As a Brit, I am passionate about tea, and hold very strong opinions on the subject. One of my main complaints regarding tea are the poor excuses for teabags found abroad; weak and watery producing an unappetising layer of scum floating atop your drink, they tarnish tea’s good name. Of course, the optimum cup of tea is brewed from tea leaves, steeped in a tea-pot then poured through a strainer, but this is less common and less realistic to expect on a day to day basis.
In terms of teabags, British is best (though South African would also be acceptable); try PG Tips or, my personal favourite, Tetley’s for a good brew. Place the teabag and any sugar you require-this is subjective — in a mug, then pour boiling water on top. Allow the tea to steep for a couple of minutes, leaving the teabag in for a stronger cup, before adding milk to your taste. I’m a strong believer that a cup of tea can fire you through the day as coffee would, caffeine wise, so I leave my teabag in the mug throughout the drinking process.
Whilst my loyalty lies with tea, I am certainly partial to a cappuccino every so often and indeed, coffee tends to be the more popular beverage judging by the unending coffee-shop chains that have sprouted all over the Western World. Curious, I decided to turn to science to determine the differences, advantages and disadvantages between tea and coffee, and the results may surprise you. Before we begin, it may surprise you that the origins of tea — discovered by then ancient Chinese ruler Shen Nong – is far more ancient than coffee, which was first produced in Arabia in 647 A.D. Tea plants are native to East Asia though has also been drunk in India for a long time (the exact dates are unclear).
Most people rely on coffee for that early morning caffeine kick to jolt them into their busy day. Whilst a cup of coffee certainly contains more caffeine, with an average cup containing twice the amount of tea (80-115 milligrams), using my prolonged steeping method, tea can easily match the amount. Scientists have actually found tea to be more effective at sharpening the mind than coffee, which gives you that initial rush. However, the ‘jangly’ nerves and difficulty sleeping associated with drinking coffee do not occur with tea. Researchers at the University of Surry, UK, found that the after-effects of coffee in regard to falling asleep are unique, even if you were to consume the same amount of caffeine in a cup of tea.
Other negatives associated with caffeinated hot drinks include teeth discolouration; whilst both black tea and coffee are guilty of tinting those pearly whites, other teas such as the white and green varieties will not affect the colour of your teeth. These types of tea also offer other notable benefits: recent research has found that green tea could aid weight loss, by kickstarting your metabolism. Some research has also suggested that the antioxidants found in tea could reduce the risk of cancer, though nothing has been confirmed and if you take yours with milk, this could affect the benefits. Regardless, the associations of soothing and healing that accompany tea are substantial pros – there is some evidence that regular tea drinkers show calmer physiological reactions in unsettling situations and those drinking three cups a day boast a 37% lower risk of depression.
Coffee, too, offers certain health benefits, if drunk in moderation. Recent research based on 300,000 participants showed that each cup of coffee consumed per day increases the risk of depression by approximately 8%. Similarly, coffee is said to reduce risks of diabetes, even if you drink the decaffeinated variety. It is also said to help prevent Alzheimers disease and heart disease, though on the flip side, some studied have shown that properties in coffee can raise cholesterol. Please note that the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that teenagers consume no more than 100 mg of caffeine a day and that younger children should not drink caffeinated beverages on a regular basis.
Overall, it is an issue of personal taste. Until the last few decades, tea had the advantage of ceremony, which forged associations with tranquility, spending time with loved ones and relaxation. Recent coffee culture has developed its own associations with being social and active. I will however, leave you with a little ditty that my grandfather regularly sings as an ode to his beloved beverage:
“I like a nice cup of tea in the morning,
Just to start the day you see,
And at half past 11,
My idea of heaven,
Is a nice cup of tea.
I like a nice cup of tea with my dinner,
And a nice cup of tea with my tea,
And when it comes to bed there is much to be said
For a nice cup of tea!”