Coffee Or Tea?
Every fall, school and life seem to pick up speed and overwhelm college students with stress, anxiety and all-nighters. Exhaustion becomes the norm that underlies all activity and it comes to replace the boundless energy we once had in the summer, just a few weeks ago.
Soon enough, our small talk in between classes will be consumed with the depths of exhaustion and its various cures, such as deciding whether to have a jolting cup of java or a cup of tea, pinkie-lifting tranquility.
The benefits of caffeine culture for college students include the ability to combat slumber and ride out the misery of sleep deprivation. As an increasing number of UC Irvine students join the ranks of those relying on caffeine to add some pep to their step, the question is whether they are putting their faith in coffee or tea.
Tessa Zelaya, a third-year social ecology major and Starbucks barista, says, ‘I drink coffee for the taste. Tea is just too watered down. I need caffeine to speed up my day, so I’ll drink around four cups.’
She adds, ‘At Starbucks, I’ve noticed that people are a lot more health conscious from the shift in orders. There are more espresso drinks instead of frappuccinos; especially non-fat lattes.’
‘Tea is healthier and lighter,’ said first-year biological sciences major Kevin Ergina. ‘It helps me urinate and it’s more tasty than coffee. Caffeine is something I try to stay away from.’
People are increasingly realizing that those caffeinated beverages they drink all night to help them finish their assignments are affecting their health, and they need to focus more on the beverage itself and less on the jolt. This critical awareness has sparked the debate over the health benefits that coffee and tea offer and spawned countless research studies.
The Journal of the American Medical Association did a report on a team of Japanese researchers who were able to link green tea consumption with decreased mortality from all causes, including cardiovascular disease. Green tea is high in polyphenols, which are compounds with strong antioxidant activity that in test-tube and animal models show anticancer and heart-protective effects.
The researchers followed 40,530 healthy adults from the ages of 40 to 79 in a region of northeastern Japan, where most people drink green tea. They monitored these adults for up to 11 years. Those who drank five or more cups of green tea a day had significantly lower mortality rates than those who drank less than one cup a day. There were also fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease.
But the results showed no such association with deaths from cancer. Nor was consumption of oolong or black tea linked to any decrease in mortality. Those teas are more oxidized in processing, which not only darkens the color of the leaves and changes their flavor but also reduces their polyphenol content.
Habitual tea drinkers’ reduced cancer risk might stem from tea’s high antioxidant capacity. Tea might protect the heart by relaxing blood vessels, inhibiting clots and reducing cholesterol levels. And researchers speculate that the fluoride and estrogen-like substances in tea may bolster bone density.
Coffee is more complicated. It has received both gold stars and black marks in the medical literature. It, too, contains antioxidants, although they have not been studied as well as the polyphenols in tea. However, evidence for the health benefits of coffee is growing.
In the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a group of investigators from Finland, Italy and the Netherlands report that coffee seems to protect against age-related cognitive decline. The scientists studied 676 healthy men born from 1900 to 1920 and followed them for 10 years, using standardized measures of cognitive function.
Their conclusion: the men who consumed coffee had significantly less cognitive impairment than those who didn’t. Three cups a day seemed to provide maximum protection.
Population studies like those help form hypotheses about relationships between dietary habits and long-term health. But scientists still have to test our suppositions in controlled conditions and measure the effects of coffee and tea on various systems of the body.
A joint study by the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham & Young Women’s Hospital has found that there is no long-term link between coffee consumption and increased blood pressure in women.
The BBC Health reports found that coffee has been linked with a number of the risk factors for coronary heart disease, including increased blood pressure and high blood cholesterol levels.
However, no relationship has been found between coffee drinkers and the likelihood of developing coronary heart disease. Research has found that coffee may reduce the risk of developing gallstones, kidney stones and colorectal cancer.
A couple of cups of coffee a day is safe, but much more will raise the risk of other problems and side effects, including jittery hands, disruption to the sleep cycle and palpitations, not to mention stained teeth.
Yet it’s difficult to suggest a safe limit for coffee intake because of the huge variation in caffeine content of different brands and an individual’s sensitivity to the drug. People with high blood pressure and pregnant women are advised to limit their caffeine consumption.
For the rest of the population, there’s no evidence coffee does any long-term harm. Caffeine does have a mild diuretic effect, however, so try to include plenty of non-caffeinated drinks throughout the day as well.
Caffeinated and decaf coffee each contain antioxidants and other substances that may help regulate blood sugar, which may explain the apparently reduced diabetes risk. Certain compounds in coffee also appear to help prevent bile from crystallizing into gallstones. Also, caffeine may cut the risk of Parkinson’s by boosting supplies of the brain chemical dopamine, at least in men.
Although coffee often seems more ubiquitous due to the Starbucks culture, consumption of tea is quickly growing as well. One may argue the ceremony factor: tea requires patience to make, and the process is more enjoyable than the rush of making coffee.
Kombucha tea has become popular, but there aren’t any clinical findings to verify its health effects. Kombucha mushroom tea, also known as ‘Manchurian tea’ or ‘Kargasok tea,’ is not actually derived from a mushroom, but from the fermentation of various yeasts and bacteria. A starter culture is added to a mixture of black tea and sugar, and the resulting mix is allowed to ferment for a week or more.
However, research can only go so far. Dr. Soheyla D. Gharib of the Center for Wellness and Health Communication at Harvard University Health Services notes the old adage: ‘everything in moderation.’
Most students say research studies are unlikely to change their behavior, though the results may sit in the back of their minds.
‘I’m just annoyed with it all,’ said fifth-year mechanical aerospace engineering major Paul Zelaya. ‘It’s the 21st century, and we figured out how to get to the moon, but we’re still debating about whether or not we should be drinking more coffee or tea.’
Tiffanie Ramos, a second-year psychology major, says, ‘It’s not a religion. It’s just a drink.’