Written by: Jessica West, November 2020
With the cold winter weather just around the corner, you may find yourself walking into the nearest coffee shop to get something warm to drink. The million-dollar question, what do you actually want to drink? Maybe an espresso? Some good old-fashioned black tea? And what’s this green matcha stuff on the menu? With so many options you can’t help but wonder, which one is the best to have?
What is tea and where did it come from?
Tea is a beverage made by adding boiling water to the crushed leaves of a tea plant (1). Many people think that drinking tea started off in England since it’s a traditional custom at mealtimes, but it actually originates from China. The concept of tea is said to have begun in 2737 BC when Chinese emperor Shen Nung sat under a tree, only to have some leaves fall into his pot of boiling water; he then drank the mixture and it was dubbed the creation of tea (2).
In today’s society, we don’t have to pick any tree leaves to get some tea, we can buy pre-packaged ones in little tea bags from the grocery, or we can go to coffee shops or cafes to have specialty teas.
What are the nutritional benefits of tea?
Tea possesses many nutritional and health benefits as it is rich in polyphenols, which is a substance that has antioxidant properties to help protect the body from certain diseases. Tea contains small amounts of minerals such as fluoride, which helps prevent tooth decay, and potassium which plays a role in heart health and muscle function (3). Some vitamins which are naturally found in tea are vitamin C, which helps protect our bodies against colds and infection and B vitamins (B-1 and B-6) which play a role in the metabolism (break down) of proteins and carbohydrates (3).
Tea is also considered a healthier option in comparison to other beverages such as sodas, energy drinks and artificial fruit juices as it is lower in simple sugars, sodium and artificial additives.
Savour the tea but be mindful of the sweet!
We can change the nutritional value of tea with a simple movement of our hand. How many times have you been distracted while adding a spoon of sugar to our drink? Every now and then, we may accidentally add a little more of that cream, sugar or milk to our tea and turn it into a very sweet beverage. Likewise, some cafes may also sell fancy fruit infused iced teas and specialty bubble teas. While these flavourful drinks do contain tea, they can also contain a lot more sugar and empty calories, so they should be consumed in moderation.
What are the health benefits of tea?
There are over 20,000 varieties of tea in the world (4), with each variety providing a different health benefit. Chamomile tea can help with relaxation, menstrual cramps and stress relief, while ginger tea can help with nausea and indigestion (5). Hibiscus tea is said to help with blood pressure, while peppermint tea can help with constipation and motion sickness (5).
What about the myth that drinking tea can help with weight loss? Some research has found that drinking caffeinated green tea may result in some weight loss (about 1-2 lbs) but many other studies have found mixed results. Therefore, if you’re trying to lose weight its best to stick to diet and exercise, as health professionals do not recommend tea drinking as a weight loss technique (6).
What’s the deal with matcha?
Before we start talking about coffee, it would be wrong to discuss tea and not mention matcha. This is because matcha is actually a type of tea. Matcha comes from the crushed leaves of tea plants which have been grown and harvested under special conditions (7). Matcha has become very popular as an ingredient in drinks, cakes, ice-cream, sorbets and other dishes. Some of the health benefits of matcha include promotion of heart health and a strengthened immune system (7).
What is coffee?
Most people know coffee as the morning pick-me-up beverage or that drink that helps keep you awake during an all-nighter. A few examples of some coffee-based beverages are: Espresso, Americano, Cappuccino, Mocha and Latte. The main difference between these drinks is the amount of coffee used and whether milk or cream is added. Coffee itself comes from the ground roasted seeds of the Coffee arabica plant, which originates from Africa (8).
The legend of how coffee was discovered is said to have begun in Ethiopia, where a farmer who was curious about the strange aroused behaviour of his goats, decided to sample the beans which they were eating from a bush, which happened to be a coffee plant, and thus coffee was born (8). Coffee makes a person feel energized because it contains caffeine, which is a substance that reacts with receptors in the body to increase concentration and alertness.
What are the nutritional/health benefits of drinking coffee?
Coffee contains nutrients such as vitamin B2 and B3 which are involved in metabolism of carbohydrates. Similar to tea, coffee is also a source of potassium which is needed for muscle contraction and antioxidants which help protect the body against disease. Some of the potential health benefits of drinking coffee include improved energy levels and memory, lowered risk of type 2 diabetes, improved physical performance and lowered risk of stroke (9).
While drinking coffee has it benefits, having too much coffee can have negative side effects. Caffeine when consumed in excess can cause symptoms of increased blood pressure, anxiety and insomnia (10). To avoid this, it is recommended that adults keep their caffeine consumption to less than 400mg per day. Caffeine is also found in tea, but the quantity is much lower than that of coffee with one cup of black tea containing between 30-80mg, while 1 cup of coffee can contain around 94mg of caffeine (10). Just like with tea, it is also important to be mindful of how much sugar or cream we add to our coffee, as these can become a source of extra calories when added in excess.
Which do I choose?
Now that we’ve taken a look at both beverages, its time to answer the question, which one should I choose? The answer simply depends on what you’re looking for. If you need a drink to calm your nerves, relieve nausea, or to help with relaxation and sleep, then you might want to go for a cup of tea. On the other hand, if you need a drink to help you feel energized and alert or to help you focus and concentrate, then you should go for some coffee. If you just want something warm to drink, then either one of them should do the trick.
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