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Hot Tea: Is It Good for You?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 16, 2020

For many people, it’s hard to imagine their day without a cup of tea. It’s the second-most consumed beverage in the entire world, beaten only by water. While tea can be enjoyed both hot and cold, hot tea has a reputation for being particularly comforting.

True ‘tea’ comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, and there are many regional varieties of the species across the globe. The general categories of true teas include:

When most people think of teas, however, they also include herbal teas. There are countless types of herbal tea around the world. Some of the most popular include:

The type of tea you’re drinking will have unique health benefits or risks, making it worthwhile to look into your chosen variety more carefully.

But what about hot tea in general? Are there broad health benefits, or risks, to drinking “hot teas” as a whole? Yes, in fact, there are a number of studies that have shown the temperature of a beverage may have important effects regardless of its specific contents.

Nutrition Information

While it would be tough to summarize the nutritional information of every type of tea on the market, there are a few general trends to note. First and foremost, tea is an ultra-diluted version of whatever ingredients you’re steeping.

If you’re making, say, a lavender tea, the beverage will certainly smell and mildly taste like lavender. However, only a very small fraction of the lavender’s nutritional characteristics will be found in the drink itself.

An 8 fluid-ounce mug of most types of tea will contain close to zero:

  • Calories
  • Protein
  • Fat
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fiber

Similarly, the vitamins and minerals present will be in very small concentrations and will vary according to the type of tea you’re consuming.

One important factor to consider is the addition of sweeteners or milk. These additions may be added to the tea by the manufacturer or the consumer. Any added ingredients will alter the nutritional content of your drink.

Potential Health Benefits of Hot Tea

Some say that the temperature of your tea has no influence on how it affects your health, but this isn’t entirely supported by the research. In particular, mental health has been shown to benefit from hot beverages, like tea.

Mental Health

The concept of psychological “warmth” refers to feeling positively and trusting towards another person. When you trust a person has good intentions towards you, that feeling can be interpreted as warmth.

In one study where participants were asked to hold a hot or cold cup of coffee briefly before rating a stranger on their 'warmth', the temperature of the beverage had a marked effect on their perception. Those who had briefly held a warm cup of coffee tended to rate the stranger as significantly more trustworthy.

Weight Management

Research into hot tea consumption has found it may be beneficial for weight management. Individuals who regularly drank hot tea had both lower waist circumferences and body mass indexes (BMI).

Potential Risks of Hot Tea

Unfortunately, research has also indicated at least one serious hot tea health risk. Specifically, a link between esophageal cancer and hot tea.

Esophageal Cancer

A study with more than 50,000 participants in Iran showed that people who drank two to three mugs of scalding black tea a day were twice as likely to develop esophageal cancer. Those most at risk were those drinking their tea at or above 140˚ F (60˚ C).

Tea has to be drunk almost immediately after being removed from a heat source in order for it to be consumed at this temperature. To avoid scalding your mouth and throat, let your tea cool for a few minutes before taking a sip. If you like to add milk to your tea, that will also help lower the temperature of the drink.

Healthier Alternatives

For those concerned with the potential health risks of hot tea — or those who simply don’t like it — there’s good news. Steeping tea in cold water has been shown to provide the same antioxidant and nutritional benefits in most cases. The exception to this is white tea. White tea has been shown to actually have increased antioxidant properties when steeped in cold water instead of hot. If you prefer to drink cold tea, consider a white tea to boost the health benefits as you sip.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Cancer Research UK: “Headlines saying ‘hot tea causes esophageal cancer’ miss crucial details.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Tea, brewed w/tap water.”

European Journal of Nutrition: “Tea Consumption is Inversely Associated with Weight Status and Other Markers for Metabolic Syndrome in US Adults.”

Food Chemistry: “Hot vs. cold water steeping of different teas: Do they affect antioxidant activity?”

Journal of Food Composition and Analysis: “Antioxidant activity of different white teas: Comparison of hot and cold tea infusions.”

National Geographic: “The World’s Top Drink.”

NC State Extension: “Camellia sinensis.”

NHS: “Drinking Very Hot Tea Linked With Risk of 1 Type of Oesophageal Cancer.”

Science: “Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth.”

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