Which One Better for You, Coffee or Tea?

It’s an age-old question: What’s better for you, coffee or tea? Even back in the 18th century, inquiring minds wanted to know. King Gustav III of Sweden, being of the belief that coffee was poisonous, devised an interesting experiment to answer the question definitively. He found two identical twins in prison, both sentenced to death for crimes they had committed. Gustav III commuted their sentences to mere life imprisonment (which was no picnic either, given prison conditions back then).

In return for his kingly generosity, the twins had to agree to participate in an experiment: One twin had to drink three pots of coffee a day. The other had to drink three pots of tea a day. Two court physicians were procured to oversee the experiment. Sadly, the physicians died before the experiment was over, as did the king, who was assassinated in 1792. Had he lived, he would have seen the tea-drinking twin live until the age of 83. The coffee drinker? He lived even longer, although we don’t know exactly how much longer. Score one for coffee, if you believe in the efficacy of 18th-century science.
In terms of which is more popular, if you look at numbers alone, tea wins, hands down. While 1.6 billion cups a day of coffee are consumed on planet Earth, twice as many cups of tea are consumed. In the U.S., however, coffee reigns supreme, with Americans consuming $10 billion worth of coffee, against about $2 billion worth of tea. Tea consumption is rising fast in the States, however. Sales of tea have risen for more than 20 years running. The Tea Association of the USA reports that on any given day, 160 million Americans drink tea, hot or iced.
A lot of people believe they should cut down on their caffeine intake. The common belief is that caffeinated beverages in general will dehydrate you. It's not true. As far back as 1928, tests were conducted to ascertain the truth of caffeine’s effects on hydration. In that early test, three men (admittedly a small sample) were required to drink four cups of coffee a day. They also drank tea, water and caffeine-infused water. Measuring their volume of urine, there was no ultimate difference in liquid elimination from the body.
In more modern-day studies, such as one done by Lawrence Armstrong at the University of Connecticut, where 10 different studies were compared, it was found that caffeine was at most a mild diuretic, and in most cases, the volume of urine excreted was the same, regardless of whether caffeine was consumed or not. Similarly, the National Institutes of Health found in a controlled experiment that drinking black tea or drinking water was essentially the same, as far as keeping your body hydrated. Another study by the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (an industry study group) reported in a peer-reviewed journal that drinking four cups of coffee a day hydrated the body no differently than an equal amount of water.
Black, green, white and oolong teas are made from camellia sinensis tea leaves (as opposed to herbal tea, which is not technically tea, and is generally not caffeinated), and contain substances known as flavonoids, which many studies have linked to healthful benefits. Chinese emperor Shennong wrote about the benefits of tea as far back as 2737 BCE. A United Kingdom nutritional study linked tea consumption to lesser instances of heart disease and some cancers.
Another study on both tea and coffee published in a medical journal came to similar results regarding heart disease. Other ingredients in tea, known as catechins, were linked in an Australian study to stronger bones and lower incidents of osteoporosis. These same catechins are linked to better muscle endurance. A 2004 study in Taiwan, which appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that those who drank four to 20 ounces of tea for at least a year had a 46% lower chance of developing high blood pressure. An NIH study linked tea drinking with a lower incidence of Parkinson’s disease. The NIH also has indicated that tea may be helpful in preventing Alzheimer’s disease. 


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