Coffee vs. tea

My belief is that, for a wide variety of reasons, tea (Camellia sinensis, not herbal tisanes, etc.) is a better drink than coffee.

Some of tea’s greatest advantages have nothing to do with flavor. Tea just happens to be a very practical beverage in every way.

Tea is easier to make.
All you need is the leaves, a pot to boil water, and a cup. A teapot helps, but millions around the world simply put the leaves in a cup and pour boiling water on them. Disposal is also simple and fairly mess-free: you just dump the leaves. The tools of tea-making clean easily.

Coffee, on the other hand, is a pain to make. You must grind it yourself or take a quality hit. It is slightly harder to measure than tea. Special equipment is needed to make it. Dumping the filter is theoretically simple but often involves a cleanup of grounds that overflowed, etc. The coffee apparatus itself requires cleanup and gets yucky after awhile.

Such are the comparative mechanics of tea- and coffee-making, but there is also the matter of success and failure. It is hard to screw up tea. If you steep it and it’s bitter, simply dilute with hot water. If it’s not flavorful enough, simply pour your tea back into the teapot and steep some more. If you didn’t use enough tea to begin with, add some more and resteep.

Coffee, on the other hand, is more easily flubbed and harder to correct afterward. If you use too little coffee or too much water, resulting in weak brew, there is nothing to do but dump it and start over fresh. If you make it too strong, it can be diluted with hot water but not so successfully as with tea. I will not even get into espresso-based drinks; making them well is an art requiring considerable skill in working with the coffee, milk, and machinery.

It is also easier to make just as much tea as you want. A small cup or a large pot. Tea is also faster to make than coffee.

Tea is stored much more easily, longer, and more successfully.
According to Wikipedia on coffee, “Once roasted, coffee loses its flavor quickly, although being kept in the absence of oxygen can greatly delay the process. Although some prefer to wait 24 hours after roasting to brew the first cup, all agree that it begins to get off-flavors and bitterness about a week after roasting, even under ideal conditions.”

In contrast, you put tea in a metal can and stick it in a cabinet. In general, you can store tea for up to a year without it losing much or any flavor, and some varieties may be stored quite a bit longer. Further, tea doesn’t taste rotten if it’s a little past its sell-by date; it merely loses some flavor. The upshot is that anyone can buy tea, make it him/herself, and drink it at its best.

Tea is less expensive.
A full analysis of the relative expense of tea and coffee is complicated by the fact that there are some very expensive teas (thousands of dollars a pound), whereas there are no coffees that cost that much. Further, the quality of the leaves and beans available varies at each price point.

But let’s put it this way: very cheap tea is of better quality and cheaper than very cheap coffee, and very good tea costs about the same as very good coffee.

The first is easy to demonstrate. Huge bags of Chinese Oolong or mammoth cans of generic grind are both cheap. The difference is that the tea will be quite drinkable whereas the coffee at that price point will be nasty. Ergo, better tea is available cheaper.

Further, very good tea and coffee are roughly equivalent in price. A 1 lb. bag of Keemum Concerto (a great black tea from is just $29.00. They say it costs $0.17 a cup. According to Taste of the World, gourmet coffee tends to cost about $0.12 to $0.25 a cup. Hence, good tea and coffee are roughly similar in price.

Tea is more healthful.
Tea is chock full of vitamins and healthful compounds. Green tea and black tea have different, healthful compounds. Tea is said to reduce cancer risk, etc. There are studies that show benefits to coffee, too, but these benefits are not as large. Coffee has more health risks, too. Here are the two Wikipedia articles on tea and health and coffee and health, so you can judge for yourself.

Billions can’t be wrong: tea is a more enjoyable beverage than coffee.

On average, tea tastes better than coffee.
The reason for this is simple: the manipulation of the tea plant to produce the final product is not very complicated. There is (for most varieties) no complicated roasting or processing involved, and the product keeps well. The result is that a cheap, thin Oolong served in a plastic glass in a dive Chinatown restaurant is an unimpressive but drinkable thing.

For opposite reasons, cheap coffee made without care is nasty, nasty stuff. The coffee sitting out for hours at your local oil change place is a liquid nightmare. Bad beans, bad roasting, lengthy storage at room temperature, bad drip maker, and time sitting out all combine to create an unpotable, thick, black bullion.

Tea tastes better under a wider range of circumstances.
Tea tastes good hot and cold. It tastes fine at room temperature. It tastes fine after it’s been sitting out overnight. It tastes fine after being steeped twice or three times. It tastes fine thin and diluted.

Coffee is a more particular beverage. It too tastes fine hot or on ice, of course, but it tastes bad at room temperature. It is undrinkable if it is too thin or boiled down.

Tea offers a much wider variety of tastes.
There is a variety of coffees, but I would not consider it wide. I’ve tried a bunch, but they all seem like variations on a theme. I’ve even tried a 100% robusta coffee, but the difference between that and an Arabica (a different species) is not so great as the difference between two fairly different Chinese greens (same species).

Tea, on the other hand, offers a stupendous variety. First, you have many different regions: China, Japan, India, Ceylon, Africa, not to mention several other Asian countries. Second, you have the different types: green, Oolong, black, white, pu er, etc. A cup of first flush Darjeeling tastes absolutely nothing like a Chinese pu er. Even among just the Formosa Oolongs, one can find incredible variety. The world of tea invites years of exploration at a reasonable price. It’s a great hobby.

Tea offers a better caffeine buzz.
It may be true that, based on the amounts and concentrations that people generally drink, tea has less caffeine in it than coffee. But for the tea connoisseur, this is unlikely to be true on a practical level. Certain tea plant varieties just have ton of caffeine in them. Nor do green teas have less caffeine than black: it’s the same amount of caffeine per same leaf of tea, so the tea variety and the concentration at which the tea is drunk will determine the level of caffeine.

I have been much more buzzed out on tea than I ever have on coffee. Drink the right variety of tea at a high concentration, and you will absolutely be flying. I have had tunnel vision, giddiness, and an overall feeling that I can only imagine is what speed is like. Not that I endorse such an experience or seek it out myself on a regular basis.

I haven’t seen any research, but I do think tea offers a different type of caffeine buzz. If I drink a lot of tea, the buzz seems to go mostly to my head. When I drink coffee, I seem to get less of a head rush and much more crankiness in my body.


Tea is the “real thing,” not friggin’ Coke.
The fact that Americans drink so much Diet Coke and other chemical soups is a real shame on our culture. We just don’t know better, I guess. Tea is a cheaper, easier, and more environmentally sound beverage, but still we stick with the fake-o concoctions in aluminum cans. What a joke. (And I’m guilty of it myself. Nor are other countries necessarily better: Japan drinks awful canned coffee in copious amounts.)

Tea is a real, organic beverage; its flavor is naturally complex. Even cheap tea is suitable for the sophisticated palate.

America has become somewhat coffee-smart but is still tea-stupid.
With the advent of Starbucks indie coffee joints and palates that can appreciate better coffee, America has become somewhat coffee-smart.But America is still incredibly tea-stupid. The same Starbucks that has educated the masses about good (or at least mediocre) coffee serves tea at a high price in cheap little bags (Tazo, what a joke).

A variety of other influences is preventing Americans from seeing tea for what it really is. Green tea is promoted by health food stores, which is fine, but almost no understanding of green tea connoisseurship is conveyed. In effect, people get the idea that green tea is a generic type of medicine, when in fact the variety of green teas from various regions is astounding, and green tea is one of the most exciting types of tea.

The bottled teas available in the US are atrocities that give Americans a false impression about tea’s nature. There are a lot of faux brands like Republic of Tea that try to make you think their sweetened concoctions are organic, good for the environment, healthful, whatever; but they can barely be labeled tea; they are more like Gatorade.

Drink more tea.

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