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Comparison of the week: Coffee vs tea

Steaming cup (of coffee) on a foggy morning

Tea and coffee are the most consumed drinks in the world (after water), but which is better?

We compare virtually everything at Finder and our Comparison of the Week isn't afraid to tackle the big questions. This week we put coffee and tea to the test.

It's no secret that Aussies love a cuppa, but what are most people putting in their cups – tea or coffee? And which one is cheaper, healthier and better for the environment? We'll help you compare tea and coffee so you can choose the best option for you.

The essentials

There's some debate over exactly when and where coffee was invented, but most experts agree that the hot bean water originated in Ethiopia and spread to the rest of the world through the Arabian Peninsula. Coffee is made from ripe seeds that most of us know as coffee beans. These seeds are dried, roasted, ground and brewed with hot water to create black coffee. The coffee can then be mixed with milk for your morning latte, flat white or cappuccino. Coffee is one of the most traded products in the world and there has been controversy over coffee manufacturing conditions in developing countries and the impact it has on the environment.

While coffee culture reigns supreme in Australia, tea is actually the more popular choice worldwide. Tea originated in China as a medicinal drink brewed from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis tree. Green tea, white tea and black tea are all made from this same plant, while herbal tea can be made from a variety of plants and fruits. To make tea, the leaves of the plant must be picked, dried and often blended to produce more complex flavours. The actual brewing process is debated all over the world, but generally, the tea is brewed with hot water or milk depending on the type of tea.

The comparison

There are a few key differences between tea and coffee including taste, health effects and caffeine concentration.

PriceThe national average cost of a cup of coffee is around $4.06 for a flat white. If you opt for specialty milk like soy or almond, the price will be higher. Making coffee at home is a cheaper alternative, though it requires buying a coffee machine or coffee press.A cup of tea is typically cheaper at around $2.50 to $4.00 depending on the type of tea. Buying bagged or loose leaf tea to consume at home is much more cost efficient as you only need a kettle or pot to boil water.
VarietiesCoffee comes in several forms including the iconic Aussie flat white. Other options include latte, cappuccino, long black, short black, macchiato and ristretto. Many cafes also offer iced coffee and cold pressed coffee, usually at a higher cost.Black tea, or regular tea, is the most popular tea choice for Australians, followed by green tea and herbal tea such as rosehip, chamomile or rooibos. Chai tea and matcha are also increasingly popular options.
TasteMany experts claim that coffee has a more complex flavour than tea, but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll like it more. Coffee has a bit of a polarising taste. Some people like it on its own, while others prefer to dilute it with milk, sugar or chocolate powder.In terms of flavour, tea offers more variety. If you don't like the taste of black tea, you might find green tea, chai or herbal tea hits the spot.
CaffeineAn average cup of coffee contains around 90mg-200mg of caffeine depending on the type of coffee bean, the concentration, the brewing time and whether or not the coffee was diluted with water, milk or cream. Typically, light roasts are higher in caffeine than dark roasts. You can also get decaffeinated versions if you prefer to go caffeine free.One cup of black tea has around 14-70 mg of caffeine, while green tea contains about 20-40 mg. Herbal tea is naturally caffeine free.
Antioxidant levelsCoffee contains more antioxidants than tea, particularly a type of disease-fighting antioxidant known as quinine that becomes more potent after roasting. Quinine also gives coffee its bitter flavour.Tea can usually be consumed in larger quantities than coffee, so while coffee has more antioxidants per cup, if you're drinking three or four cups of tea vs one or two cups of coffee, you'll be getting a higher concentration of antioxidants from the tea. Green and black tea, in particular, contain polyphenols which are a type of antioxidant linked to several health benefits including reduced inflammation.
Health benefitsStudies indicate that consuming coffee regularly may decrease your risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer's disease and type 2 diabetes, and even help reduce the symptoms of asthma.Like coffee, research has shown that drinking tea may reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Tea has also been linked to several health benefits including reduced inflammation, decreasing the risk of stroke and heart disease and increasing bone density. Unlike coffee, green and herbal tea are hydrating and can help you replenish your fluid intake.
RisksFor every study indicating the health benefits of coffee, there seems to be a study claiming coffee is harmful to your health and can raise cholesterol levels and cause digestive issues. Coffee also has a high caffeine content which may cause you to feel overstimulated and anxious. Additionally, coffee is a diuretic and could leave you dehydrated if you overdo it.Like with coffee, the caffeine in tea can make you feel jittery and drinking high amounts of black tea may increase blood pressure. Studies have also concluded that adding milk to your tea can counteract the positive effects of the drink.
Environmental impactChemical fertilisers and unsustainable growing methods impact wildlife and farmers in developing countries typically receive less than 10% of the retail price of the coffee they grow. Millions of acres of forest have been cleared around the world to make way for more coffee production.Tea production causes similar environmental impacts as coffee including habitat destruction, deforestation and soil erosion. The tea industry also has issues with poor labour conditions, slave labour and low wages.
AvailabilityWhile Melbourne is considered by many to be the coffee capital of Australia, you can get a cup of joe just about anywhere from your local servo to the single origin cafe around the corner. You can also make coffee at home with an espresso or non-espresso coffee maker, or instant coffee if you're willing to sacrifice taste.Around half of Australians drink at least one cup of tea per week and you can get a cuppa at cafes and restaurants around the world. If you want to save money on pricy cafe tea, you can brew it easily at home – all you need is a kettle or something to heat water.
Bonus usesCoffee grounds can be mixed with honey, coconut oil and other common household ingredients and used as a body scrub. You can also use coffee grounds to fertilise your garden, add it to compost and even use it as a natural hair dye to darken light hair.You can place cold tea bags under your eyes to reduce swelling, ferment it into kombucha, and use it to dye fabric. You can also soak paper in tea to give it an antique look and help make your kids' next history project look more authentic.

The lowdown

Overall, the best choice for you comes down to taste and how you are affected by each drink. Many of us can't make it through our morning meeting without a coffee, while others find it to be too stimulating. Some people can't stand the taste of green tea, while others swear it has helped them lose weight and stay hydrated. If you're not sure which is right for you, try a few types to see which you prefer.

If you're concerned about the environmental impacts and sustainability of coffee and tea production, consider buying and supporting fair trade companies that are transparent about how they source the coffee or tea and the treatment of workers who farm the product. Whether you choose to drink tea, coffee or both, regularly using a reusable cup can decrease your carbon emissions and the amount of waste you're producing.

We're all about helping you make better decisions. Do your own comparison by heading to the Finder home page to compare credit cards, savings accounts, shopping deals and much, much more. Go on, be a Finder.

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