Monday, July 18, 2011

Caffinated coffee & tea rivalry

Okay, I really didn’t want to get into this. But I think, as a tea drinker, you need to know. In the great rivalry between coffee and tea, the coffee drinkers always had one strong advantage over us tea drinkers: caffeine.
Coffee has more and tea has less.

And now here is the reason I really didn’t want to get into this: science.

Oh, now, don’t look at me like that you guys. I like science, and I like biology. But I don’t like writing about scientific things loaded with scientific jargon. So with that in mind, I will try to do the explaining as painlessly and as simply as possible. If you want to go in depth in what I am talking about, please go google your heart out.
Now, if you want to know the numbers, decaffeinated coffee has 5mg of caffeine, black tea has 40mg, your regular cup-of-joe is 80-90mg, and the espresso is a whopping 160mg of caffeine. That might be the reason why many Canadians, Americans, Australians, and Europeans grab a cup of coffee in the morning, rather a good cuppa brew.

Of course, we tea drinkers have an ace in the sleeve: Caffeine from tea lasts longer than coffee’s.

Tea, as well as containing caffeine, has antioxidants. Most people know about antioxidants because of TV and products in grocery stores, and we also know that it is good for us --score one for tea! The reason our AWAKE (the term I’ve named for the wakeful state caffeine puts us in) lasts longer, is because the antioxidants actually slows our absorption of caffeine. This means tea wakes us up gradually to the AWAKE peak, and then slowly drops the caffeine level so it doesn’t leave us jittery.
Coffee BAM hits you, and then HAHA SUCKER it’s gone and you’re shaking from the sudden departure.
But even the amount of caffeine in our black tea also isn’t a sure thing. There are variables, you see?

Oxidized tea (that’s regular ol’ black tea to you) has a higher level of caffeine then green, white and oolong. Why? Fermenting changes the molecular structure of the leaf, and it causes the caffeine to be easily leaked out into hot water. There is also the steep time to consider. You steep black much longer than green or white, and that give the caffeine more time to diffuse. And the hotter the water, the better the caffeine is dissolved. Plus which part of the plant you use also dictates how much caffeine there is. The tips of the plants have more concentration, and the older leaves have less. So something like PG Tips will have more caffeine.

Yet the fact still remains that the level of caffeine is higher for coffee than tea.
If you want to be very VERY awake, it looks like tea might just not do it for you.

But hold on just a minute!
You didn’t think tea companies are going to let coffee take the lead without a fight.
There is a new caffeinated player on the field, and when added to tea, it makes a strong contender for your morning wake up drink: Yerba Mate! It has been the South American choice of drink for some time now, and they used to drink it out of a gourd with a hole filled straw. It is a little woodsy, and a little bitter if you put it straight into boiling water instead of just hot. Well, when I saw the new Celestial Seasonings tea called MORNING THUNDER (snicker) that had mate in it, I had to try it.

The morning after I purchased it, I made my mother and I a cup of tea. Well, we each took a sip, and made a face. Then I said “BLEH.” She seconded it.
Sorry Mate fans, but I did not like it. Even with three sugars, it was bitter and woodsy. It was bitter even after I made sure to not put it in boiling water, and only let it steep under a minute. It was BLEH. I could perhaps see the mate being successful if it was a ghost ingredient -- that is, if it wasn’t the only other flavour other than the black tea. But I am pretty sure I’d always pick out that woodsy taste and put my cup down saying “bleh.” The extra caffeine just isn’t enticing enough to make me drink it.

But on the other hand, I wasn’t completely sad that I didn’t like the mate. When filtering through the internet for information on it, I found some pretty scary facts about it. Scientific testing has really only started, and there isn’t any hard evidence, but there has been some links between people who drink more than a litre of Mate a day and cancer. I think there was a 60% higher chance of getting mouth, throat and stomach cancer, and that’s just plain frightening. People who smoke and drink tons of Mate are at an even higher risk. I bought the mate knowing the risk, not because I was reckless, but because I was just having a cup of tea that had some of the stuff in it. Nothing would entice me to drink litres of it daily.

As for the rivalry, there was a girl I knew, and she never ate any sugar. When she did come across something that was even a tiny bit sweet to me, she’d taste the sweetness acutely. I’m going on a limb here, and will say perhaps it is the same with tea. If you only ever drink black tea, perhaps that’s just what your body needs to get the wakeful feeling you need? It certainly does the job for me, and a cup of tea has been known, against her wishes, to keep my mother up until the wee hours of the morning.

If you would like to try this tea, look in your local grocery store. If you have a taste for bitter and woodsy, this might be your tea. Not mine though.


  1. AnonymousJuly 19, 2011

    Black tea AND mate? BLEH!

    Here's a delicious yet horrifying combination that will wake you up AND delight the tastebuds!

    Try mixing lapsang and earl grey together WITH milk and a little bit of sugar. While this might sound weird (smoky... burgamot?) it is delightfully delicious. It's one of favourite early-morning pick-me-ups!

    If you flash steep the lapsang and then add the EG you can control the smokiness of the blend. It's really nice with steamed milk too! We served it as a tea latte at T. It was rightly named The Smokin' Earl!


  2. AHHAHAAHAHAHA oh mate. Looks like I'll skip that one. I prefer my tea CANCER FREE kthx :D