Coffee Or Matcha: Which Is Better For You?

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Coffee or matcha? For me, it’s neither–coffee never appealed to me, and when I first experienced caffeine by way of matcha, the only thing it seemed to do was peak my already frazzled nerves. But the debate over which is better is causing a stir online (searches for “coffee vs matcha” have gone up by 50 percent on Google), so I set out to explore the facts. As fans of either one tend to be passionate about their drink of choice, it’s important to note that I embark on this piece with a totally unbiased approach as I don’t depend on either.

The health benefits of coffee

Ask any health bro–such as the neuroscientist Dr Andrew Hubermann, or Dr Mark Hyman, a functional health doctor, both of whom have podcasts–and they will extoll the virtues of the right amount of coffee, consumed at the right times of the day for optimal performance and overall health.

“There are a number of studies (most recently in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2021) that show a caffeine dose of approximately 5mg per kg of bodyweight produces a significant increase in both physical and mental performance,” says celebrity trainer, Luke Worthington. “So for a 130 pound female, that would be 300 mg, and for an 180 pound male, that’s 400 mg of caffeine–there is roughly 200mg of caffeine in an espresso shot.”

This essentially means that drinking the right amount–and not over-doing it–can help improve physical performance and concentration, so it could help to you thrive at the gym and in the office.

Nutritionist Lucy Miller also cites a number of studies into coffee’s health benefits, largely due to its powerful antioxidant content. “[Benefits] include reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, depression, type 2 diabetes and liver disease,” she says. “Coffee is one of the highest sources of antioxidants in some diets and can help protect against the free radicals that can damage our DNA.”

A central nervous system stimulant, coffee can boost energy and fight fatigue–but drink too much of it and you may experience side effects. If you get tension headaches, then it might be safer to avoid. “It triggers the release of adrenaline that can lead to feelings of anxiety and nervousness–this can increase stress and cortisol levels, which may result in an increase in blood sugar levels,” says Miller. It can also cause insomnia and act as a laxative (“thought to be caused by the release of gastrin, a hormone that speeds up movement in the colon,” she adds).

If you’re someone who can drink coffee without becoming instantly anxious and jittery, you should still make sure you’re not drinking it too late in the day. It can cause sleep difficulties which then impact you the following day, and can therefore lead to a vicious cycle of more coffee drinking. “Caffeine has a half life of approximately five hours, which means it takes roughly five hours for the levels in your blood to reduce by half, and then another five hours to reduce by half again,” says Worthington.

“If you have a double espresso (around 400 mg of caffeine) at midday, you still have the equivalent of a single espresso in your blood at 5 p.m., and then the equivalent of half a shot at 10 p.m..” The moral of the tale? Mainlining coffee all day–and certainly after 3 p.m.–likely isn’t going to serve you in the long run.

The health benefits of matcha

You can barely move for influencers posting photos of their matcha on Instagram nowadays, but is the “healthy” trend rooted in real benefits?

Matcha also contains caffeine, but at a much lower dose of 70 mg per cup. “What this means is that you can consume more servings, or at later points during the day, before it has a detrimental effect on sleep,” says Worthington.

The souped-up older sister of green tea (both come from the same plant), matcha is grown in the shade, while green tea is cultivated in the sun. The entire leaf is used, which means it boasts a number of nutrients and contains more caffeine and antioxidants than green tea. “It is far denser (possible 100 times) in catechins, which is a natural antioxidant found in tea,” says Miller. “It can help with detoxification and may enhance brain function, plus it also contains a compound called L-theanine, which changes the effects of caffeine, so you are less likely to feel anxious or jittery.”

Matcha still helps with alertness, but doesn’t come with the energy crash that can follow caffeine, plus L-theanine–an amino acid–has other health benefits. “It has been shown to increase alpha brain wave activity which means mental focus is increased, as well as creative thought. It also boosts our happy hormones, serotonin and dopamine.”

Which is better: coffee or matcha?

We love to pit things against one another, don’t we? In this case, it doesn’t have to be an either/or. In fact, both can benefit your routine. If you’re someone with a nervous disposition, then you might find that matcha is a better option, while for performance benefits–at the gym, for example–coffee is your guy.

Worthington switches between the two, and feels there is a place for both. “I’ll have a single espresso coffee at breakfast (6 a.m.), then a matcha at 9am and 11am, with nothing caffeinated past noon,” he explains. “I prefer the calm focus that matcha gives, over the higher energy that comes from higher doses of caffeine in coffee. When I need a stronger boost, it’s coffee, when I’m working and in need of calm focus, it’s matcha.” With its distinctive, strong flavor, matcha isn’t to everyone’s taste, so that is another factor to consider.

Miller is a matcha drinker because she doesn’t like the taste of coffee. However, moderate coffee intake, she says, has health benefits for most people. Just make sure it’s good quality and doesn’t contain artificial sweeteners or sugar. “Some take-away coffee might also be loaded with sugary and pro-inflammatory plant milks–barista milks often are,” she adds.

In conclusion

Whichever side of the divide you fall on, it’s clear that both coffee and matcha have health benefits when consumed in the right way. As a person with an anxious disposition, my own choice–if I were to drink either–would be matcha, but if you’re a coffee drinker, just make sure you’re drinking it at the right times of the day to help promote a good night’s sleep.

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