The Facts of Enjoying Hot Tea on a Hot Day
Drinking a hot cup of tea may seem like the perfect cozy winter activity, and it is, but that doesn’t mean it also won’t help you survive a sweltering summer day. Science supports tea being an ideal remedy in both seasons due to how our bodies react to internal and external stimuli, and how our natural responses to a good cup of tea make the heat that much easier to endure.
The aroma of a favorite tea can be relaxing, which may help you forget how hot it is outside. However, while the warmth of the tea might seem counterintuitive as you sit under a blazing sun, your brain will actually cool down by tasting something hot. This has to do with the nerves in our taste buds, our gut, and the body’s natural responses to hot verses cold ingestion.
In Eastern medicine, the stomach is a yang organ, our internal fire. It needs to stay warm to function properly. Hot tea will aid the stomach in digestion; will improve circulation and nutrient absorption. Ingesting something cold will actually send a message to the brain that we need to warm up.
Water is yin, and is thereby cold by nature. Cold water will act fast to speed up digestion, which will also reduce nutrient absorption. The colder the water, the weaker we make the yang energy of the stomach. Warm or hot tea relaxes the stomach and the brain gets the message that we are experiencing heat.
The nerves in the tongue have special molecules called receptors, and there are some receptors that respond to heat by telling the brain that our body needs to cool down. This receptor is called TRPV1, which stands for transient receptor potential vanilloid. The 1 denotes the specific role of the receptors to detect temperature and heat found in beverages and food, then regulating the body temperature in response to the heat.
When you drink something hot, these taste and gut signals tell the brain that ingesting heat means you need to cool down. Upon tasting a hot beverage, the brain will tell your body to activate its normal heat defense—sweat. The receptor pushes on the systemic cooling mechanisms in your body. This opens your glands to cools you off.
You may wonder why cold drinks do not help you cool down on a hot day. That’s because the receptors react to cold too. Ice causes the body temperature to rise, which can impact someone’s endurance if they are engaging in hot weather exercise. The ice cold drink will tell the brain that you do not need to sweat. It may even prevent you from being able to cool down for an extended period of time. The receptors read the cold temperature of a drink and send a signal to the brain that the body is cool enough, and it does not need to cool itself down further.
An ice-cold drink sounds comforting in scorching weather, and cold drinks can act as a quick fix to cool you off. However, it is much more efficient to cool the body externally with a cold towel on your neck, swimming in a pool, or using a cold air fan.
Consider adding cooling herbs to a hot (or if you can’t stand it, room) temperature cup of tea.
There are summer foods, herbs, and spices that are known to help cool the body down. You probably already eat them regularly in the summer months. Using a tea blend with these foods, spices, and plants will keep your body cool and happy.
Tea blends that have summer cooling foods include awatermelon, melonberry, white cucumber, wild strawberry , apricot, and peach. All of these teas have inclusions that are likely familiar to your summer diet. You may be eating a nice bowl of fruit or a crisp salad with your calming cup of tea to help keep your summer day peaceful.
Tea blends with cooling spices can also do your body good to keep you comfortable. Teas that have ingredients that regulate inflammation or react with receptors to create a natural cooling sensation are ideal. These include lemon or lemongrass teas, spearmint, peppermint, hibiscus, chai blends and rose teas.
If you live in a humid area, cool down externally first. Avoid restrictive clothes and find a way to dry any sweat (such as a cold air fan). Drinking a hot beverage in hot weather will be very uncomfortable if your sweat will not dry. It won’t matter that sweat naturally cools you if the sweat can never evaporate.
Still stressed out about drinking a hot cup on a hot day? It turns out it doesn’t need to be the same hot as your winter day’s cup in order to help you chill out. A warm or room temperature cup will still be kinder to your gut than a cold one. Stay hydrated, first and foremost. Stay hydrated, first and foremost. Avoid too much caffeine as that can dehydrate you, and guzzle your favorites. It is important to keep drinking water in the summer. Allow your body to cool itself naturally with a nice hot cup, and replenish your body with the comforting nutrients in a favorite or new favorite tea blend to keep you happy, calm, and cool.
Bain AR, Lesperance NC, Jay O. Body heat storage during physical activity is lower with hot fluid ingestion under conditions that permit full evaporation. Acta Physiol (Oxf). 2012 Oct(2):98-108.
González-Alonso J, Teller C, Andersen SL, et al. Influence of body temperature on the development of fatigue during prolonged exercise in the heat. J Appl Physoil. 1999 Mar; 86(3):1032-1039.
Jay, O. (2011). Sweat. In Mooren FC and Skinner JS (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Exercise Medicine in Health and Disease, (pp. 831-834). Berlin Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
Morris NB, Coombs G, Jay O. Ice Slurry Ingestion Leads to a Lower Net Heat Loss during Exercise in the Heat. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016 Jan;48(1):114-122.
Morris, N., Jay, O. Staying warm in the cold with a hot drink: The role of visceral thermoreceptors. Temperature. 2017.
Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. Hyperlink2002. 94-102.
Shi, John. Ho, Chi-Tang. Shahidi, Fereidoon. Functional Foods of the East. Hyperlink. 2010. 106-110.
Samantha Albala is a writer and medical editor by day, and a curious D.I.Y. tea crafter by night. Her years working in bakeries and teahouses gave her the knowledge and freedom to experiment and blend together a large assortment of loose teas and tisanes on a daily basis. She will never pass up a cup of jasmine, silver needle, or vanilla rooibos.