Monday, February 28, 2011

Rant: Battle Royale--Tea vs Coffee

Are you a coffee or tea drinker?  It seems clear that the majority of Americans prefer coffee to tea.  All you have to do is compare the overwhelming number of coffee houses to tea stores.  Though nearly all coffee houses also sell tea, coffee gets the vast majority of attention. But why is that the case?
I am a tea drinker, and dislike the taste of coffee.  But I know plenty of people who need their coffee every morning, who will drink coffee all day long.  While pondering over the matter, I decided to check out some statistics.

After water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world.  But, in the U.S., tea occupies the sixth position, after water, soda, coffee, beer, and milk.  But when comparing annual per capita consumption, the U.S. occupies the 23rd position for tea and the 26th position for coffee. Interestingly, Turkey is in first place in regards to tea consumption and Finland occupies first place for coffee.

On average, about 54% cent of Americans drink coffee daily and average 3.1 cups of coffee each day.  Close to the same amount of Americans, about 50%, drink tea daily but not as many cups each day as coffee. The greatest number of tea drinkers are located in the South and Northeast regions.   

A fascinating fact is that approximately 85% of the tea consumed in America is iced. That was a major surprise to me, though it is definitely my preferred way to drink tea.  I drink iced tea nearly every day, and usually three or more glasses.  Iced tea was invented in the U.S., likely sometime during the 1800s in the South.  There is a legend that iced tea was created in 1904, during the World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, by an Englishman Richard Blechynden. But, there is evidence iced tea existed before 1904, so Richard may be considered more the popularizer than the inventor. 

Could caffeine be the reason for the popularity of coffee?  An 8 ounce cup of coffee, dependent on the type and method of brewing, may contain about 80-175 milligrams of caffeine.  Tea on the other hand may only have 30-60 milligrams, so a significant lesser amount than in coffee.  Consider those people who "need" coffee to start off their morning, to give them an energy boost so they can wake up and get working.  Or those who need a coffee boost in the middle of the day.  Caffeine might be at the heart of the matter. 

So do you prefer tea or coffee?  And why do you hold that preference


Frederick Wright said...

Here in the United States, or when I'm in Italy, I generally drink coffee. Just a little. And only the very best. I don't walk around with a massive cup of sugary, milky bitter liquid glued to my hand at all times. It is more of a social ritual, something I enjoy in the morning with my partner as we start our day together. When I lived in London, I would often drink tea with my flatmates. Not because the coffee was bad (in England, coffee vs. tea is a bit of a class marker and good coffee is always obtainable if you know where to go) but because drinking tea together was one of our little social rituals.

Frederick Wright said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I definitely drink more coffee than tea, even though I live in the South where iced tea rules. That being said I love getting different loose-leaf teas from places like And when I have guests, we are more likely to have Earl Grey than Ethiopian Sidamo.

Mark said...

My initial reasons for drinking coffee were purely its use as a fuel to get me through college (late night studying, classes). Back then, the big chain coffeehouse offered an alternative option for me to study, away from roommates and accessibility to other distractions. At the time, I was also consuming large iced espresso drinks with tons of sugar. There wasn't such an equivalent to be found among tea options, let alone a belief that there was enough caffeine in the tea to do the work of coffee.
On the other hand, I was a little more close-minded. I admittedly associated tea drinkers with a snooty class of people with no basis other than what I saw on tv or movies. I didn't grow up around tea drinkers either.
These days, I drink black coffee (with no sugar for dietary purposes) mostly for its caffeine and I am constantly exposed to reports of its benefits. That stated, my palette can better discern between coffee profiles more now than before. That also has led me to seek out independent coffee houses, breaking free of the big chain with their characteristic overly roasted flavor.
Now more than ever, there is also an entire culture around the bean that I've now embraced.
There used to be a more social component to hanging out at coffee houses, where I would spend time with my girlfriend who is also a coffee drinker. However, as you likely can tell by now, food and alcoholic drinks have now dramatically taken over =)

Amanda Maynard said...


Anonymous said...

I became an avid tea drinker at age 8 in Malawi, a former British Colony in Africa. I used Coca-Cola in college the way some people used coffee but pretty much gave up Cokes when diagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic (hate diet drinks. Hate hate hate them.) I have embraced coffee recently diffused with skim milk latte style (essential for bitter Starbucks output) and don't sweeten most coffees I drink. But tea still rules this household

Anonymous said...

I drink both coffee and tea.
At home I only drink tea.
Not at home never tea as I find it is unobtainable in the US in virtually any establishment.
I have a British/Irish tea drinking habit. The moment I enter my house I put the kettle on.
Tea must be made with fresh water freshly boiled--not a second off the boil.
You cannot make tea with a cup of hot water!
My favorite teas:
PG Tips
Lyons red or gold label.
Taylor's of Harrogate: Yorkshire gold.
Tea with milk please (I was offered cream in a Virginia "tea" room--they had no milk--and stormed out)
Sugar when I am naughty.
Always made in a teapot.
I love tea (and so did my mum who never in her life had a cup of coffee)
Tea, definitely.