Take a closer look into the effects of caffeine and how they change depending on their source- tea vs. coffee.
Caffeine from a cup of tea or coffee is what many of us rely on to fully wake-up after we make it out of bed. It helps us feel more alert and keeps drowsiness at bay. Although it can be found in over sixty different plant species, the most popular sources of caffeine are tea and coffee. But is there a difference in how caffeine affects us if we’re getting it from a cup of tea or a cup of coffee? In order to understand the answer to that question we must first take a look at how caffeine generally works its magic, independent of the source.
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Caffeine’s Effect on the Brain and Body
Caffeine is known for its ability to enhance mental and physical performance, improve one’s mood, and generally elevate one’s level of alertness. It essentially does all of this by replacing the message that a certain chemical called adenosine is trying to send to your brain. Adenosines gradually build up in the brain, throughout the wakeful part of one’s day, sending an increasingly strong message to your brain that your body needs to recuperate and reset through sleep. Caffeine butts into the receptors for this message that is supposed to get sent to your brain, and rather than gradually signaling your nervous system to slow down, it stimulates your nervous system, and masks the feeling of tiredness. This stimulation can speed up your urinary tract flow, increase blood pressure, increase heartrate, stimulate metabolism, and most importantly to many of us, reverse feelings of sleepiness. Depending on your tolerance to caffeine, these effects can begin just fifteen minutes after ingestion, and can keep going for the better part of a day.
Tea and coffee are enjoyed by people the world ‘round to help them get through the day, but few of them are making their choice informed on how caffeine interacts with the body in varied ways based on its source.
Now that we’ve looked at the basics of how caffeine works, you’re ready to examine the differences between getting your caffeine fix from tea vs. getting it from coffee.
Caffeine in Coffee
A typical cup of coffee contains about 100 milligrams of caffeine. This brings us to the first difference between a cup of coffee and a cup of tea- the amount of caffeine per cup. Even a rather weak cup of coffee will contain higher amounts of caffeine than a strong cup of tea.
The second difference is that caffeine from coffee tends to create a more intense buzz. As mentioned earlier, caffeine can increase heartrate, which is often visible in someone who’s had one too many cups of coffee (or consumed over 500mg of caffeine) by shaky hands and a sense of restlessness that some people call “coffee jitters.”
The third contrasting element between tea and coffee is their impact on the body’s hydration. Because of the elevated levels of caffeine in coffee, it’s important to pay careful attention to the amount you consume for several reasons, one of which is staying hydrated. While studies have shown that there’s little chance of becoming dehydrated if you drink no more than 5 cups of mildly caffeinated coffee, more than 500mg of caffeine can result in signs of dehydration due to increased urination. So it’s important to monitor the amount of coffee caffeine you consume when trying to stay well hydrated.
Because caffeine in coffee tends to have such intense effects on the brain and body, coming down from a coffee caffeine buzz can be rather abrupt and leave your body feeling over-exhausted. This can be especially true if coffee is consumed when you’ve been unable to receive adequate sleep which, let’s face it, is when most of us start looking for a strong cup of joe. When you’re low on the sleep your body needs, rather than letting that message get to your brain, after two or more cups of coffee your whole nervous system receives prolonged intense stimulation, your heart rate quickens, your digestive system kicks into overdrive, and your body can become more easily dehydrated. So when the effects of coffee caffeine finally wear off, your already-tired body might have just gone through an extra intense several hours, which understandably can end in a “crashing” feeling.
Caffeine in Tea
At 3.5%, tea leaves contain more caffeine than coffee beans (which have 1 to 2%), but the end result of brewing a cup of tea generally yields 20 to 50 milligrams of caffeine per cup (significantly lower than a cup of coffee). The actual amount of caffeine that ends up in a cup of tea is quite relative to the type of tea being steeped. That said, even the highest caffeine-containing tea variety (Pu-erh) won’t have more than 100mg per cup at the very most.
To clarify, any time we mention tea in this article, we’ve referring to all variations of the Camellia Sinensis plant. Herbal and rooibos “teas” do not contain caffeine. Check out our other handy article to explore the specific amounts of caffeine of each tea variety.
The buzz you get from caffeine in tea is tempered by its combination with tannins, antioxidants, and an amino acid called L-theanine, all of which are present in tea. Thanks to this composition of chemicals, not only does caffeine in tea have a fairly subtle effect on your body, but tea caffeine can actually improve your mood and concentration, lower your stress levels and boost your immune system.
And bonus- coming off a tea caffeine buzz is almost indiscernible! So you can ease into a relaxing evening after a day of sipping on tea, without worrying about getting a headache or having a sense that your energy levels are abruptly crashing. This easy transition can actually make it much easier for your body to get into a condition that’s more conducive to deep, restorative sleep (as compared to coming off a coffee caffeine buzz), since your body isn’t over-tired from over-stimulation during the day, which makes your adrenaline less likely to kick in when it’s time for bed.
Since tea has such a low amount of caffeine per cup, you can drink several cups of tea daily, without needing to worry about possible effects of dehydration. Au contraire, tea is known for its incredible hydrating powers, not to mention the many other health benefits that drinking tea offers.
We hope that this article has helped deepen your knowledge of how caffeine in tea and coffee affect the body respectively.
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