Coffee Table vs Tea Table – What’s the Difference?

Everyone knows the difference between a chair and a stool, but what about the difference between a coffee table and a tea table? While they may look similar to some, there’s quite a few differences, both in outward appearance, as well as what they’re used for. There are many similarities as well, which is explained by the fact that the modern coffee table actually evolved from the tea table.

By the end of this article you’ll be able to spot the difference between the two like an interior designer pro!


One of the most noticeable differences between coffee tables and tea tables are their shapes. Coffee tables are mostly rectangular or square, however, some are oval shaped. When it comes to tea tables, they are mostly circular. While these are the most common shapes, in modern times both types of tables come in all kinds of shapes so it’s important to look for other differences as well to figure it out.

There’s also a difference in height between the two tables. As far as height, your standard coffee tables will typically have a height between 12 and 24 inches tall and they should be approximately two-thirds the length of the sofa it’s placed in front of. Whereas the opposite is true with tea tables, as they will typically be about 25 inches to 26 inches tall, being higher than a coffee table yet lower than a dinner table.

Another distinction of the two tables is where they are placed in a room. Coffee tables will generally be placed right in front of the sofa and in many households will be set between the sofa and the TV, if there is one.

Yet tea tables are different, as they will commonly be set to the side of the couch’s arm. Tea tables are also high enough to have their own chairs, and if not placed by a couch, will commonly be somewhere else in the room with its own set of chairs to either side. Tea tables may either have a tea set on them simply used as decor.


Coffee tables and tea tables both have a similar purpose and function, however, even still there are a few differences. In modern times, coffee tables are used to put your coffee or other types of drinks on, as well as snacks for entertaining.

Coffee tables have even formed a new publishing industry, coffee table books! Coffee table books are typically oversized, hardcover books that are displayed on the table in order for people to read or spark conversations with. Many of them aren’t heavily research based and authors tend to stick with pictures and illustrations. Some people also buy coffee table books for aesthetic purposes, never reading or opening them, but letting the look of them elevate the space.

Tea tables may not have quite as many uses in the home as larger-sized coffee tables, but they do have a certain aesthetic and history which many people prefer. Many people even use tea tables to hold small lamps or vases and they can really help bring a room together.


Another key difference between the coffee table and tea table is seen when you delve into the two’s history.

The coffee table in-essence, evolved from the tea table.

Tea tables have been around much longer than the modern coffee tables. Tea tables have been around since the 16th and 17th centuries and were a signifier of wealth for Britons. They were commonly placed in front of a seating area and were used to hold a full tea service, with the round shape providing easy access for both the host or hostess, as well as guests.

Then, around 1750, Britain had a major influx of coffee houses and visitors needed a low table to place their drinks. Because of this, the coffee table was born. The modern coffee table has only been around since the 1800’s and just fairly recently started gaining popularity in the mid 19th century, as during this time Americans began to favor coffee over tea.


One more difference between a coffee table and a tea table is their variation in price. Because of the contrast in size, coffee tables are typically more expensive than tea tables. However, depending on a wide variety of factors such as which brands you’re choosing, where and how it was made, the quality of material it’s made of, and the shape of the table, they can be equal to or less expensive than tea tables as well.

Deciding Which One to Buy

There are so many different variations and designs of coffee tables and tea tables on the market today. To decide which one you want to buy, figure out what your design style is as well as which function you want your table to be used for.

If you’re looking for an extra spot to put decor and don’t have a lot of space, maybe consider the smaller size of a tea table. You should also note when buying a tea table it may be a better idea to buy chairs to go with it if you want to use the table for its historical, intended, purpose: serving and having tea with guests.

If you have too much open space in the room, maybe opt for a coffee table. Adding a coffee table between your sofa and TV will help make your room feel more complete, while still being small enough not to make the room overcrowded, due to its low height. They are also great for social events.

Whether you end up choosing a coffee table or a tea table, you should now know how to tell the two apart!

Travis Joynson

Travis Joynson

Travis Joynson is the founder and chief editor of the Professional Tea Taster.

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