Most people know that coffee has more caffeine than tea, right? That’s actually not quite true. While brewed coffee does have more caffeine than steeped tea, it’s because coffee is a stronger drink than tea. Tea leaves actually contain more caffeine than coffee beans.
Tea Leaves Have More Caffeine Than Coffee Beans
Before brewing, tea leaves contain more caffeine than coffee beans. Caffeine is a naturally occurring pesticide that’s found in both tea and coffee (as well as cocoa and yerba mate). There is more caffeine in the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant, which is the only species of tea plant, than there is in the beans of either the coffea robusta or coffea arabica plant.
Brewed Coffee Has More Caffeine Than Steeped Tea
After brewing, however, a cup of coffee has more caffeine than a cup of tea. The reason for this is simple: coffee is a stronger beverage than tea. If you don’t think brewed coffee is more concentrated than steeped tea, just look at a cup of each. You’ll be able to see through the tea more than the coffee, even if you’re comparing black tea. In some cases, brewed coffee can look almost black.
Coffee’s stronger because its extracted more than tea during the brewing process. Both beverages can be prepared in a variety of ways, but generally speaking coffee is:
- brewed at a higher temperature than some teas (especially green and white teas)
- brewed longer than most teas are steeped (especially green)
- fresher than tea
Even black teas, which may be steeped for 5 minutes at 200 degrees Fahrenheit, don’t leech as much caffeine as coffee because of their chemical structure and age.
Caffeine Levels Vary a Lot in Coffee and Tea
As a rule of thumb, coffee has about twice as much caffeine as tea. Caffeine levels vary a lot, though, in both beverages. More specifically a cup of:
- coffee has between 95 and 200 milligrams of caffeine
- black tea has between 14 and 70 milligrams of caffeine
- green tea has between 24 and 45 milligrams of caffeine
- white tea has between 6 and 60 milligrams of caffeine
(In comparison, caffeinated sodas tend to have between 20 and 50 milligrams of caffeine.)
The variance in coffee comes mainly from the two species of plants. Robusta varietals have about twice as much caffeine as arabica varietals.
The variance in caffeine levels in tea comes from the harvesting and processing of tea. First, black, green and white teas all come from the same plant but are picked at different times. When the tea is picked impacts its caffeine levels. Second, black tea is oxidized, which increases how much caffeine is extracted during steeping.
Both Coffee and Tea Are Healthy
As long as you enjoy your beverages in moderation, both coffee and tea are healthy beverages. The Mayo Clinic recommends keeping your caffeine intake below 500 milligrams per day, which is several cups of coffee or tea, and neither of them have the sugar that soda contains.