Fighting Caffeine Addiction – Is Tea Any Better?

If you’re like me, you might find it a bit difficult to switch on in the morning without the help of a cup of coffee. Many Melburnians find themselves in this position, and it’s certainly no secret that the residents of the so-called coffee capital of Australia love a good flat white. But is this reliance on a daily caffeine dose harmful?

If you’re concerned about drinking too much coffee, making the switch to tea might be what you need to reduce your caffeine intake.If you’re concerned about drinking too much coffee, making the switch to tea might be what you need to reduce your caffeine intake. Image adapted by the author from “Matcha Latte for Breakfast” by Kirinohana via Flickr (used under CC BY-NC 2.0, cropped from original).

 

Carefree Coffee

Caffeine purportedly has a number of beneficial effects, not the least of which is increased alertness soon after drinking it. Caffeine has also been shown to improve memory, mood, and reaction time. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, it gets even better. Some research has suggested that caffeine can also help fight the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and liver disease, as well as reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes. A recent Spanish study found a correlation between coffee consumption and longer lifespans.

So, despite these supposed benefits of drinking coffee, why is it that more and more people are concerned about their caffeine intake?

 

Is Caffeine All That Bad?

Consuming more than 400 milligrams (about four 250 mL cups’ worth) of caffeine can lead to irritability, an increased heartrate, an upset stomach, and headaches. Long-term consumption of over 300 milligrams of caffeine a day during pregnancy may even increase the risk of miscarriage.

But few people are aware of these negative side-effects and, above all else, people are most worried about becoming addicted to their morning cup of joe.

“I’m addicted to coffee” is something I’m sure we’ve all heard at least once (we might’ve even said it ourselves!) and becoming dependent on caffeine is a real risk; I’m sure many of us feel like we wouldn’t function as well in the mornings without our coffee.

Out of this fear of having too much coffee, swapping out sipping espresso for drinking tea might seem like an attractive option.

 

The Power of Tea

Whether you’re brewing a pot of Daintree tea or waiting ‘til your billy boils, everyone knows Aussies love a good cuppa. It’s estimated that about half of all Australians aged 14 or older drink at least one cup of tea a week on average.

Like coffee, tea also contains caffeine. Tea has been hailed as a preferable alternative to coffee due to a cup of tea supposedly containing less caffeine than a cup of coffee. This is actually true; drinking tea will give you a lower dose of caffeine than drinking coffee will. American researchers in 2008 found that a variety of teas had between 14 and 61 milligrams of caffeine per cup, with the type of tea (black, green, or white) having no effect on the caffeine content of the beverage. Brewed coffee generally has about 100 milligrams of caffeine in a cup. That’s about three times as much as the average tea.

Matcha tea, where entire tea leaves are ground up in the beverage, tends to contain more caffeine than standard brewed tea. But even then, the average matcha still has less caffeine than a coffee of the same size.

Alternatively, herbal teas—not made from the leaves of the tea plant Camellia sinensis—contain no caffeine whatsoever.

So, substituting coffee for tea might be what you need if you’re looking to reduce your caffeine intake. Tea has reliably less caffeine than coffee, and still has similar levels of beneficial antioxidants. Both the potential positive and negative effects of caffeine are still being studied, but if you think that cutting back on coffee is a good idea for you, replacing it with tea would be a great choice.


16 Responses to “Fighting Caffeine Addiction – Is Tea Any Better?”

  1. Simone says:

    Good thoughts! If tea would only taste the same as coffee does… 🙂

  2. James Spyrou says:

    Thanks Yi! Sometimes I feel the same way, and I’ve always been told to be careful about drinking green tea or matcha in the afternoon, as it’ll make it very difficult to get to sleep. While green tea and matcha do have less caffeine than a cup of coffee, green tea also contains theophylline, a molecule that is chemically similar to caffeine. Some have suggested that theophylline is metabolised slower than caffeine, making tea have a longer-lasting effect of wakefulness, but there’s not a whole lot of hard evidence exploring this!

  3. Yi says:

    Well written James!
    It’s interesting that coffee contains more caffeine than same amount of tea. A small cup of coffee used to keep me awake the whole morning. Recently I’ve switched to tea and I found that sometimes it makes me unable to sleep till midnight……

  4. James Spyrou says:

    Thanks Will!

    To my knowledge there’s at least one peer-reviewed study that has documented the development of caffeine tolerance in humans, though it relies on subjective effects (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1410146), as well as one that observed caffeine tolerance in rats (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0091305788901797).

    This influence on the subjective effects felt after consuming caffeine may be one factor that leads to the development of caffeine dependence.

  5. Will McDonald says:

    Really engaging work – and very near to my heart!

    Is there any research to suggest people feel a need to increase coffee/caffeine consumption over time?

  6. James Spyrou says:

    Thanks for the replies Michelle, chiahsingh, Jasmin, and daweiw1!
    I completely agree on water temperature and steeping time when brewing tea, chiahsingh. For me, at least, half of the enjoyment of tea comes from the ritual itself.

    I’m envious, Michelle! Ceylon orange pekoe is one of my favourite varieties of tea. You should definitely take the opportunity to see what the world of tea has to offer!

    Jasmin and daweiw1: Nothing wrong with having both (though if I had coffee with dessert I wouldn’t be able to get to sleep). I generally have tea when I just feel like have having a warm drink, but coffee if I’m with someone else. From experience, not getting the shakes is definitely a benefit to tea.

    Keep in mind that I’m not trying to convince people not to drink coffee (I’m not funded by Big Tea, I swear!), but that we should try to avoid over-consumption of caffeine when possible 🙂

  7. daweiw1 says:

    For me, I have them both. Coffee with dessert and a cup of green tea after a meal. After read this post, maybe I will have red tea with dessert.

  8. Jasmin says:

    That’s a relief! I’m addicted to coffee (like most people these days) but am trying to be better, so when I feel like I need a 2nd or 3rd cup of coffee, I make a tea instead. I still get my beloved caffeine hit but it’s less likely I get all shakey and irritable after. Plus, green tea is supposedly good for you too with all the antioxidants.

    In saying that, reading this really made me crave another coffee. Great read!

  9. chiahsingh says:

    Good topic and well written! I drink one or two cups a day because Melbourne’s coffee tastes so good and I love it! It’s all coffee’s fault that I become more addict to it. Actually I seldom drink coffee in China and prefer enjoying Chinese tea like Pu’er tea with my family. I think tea making is a kind of art and the processes are different according to kinds of tea. It’s really interesting to find out best water temperature or boiling time for different tea.

  10. Michelle Quach says:

    Great post – and very topical for Melbourne. Every time I throw back my third cup of coffee of the day I do justify it by reminding myself of all the things you listed above of why coffee has been scientifically proven to be good for you! I’m currently writing this sitting on a hill side in Sri Lanka – which is the island of tea. A great opportunity for me to convert to a tea-drinker…but I have to say I still find myself reaching the instant coffee every morning in lieu of espresso here…hard to break a habit!

  11. James Spyrou says:

    Thanks Murraya and Imogen! Sometimes I think that coffee has become so ingrained in our society that it has become some sort of catch-all ritual for meeting with people, almost like it’s the new smoking. I’m sure that this social aspect plays a role in addiction/dependence, especially considering that few people feel as though they “need” a good cup of tea in the morning, when needing to have a morning coffee is relatively common. Sadly not too much research has been done on the interaction between the potential social and biological elements of caffeine/coffee addiction as it has with tobacco. But you’re right Imogen, there are certainly worse things to be addicted to! Especially considering it may actually be good for you after all 🙂

  12. Imogen Wallace says:

    As someone who doesn’t drink coffee or tea (I’m not a huge fan of any hot drinks!) I still found this article totally relevant. I find it amazing how addicted to coffee some can get. As the daughter of an admitted coffee addict, I have seen the effects it can have when consumed regularly and without the consumption of food. But hey, there are much worse things a person could be addicted too!!

    Great article, a very interesting read 🙂

  13. Murraya Lane says:

    Great read and definitely an important topic to discuss.. I don’t know many people who want to go a day without a cup of coffee! I work in a cafe and have noticed that more and more people are ordering a large coffee (two shots) or even an extra large (3 shots!!!). Hopefully people become more aware and can still enjoy their coffee without consuming it too often!

  14. James Spyrou says:

    Thanks for the reply, Alice! Maybe one day we’ll see trendy tea houses pop up in Melbourne alongside cafés!

    You’re absolutely right, Hockey! My nighttime beverage of choice is camomile, and I would recommend it, rooibos, or any herbal infusion as a great caffeine-free substitute for tea and coffee.

  15. Hockey says:

    Very eloquent James!
    As per anything in life, moderation is key! I drink both coffee and tea, and ironically I appreciate a sense of relaxation when I have a warm mug of coffee or tea in my grip.
    If I fancy a warm brew before bed, I will drink rooibos tea. The rooibos plant originates from South Africa and it is completely caffeine free – a perfect option for those wary of the ostensible health risks associated with caffeine consumption.

  16. Alice Nicholl says:

    Great topic and well written! Such a relevant topic to people in a city like Melbourne! I wonder how long it would take for people who take excess of four cups of coffee a day to switch to tea…definitely something to be advocated for in the future!!

    Good job!