Tea, Coffee, and Health

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Not so many years ago, both coffee and tea were suspected of contributing to various diseases, including cancers, so they were among the many pleasures to feel guilty about. No longer! Coffee is now recognized as the major source of antioxidant compounds in the American diet (medium roasts have the highest antioxidant activity). Black and especially green teas are also rich in antioxidant and other protective phenolic compounds that appear to reduce damage to arteries and cancer risk.

Certain kinds of brewed coffee do turn out to have an undesirable effect on blood cholesterol levels. Two lipid (fat-like) substances, cafestol and kahweol, raise those levels, though they only get into the coffee when the brewing technique doesn’t filter them out. Boiled, plunger-pot, and espresso coffees contain them. The significance of this effect isn’t known and may well be small, since the cholesterol raisers are accompanied by a large dose of substances that protect the cholesterol from oxidation and causing damage.