division of abnormal cells. According to many studies coffee consumption lowers the risk of liver and colon cancer.
  • Stroke: Stroke is the sudden death of brain cells due to decreased localized blood flow to the brain. Coffee drinkers have a lower risk of brain stroke.
  • Alzheimer’s disease: It is a progressive mental deterioration that occurs in middle aged or older people due to degradation of brain cells. Drinking coffee is associated with decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Parkinsonism: It is a progressive disease of nervous system, it is marked by tremors, muscle rigidity and imprecise movements. Regular coffee consumers are less likely to develop Parkinsonism.

Tea: [25][26][27]

  • Alertness: Caffeine and theophylline in tea have a stimulatory effect on the nervous system. This leads to increased alertness and reduced sleep.
  • Antioxidants: Oxidation is a chemical process that naturally occurs in the body and produces free radicals, which are harmful to the cells. Tea contains a wide variety of antioxidants that have disease fighting ability and reduce sings of aging.
  • Weight loss: Tea diet is popular for reducing weight. Tea contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is a potent antioxidant. Tea increases fat cell metabolism and also increases fat burn up during exercise.
  • Teeth: Tea contains fluorides that help strengthen the teeth by replaces calcium in the teeth with fluoride. Fluoride is more resistant to bacterial decay than calcium. Fluorides reduce plaque accumulation on teeth.
  • Hydrates: Tea has a hydrating effect on the body that helps the skin to look fresh and younger.
  • Decreases stress: Tea contains many cholinergic substances that effect the parasympathetic nervous system and alleviate the fight and flight response due to stress.
  • Boosts immunity: The antioxidants present in tea have a positive effect on the immune system. The antioxidants remove free radicals from body and keep the immune system strong.
  • Hypertension: People who drink tea regularly are less likely to develop hypertension.
  • Preserves bone: Tea contains flavonoids that help maintain bone density. Tea drinkers are less likely to develop osteoporosis.
  • Protects liver: Due to presence of antioxidants tea protects liver from alcohol.

Heath risks

Coffee: [28][29]

  • Addiction: The primary addictive substance in coffee is caffeine.
  • Anxiety: High level of coffee consumption can overexcite the sympathetic nervous system which leads to anxiety.
  • Auditory hallucinations: Drinking an excessive amount of coffee can cause auditory hallucinations.
  • Ulcers: Drinking coffee on an empty stomach can cause ulcers due to the release of hydrochloric acid.
  • Hypertension: Coffee can cause increased blood pressure because it has vasoconstriction effect on the blood vessels.
  • Increased urination: Coffee can cause increased urination due to stimulation of renal system.
  • Decreased absorption: Coffee can hamper the absorption of minerals from intestine like zinc and iron.
  • Heartburn: Excessive coffee drinking can cause heartburn.
  • Teeth: Coffee due to its strong color stains the teeth.
  • Sleep disturbance: Drinking large amount of coffee can cause insomnia.


  • Headache: Excessive intake of tea causes over excitation of central nervous system and leads to headache.
  • Dizziness: Tea causes dizziness due to decreased blood pressure.
  • Increased urination: Due to the stimulation of renal system.
  • Heartburn: Heavy tea drinking can cause irregular heartburn.
  • Intestinal disturbance: Drinking copious amount of tea can cause nausea and diarrhea.
  • Sleep pattern disturbance: Tea can cause disturbance in regular sleep pattern.

The debate between coffee and tea is a never ending. Like everything in this world coffee and tea both have their good and bad aspects. No one can say with 100% certainty that coffee is better than tea or vice versa. For ever good aspect that has come to light about these two beverages one harmful fact presents itself too. It is a universal fact that even an excess of a good thing is harmful, so keeping that in mind drink lots of water and alternate with tea or coffee, which ever your heart prefers.


[1] Food Chemistry (4th revised and extended edition) is written by Professor Dr. Hans-Dieter belitz, Professor em. Dr. Werner Grosch and Professor Dr. Peter Schieberle

Read more:

[2] The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug By Bennett Alan Weinberg, Bonnie K. Bealer

[3] Pendergrast, Mark (2001) [1999]. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. London

[4] Yee, L. K., Tea’s Wonderful History, The Chinese Historical and Cultural Project

[5] "Botanical Aspects". London: International Coffee Organization

[6] "Camellia Sinensis". Purdue University Center for New Crops and Plants Products

[7] "Botanical Aspects". London: International Coffee Organization

[8] "Camellia Sinensis". Purdue University Center for New Crops and Plants Products

[9] Britannica Tea Cultivation

[10] "Coffee Reference Section"

[11] "Field Processing". International Coffee Organization.

[12] Li, Guang (2007), Ling Chun Chin, ed., The Traditional Processing of Wuyi Rock Teas: An Interview with Master Ling Ping Xang, The Art of Tea

[13] Varnam, Alan H.; Sutherland, J. M. (1994), Beverages:Technology, Chemistry and Microbiology, Springer

[14] Total Production of Exporting Countries, International Coffee Organization

[15] Current Worldwide Annual Coffee Consumption per capita

[16] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations—Production FAOSTAT

[17] "Faostat".



[20] "Pharmacology". "Caffeine". DrugBank. University of Alberta.

[21] "RxList Marinol Interactions"



[24] "Coffee consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer". Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism 33





[29] Mayoclinic

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Written by: Michal Vilímovský (EN)
Education: Physician
Article resources: See references within the article body
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Published: December 6, 2014 at 7:06 AM
Next scheduled update: December 6, 2016 at 7:06 AM
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