Just a Taste

The Science Behind Our Favorite Comfort Drinks: Coffee and Tea

Coffee and tea hold a special place in our daily routines. Many of us have a unique and endearing bond with these delicious beverages. It’s a bond we don’t have with most foods or drinks. After all, coffee or tea is often the first thing to greet us when we wake up, it is the thing we reach to for a mid-afternoon boost of energy, what we want to hold on a cool winter day and a fun way to unite in conversation with friends and family. It’s something we crave and often feel we need to get by, feel alert and be productive. But why is it we have such attachment to a simple beverage?

The answer is easy: Caffeine.


Most coffees and teas contain caffeine making them highly addictive substances –  making the drinks something we crave and can’t get enough of. We go back to drinking coffee or tea day after day because we think we will receive a reward from consuming one or the other. We tell ourselves that coffee or tea is a treat, it is something that will help us wake up, think faster and be more alert for the day ahead. The two drinks fulfill a need to help make us feel more awake when we are tired.

“Our culture generates a lot of fatigue,” said Dr. Gary Wenk, author of Your Brain on Food. “Coffee is popular because it is safe and it does exactly what we want it to do, stimulate us.”

The caffeine in coffee and tea will wire you up and give you that extra boost of energy you often feel you need when you are feeling drowsy. Bottom line, our brain likes the stimulation from coffee and tea, causing us to often grow to crave it.

“Coffee probably would not be legal today if it had not been discovered long ago because it is a powerful stimulant and it is very addicting,” said Dr. Wenk.

It may sound scary that coffee and tea are addicting stimulants… Don’t fret! There are many health benefits to indulging in a cup of caffeine-infused goodness each day. These benefits range from subtle to dramatic and can all be linked to drinking coffee or tea. For example, studies have found that tea drinkers are thinner than coffee drinkers. Research has also shown that drinking coffee may help reduce your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, type-2 diabetes and colon cancer. Drinking a lot of coffee may even be linked to living a longer life.


When you go to reach for that cup of joe and are looking for the added health benefits, do keep in mind that not all coffees are created equal. An espresso, for example, contains a lot of oil and is not as good for you as black coffee or plain tea. Also, depending on the amount of water added some coffee or tea may be more diluted than others, which also effects the level of healthiness.

“Not all coffees are the same,” said Dr. Wenk. “The concentration in your cup varies 50 to 100 percent so you never know what you’re getting.”

With so many benefits from health impacts to increased alertness, it’s no wonder we keep going back for more, but what happens if we stop drinking coffee?

“What we’ve found is if a person stops drinking coffee they get rebound effects,” said Dr. Wenk. “After four to six days of no coffee they go back to the baseline they’re at before they drank coffee.”

So, will you feel better after you drink a cup of coffee or the week after you stop drinking coffee? It’s a trick question because the answer is both!

If you like coffee and tea, then go ahead and enjoy your daily cup. Use it to be more productive at work or as an excuse to meet up with an old friend.  Sit back, relax and have another sip.