We love a good debate on the differences between coffee and tea.
But what about black tea in particular? Of all the different types of tea, most tea drinkers would say that black tea is about as close as you can get to a cup of coffee.
So just how similar are they? And what makes a cup of black tea different from a cup of coffee in terms of taste, caffeine content, and health properties?
Let’s see how these popular caffeinated brews compare.
Plant Origins and Taste
Coffee beans are actually seeds from the fruit of different types of coffee trees. They’re roasted, ground, and brewed to make everything from your standard cup of joe to fancy espresso lattes.
The taste profile of black coffee is influenced by the types of beans used, where they were grown, and how they’re roasted and brewed. It is usually described as “bitter” and “bold,” and you might also taste rich chocolatey, fruity, floral, and even nutty flavors.
Black tea—like all “true teas”—is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The leaves are dried and fully oxidized, which gives black tea its darker color and bolder flavor compared to green tea or white tea. You can brew loose tea leaves or tea bags and enjoy black teas as hot drinks or cold ones.
Like coffee, black tea is also layered with flavors. It has an earthy bitterness and might have spicy, nutty, caramel, honey, and smokey notes.
Insider tip: Always be sure to brew your black tea at the right temperature for the right length of time. Underbrewing can result in lackluster flavor. Overbrewing can result in a bitter cup (similar to a bad cup of coffee) as it will be higher in tannins. Learn how to brew the perfect cup of black tea in this guide.
The differences between black tea and coffee go beyond their plant origins and taste profiles… turns out that drinking tea and drinking coffee might affect your health in different ways.
Potential Health Benefits
Coffee is loaded with polyphenols – a type of antioxidant. These antioxidants may help your body in the battle against free radical damage. And they can also support your immune system against oxidative damage.
Black tea is also especially high in antioxidant polyphenols, especially theaflavins. Studies show that drinking black tea:
May Support Heart Health
In a smaller study of both men and women, participants were able to support healthy cholesterol levels by consuming five cups of black tea daily for three weeks. (6)
May Promote Healthy Blood Pressure
In one study, participants with normal to high blood pressure were able to support healthy blood pressure levels by drinking three cups of black tea daily for six months. (7)
May Support Healthy Weight
Scientists say the polyphenols in black tea might even be more effective than those in green tea when it comes to supporting healthy weight management. (9) This happens two ways:
- Black tea may help minimize the amount of dietary fats and sugars that are absorbed by your body, which would naturally decrease your calorie intake. (9)
- Black tea also supports healthy blood sugar levels. (9)
Potential Health Considerations
Despite the health benefits of these two caffeinated beverages, there can also be potential downsides to consider:
In the coffee versus tea guide, we discovered:
Coffee can be hard on your digestive system.
Due to the acidic nature of coffee, people with stomach disorders, acid reflux, and heartburn might benefit from steering clear of it.
Coffee is a diuretic.
Too much coffee may lead to dehydration.
And it can be a serious issue when it comes to peristalsis, or how your muscles push food out of your stomach and through your intestines. It may seem like your cup of coffee helps you “go” in the AM. But it could be interfering with how well you go…
See, when coffee speeds up this process too much, food may get passed through only partially digested. This means you won’t have the chance to absorb all the vitamins and nutrients from your food. (10)
Coffee releases stress hormones.
Drinking coffee releases cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. And it could explain why some people feel tense and jittery after a few cups of coffee.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine says drinking a moderate amount of black tea (up to 5 cups per day) is likely safe for most adults. (11)
However, black tea (like coffee) contains caffeine which may be harmful in high quantities. Drinking caffeine in excess may cause headaches, diarrhea, irritability, heartburn, dizziness, sleep issues, nervousness, and ringing in the ears, among other symptoms. (11)
Women who are pregnant or nursing should limit their daily caffeine intake. (11) Certain health conditions and medications may also be affected by caffeine so it’s best to check with your doctor to find out how much caffeine is healthy for you. (11)
Of course, to moderate your caffeine intake you need to know how much caffeine is actually in those cups of tea or coffee…
Cup for cup, black tea generally contains less caffeine than coffee. But many people are surprised to learn that a cup of black tea usually has more caffeine than a shot of espresso.
- A six-ounce cup of coffee has 75 to 100 mg of caffeine.
- A cup of black tea provides 50 mg of caffeine.
- A one-ounce shot of espresso contains 40 mg of caffeine.
Even though coffee and black tea both contain caffeine, not all sources of caffeine are created equally…
Black Tea Contains L-Theanine
Black tea contains an amino acid called L-theanine, which is known for its ability to promote feelings of calm and focus.
Studies demonstrate that L-theanine binds with caffeine molecules, slowing the absorption of caffeine. So, with black tea, you’ll experience a more gradual and longer-lasting energy boost, rather than an immediate energy spike that you may get from other caffeinated beverages like coffee.
L-theanine also has a calming effect on neurotransmitters which may translate to a more relaxed, zen-like brain. (14)
Studies also highlight L-theanine’s role in helping people with: (13)
- Mental and physical stress
Since L-theanine is not found in coffee, this may explain the caffeine jitters and crashes people often get from drinking coffee –– and, more specifically, why you don’t typically get them from tea!.
Choosing the Best Brew for You
Ok, so should you drink coffee, or black tea, or some combination of both? The truth is, there’s an easy way to answer this…
Simply pay attention to how you feel shortly after drinking coffee. If you’re irritable, low in energy, or headachy up to 12 hours later, it may be time to test the black tea waters.
To decrease your coffee consumption, swap your first cup of joe for a cup of black tea. Or, start slow — keep the coffee energy boost from your AM latte but try a black tea in the midmorning, instead of that second cup of coffee.
Making the Switch
Looking to leave the coffee jitters behind completely? Or perhaps you just want to incorporate more black tea into your caffeine routine?
If so, there’s a wide variety of black teas to choose from. We suggest starting with these:
- English Breakfast. It’s customary to enjoy this tea with breakfast in Britain. It’ll wake you up and takes well to milk and sugar, similar to coffee.
- Earl Grey. Another popular tea for morning brews, the unique essence of citrus bergamot atop the bold flavor of black tea flavor is sure to become a new favorite.
- Masala Chai. The ultimate warming brew. Add steamed milk to this spiced black tea for an unforgettable latte.
For coffee fans, these three black teas will be closer in flavor to a cup of coffee than green tea, oolong, or caffeine-free herbal teas.
Of course, they aren’t your only options! Feel free to try a few different black teas to find your new favorite.
You can find more tips about making the switch from coffee to tea in this guide.