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Theine vs Caffeine: What’s the Difference?

Theine vs Caffeine

Caffeine is the most popular and widely used drug in the world, an addictive stimulant that many happily start their day with. Some people rely on that first cup of coffee to get through the morning, sometimes drinking more than 3 cups a day for an all-day energy boost. On the other hand, there are diehard tea drinkers that swear by the caffeine content in tea and claim the caffeine feels different. But how true is that statement?

When it comes to caffeine, the difference between tea and coffee is a true statement and there really is a difference. Also known as theine, the caffeine in tea is molecularly the same as caffeine in coffee. But the difference between caffeine and theine is in how it affects the body, even though they’re the same chemical. Let’s take a closer look at these two stimulants and understand the difference:

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Overview of Theine

NOTE: Theine and theanine are not the same! Theanine is an amino acid and has completely different effects than theine.

Tea has been widely consumed for centuries, whether for a calming or stimulating effect. While it’s always been known that tea can be handy to focus the mind, the discovery of caffeine and theine is fairly recent. But what exactly is theine? Surprisingly, as we mention above, theine and caffeine are the same chemical compound. The difference lies in the other active components in the tea leaves, which cause a different stimulating reaction than coffee.

theine
Image Credit: Pixabay

Theine and Polyphenols

Tea leaves contain polyphenols, which are naturally occurring antioxidants that are responsible for quite a few different effects. Besides possibly slowing down the aging of the skin, the polyphenols slow down the absorption of caffeine (theine, in tea lingo) and release it into the bloodstream over a period of around 4-5 hours. The result is a more leveled dose of caffeine over a period of time, rather than a spike of energy that leads to an eventual crash. It can help you focus better throughout a particularly difficult task but it won’t give you that big boost of energy that a cup of coffee might.

How Much Theine is in Tea?

Even without polyphenols, the caffeine content in tea versus coffee is notable. Steeping times will raise the level of caffeine per cup, but it still isn’t nearly as strong as the caffeine in coffee. A cup of tea usually yields around 25-50mg of caffeine (theine) per cup, more or less depending on the quality of the tea leaves and steeping times. Higher-quality tea may result in higher caffeine content, but it still will be quite lower than coffee. If you’re a heavy coffee drinker, switching to tea overnight may cause caffeine withdrawal symptoms and may not give you the energy boost you’re used to.

Pros
  • Same molecular structure as caffeine
  • Less likely to cause caffeine jitters or crash
  • Longer period of mental focus
Cons
  • Not as potent as coffee
  • May not be as effective for heavy coffee drinkers

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Overview of Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that is extremely abundant and popular both in nature and in man-made foods, often considered to be one of the most addictive substances in the world. It works through the nervous system by causing the brain to go into overdrive, giving the user a feeling of alertness, focus, and productivity. Coffee is one of the biggest sources of natural caffeine, followed by the cocoa plant and various tea plants. Soda, energy drinks, and even some candy contain caffeine, but they’re far from natural and are not healthy sources of caffeine.

cup of coffee
Image Credit: Raimond Klavins, Unsplash

Caffeine and the Blood Stream

Coffee contains around 80-95 mg of caffeine per cup, which is a lot higher than the caffeine (theine) content of tea. The caffeine in coffee will hit the bloodstream almost immediately, causing a surge of energy or alertness within a half-hour of drinking it. Coffee doesn’t contain nearly as many polyphenols, so there’s nothing to slow down the absorption of the caffeine in the bloodstream. The result is a type of “bell curve” effect, where the user will get a fairly large spike of energy, only to crash hours later.

Side Effects of Caffeine

Although caffeine is deemed safe in virtually every country, caffeine can have some fairly serious side effects. Many times, coffee drinkers that have had one cup too many will experience adverse effects. Jitters, anxiety, insomnia, paranoia, excessive sweating, elevated pulse, high blood pressure, and caffeine dependency are some of the most common side effects of caffeine. While it may be “safe” to drink coffee and caffeine, keep in mind that these side effects could possibly lead to other more serious health issues.

Pros
  • Fast-acting compared to theine
  • Stronger boost of energy
  • More caffeine in coffee than tea
Cons
  • May cause an energy crash hours later
  • May cause adverse side effects

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When to Choose Theine over Caffeine

While there might be some reasons to choose coffee over tea, there are plenty of times that a cup of tea that contains theine is the better option. Tea contains less caffeine than coffee (coffee has almost 2x the amount of caffeine) per cup, so the slower absorption of theine will result in better mental focus over a longer period of time. Theine also has a much less significant crash than caffeine, so you may want to try a cup of tea in the afternoon instead of a cup of coffee.

clear glass cup filled with coffee
Image Credit: Dominika Roseclay, Pexels

Types of Coffee that Contain Caffeine

Coffee beans naturally contain coffee, even if they’re decaffeinated to “remove” the caffeine. Contrary to the name, decaf coffee still contains trace amounts of caffeine. The amount of caffeine usually depends on the type of roast, with lighter roasts usually having more caffeine per cup than darker roasts. However, it depends on how strong you brew your coffee, how much you drink, and the quality of the coffee beans. If you’re looking for less caffeine in your coffee, try a medium or dark roast and brew it a little lighter than normal. For those in need of a big caffeine boost, a blonde roast will give you quite a punch to the nervous system.

Types of Teas that Contain Theine

Unlike coffee that always has caffeine, not all teas are the same and some may not contain theine (caffeine). Herbal teas like chamomile, lavender, and dandelion root are all caffeine-free teas and may give you the opposite effect. When looking for a tea that contains theine, look for blends that contain: black tea, green tea, oolong, and white tea leaves. These are the most popular teas that contain theine, which are widely available and accessible almost anywhere. As with coffee, it’s important to purchase high-quality tea leaves for better results and taste.

chamomile tea
Image Credit: Pixabay

When to Choose Tea (Theine)
  • Steady energy for a longer period of time
  • Want less caffeine in your day
  • Little to no energy crash from theine
When to Choose Coffee (Caffeine)
  • Need a big energy boost right away
  • Want more caffeine per cup
  • Stronger effect but with a possible caffeine crash

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Conclusion

Theine and caffeine were once thought to be two completely different chemicals, but the truth is that they’re the same thing. The difference lies in the presence of polyphenols in the tea, which slow down the absorption rate in the bloodstream. Both theine and caffeine have their pros and cons, so it depends on what you need the stimulant for when it comes to choosing between the two. If you’re new to caffeine and theine, we recommend trying one cup of tea that contains theine and trying a cup of coffee the next day to see which you prefer. Lastly, it’s important to note that caffeine and theine are powerful stimulants and can become addictive, so use them with care and your health in mind.


Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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Jaimie Wisniowski

Jaimie is a freelance writer fueled by coffee, whether it’s hot, iced, or made from a local coffee shop. She enjoys writing all things coffee, especially if it means trying the latest coffee shop trends (hello cold foam!). After spending years writing poems, college essays, and short stories, it only a matter of time to turn writing into a career. Writing about coffee simply combined two of her favorite things! When she’s not drinking coffee by the minute and writing at her laptop, Jaimie spends time hiking, exercising, and living an active life. She also loves to snuggle up with a good book and her dog, Margo. If you catch her without a cup of coffee, she’s probably on her way to the coffee maker now.

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