Tea and coffee are rich in polyphenols with a variety of biological activities. Many of the demonstrated activities are consistent with favourable effects on the risk of chronic diseases. 4-O-methylgallic acid (4OMGA) and isoferulic acid are potential biomarkers of exposure to polyphenols derived from tea and coffee respectively. 4OMGA is derived from gallic acid in tea, and isoferulic acid is derived from chlorogenic acid in coffee. Our major objective was to explore the relationships of tea and coffee intake with 24 h urinary excretion of 4OMGA and isoferulic acid in human subjects. The relationships of long-term usual (111 participants) and contemporaneously recorded current (344 participants) tea and coffee intake with 24 h urinary excretion of 4OMGA and isoferulic acid were assessed in two populations. 4OMGA was related to usual (r 0·50, P<0·001) and current (r 0·57, P<0·001) tea intake, and isoferulic acid was related to usual (r 0·26, P=0·008) and current (r 0·18, P<0·001) coffee intake. Overall, our present results are consistent with the proposal that 4OMGA is a good biomarker for black tea-derived polyphenol exposure, but isoferulic acid may be of limited usefulness as a biomarker for coffee-derived polyphenol exposure.