Should you drink a cup of tea or a cup of coffee this morning? It's a simple question, but not always a simple answer. Tea and coffee are two of the most popular caffeinated beverages around the world.
We're comparing consumption levels, popularity, flavors, caffeine content and more, to find out how coffee and tea compare. So if you’re just looking for caffeine numbers and science, fast, check out our article Caffeine in Tea vs Coffee. Curious about the bigger picture and history of comparison between these two?
According to a 2018 study (yes, people actually make studies about how many people drink tea and how many drink brewed coffee) tea and soda are the most popular caffeine-containing beverages in African, Asian and Pacific countries, while coffee and soda is preferred in Europe, North America, Latin America, and the Caribbean. 1
That's not a rule, however, and it doesn't account for decaf coffee or herbal teas either.
Whether you sip instant coffee or tea of any type, there's no doubt that you'll find people who love either (or both) in your country, no matter where you are.
But globally, tea is the second most consumed drink after water. 6 Coffee, however, is still one of the most consumed brewed drinks in the world, with 166.63 million 60 kilogram bags consumed in 2020/2021. 7
Steeping tea and brewing coffee are not new concepts.
Consuming plant leaves steeped in water is hard to trace back to any one source. Many civilizations have brewed these "teas" for medicinal purposes, for example. But true teas (the caffeinated kind that creates black, green and white teas) originates in China where the Camellia sinensis plant is native.
The first records of tea being consumed dates back to the third century in Southwest China, however, it wasn’t consumed globally until the 16th century. 8
Coffee is also a plant-based caffeine source. Instead of steeping the leaves, it's the cherry of the coffee plant that's processed and dried before it is transported and brewed. The coffee plant is thought to originate in Africa, possibly Ethiopia. 9
Records of knowledge of the coffee plant date back to 850 CE and consumption dates back to the early 15th century. So, it's also old, but not quite as mythical and ancient as tea!
Brewing tea and coffee is actually fairly similar. The process is the same - brew the leaf or bean in water until flavor and caffeine are extracted, then consume it black (plain), or with milk and sweetener. And yet, despite their similarities, coffee and tea have very different flavors once steeped.
Typical coffee flavors are bitter, sweet and acidic. In a good cup of coffee, the sweetness balances the acidity and the bitterness doesn't overpower the cup.
Typical tea flavors depend on the type of tea leaves. Steeped green tea is refreshing, grassy and "green" tasting, while a black tea brew is richer, with tannin, malty and bold notes.
Something that brewed coffee and teas have in common, besides the mg of caffeine they contain, is that different varieties can have distinct flavor notes. With coffee, some beans can produce a chocolaty flavor, while others have hints of nuts, fruits and even floral notes.
For tea, it's the same. An Assam variety of tea, for example, can have a malty and bold flavor, while a more delicate Darjeeling black tea has softer, floral notes.
When it comes to finding a snack to have while you sip your favorite caffeinated beverage, whether it's tea or coffee, many people choose something sweet. From the almond-flavored Italian amaretti treat that goes so well with a strong espresso, to the cookie-like "biscuits" that the Brits love with a satisfying cup of tea.
But if you want to cut back on sugar, there are plenty of other cool food pairings.
If you want to turn your tea break into a mini tea session, try strong flavors with our hearty black tea blends like Spicy Masala Chai and Earl Grey. They are perfect for washing down rich breakfast foods, like bacon and eggs.
As for our more refreshing green tea blends, like Pomegranate Mojito and Superberry Samba, they're best paired with subtle flavors - rice, seafood, vegetables and light meats (like chicken) won't overpower the delicate sweet grassy green tea flavor.
As for coffee, the experts 10 recommend something light and sweet in flavor for milky coffees, like pastries and muffins, or strong-tasting savoury raw foods, like hard cheese, avocado and sesame if you drink your coffee black. The key with coffee food pairings is to pick something to combat the natural acidity of coffee.
The number of milligrams of caffeine per cup varies depending on the type of tea leaves you're steeping. Green and white teas typically have a lower caffeine content than other tea types, and even black tea, which has a higher amount of caffeine, still contains less caffeine than coffee. Brewing time and using hot water also impacts caffeine levels. The best way to get the most caffeine in your cup quickly is to use boiling water and steep it for 3-5 minutes.17 From lowest caffeine levels to highest per ounce: white tea, green tea, black tea, drip coffee, espresso.The exception is caffeine-free herbal teas - as the name suggests, these teas don't contain any caffeine.
Other ways to get the boost you need from caffeine intake is from soda, energy drinks and other non-plant-based caffeinated beverages. Maybe we're a little biased, but we don't think they hold a candle to tea-based energy. The energy you get from tea leaves is healthy and has some unique benefits compared to coffee.
While caffeine in coffee provides a fast hit of energy that leaves you a little jittery, tea provides a smoother, steadier energy source. When you consume too much caffeine, you may feel anxious, restless and have trouble sleeping. The side effects of caffeine, however, are not the same with cups of tea. Tea leaves contain L-Theanine, which makes all the difference to the caffeine content. For more on the science behind caffeine in tea, read our article about the best tea for energy.
You may be wondering where Zest Tea, which is a high caffeine tea, fits in all this.
Zest Tea contains up to 150mg of caffeine per serving, which is way more than coffee (but still below the recommended daily amount of caffeine, so don't worry). The difference between highly caffeinated tea and very strong coffee, is that brewed teas also provide L-Theanine for those calming, energy-steadying effects. Tea also has a range of unique flavors, depending on the blend you select. Whereas coffee tastes like, well, coffee… unless you load it up with cream and sugars.
Coffee beans have some health benefits too, from lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes 15 to preventing Alzheimer's disease and dementia,16 but we think tea is better. The awesome tea health benefits, plus the L-Theanine magic, and the fact that we can create tea with more caffeine than brewed coffee, makes it a winner! Why not try Zest Tea to see what you think?