Is Hot Tea Good for You? Everything You Should Know
A nice cup of hot tea is perfect for warming up on cold days, for sitting down for a chat with friends, or for self-soothing when dealing with stress.
Indeed, with its numerous health benefits and cultural significance, it’s no wonder that tea is the most popular beverage in the world after water. More than 2 billion people drink it every day.
However, there are some dangers to drinking tea that is too hot, including an increased risk of some types of cancer as well as burns.
This article tells you everything you need to know about the benefits and downsides of drinking hot tea.
Types of hot tea
The tea aisle of your grocery store may seem overwhelming at first. There are so many options to browse, from green tea to Earl Grey.
There are many differences among the types of tea on the market.
“True” teas are brewed from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis shrub, which is native to China and East Asia.
There are many types of true teas. Variations stem from the subspecies of plant, the size of the leaves, the time the leaves were picked, the way the leaves were processed, blends of different types, and the addition or infusion of various aromas and flavors.
There are six main types of true teas, classified by the processing of the leaves:
White. Young leaf buds are plucked while they still have silvery or white hairs on them and quickly dried.
Green. Green leaves are picked and then heated to prevent them from discoloring.
Yellow. The leaves are allowed to wither and yellow after being picked and are then dried.
Oolong. The leaves are wilted in the sun, bruised, and partially oxidized.
Black. The leaves are wilted, crushed, and fully oxidized.
Post-fermented tea. This is green tea that has been fermented and aged, such as pu-erh tea.
Tea may be drunk plain with just hot water or with additions such as milk, cream, honey, sugar, lemon, or herbs and spices. It may also be found as iced tea or instant tea.
Teas not made from the Camellia sinensis plant are often called herbal teas or tisanes.
These include infusions of herbs, spices, fruits, and other parts of plants, such as leaves, flowers, buds, roots, and bark.
Across many cultures, herbal teas have been used as medicines. They boast a variety of purported health benefits. Some of these claims are supported by modern science, while others lack evidence.
Some popular types of herbal tea are peppermint, chamomile, fennel, sage, raspberry leaf, lemon, rosehip, nettle, cinnamon, rooibos, ginger, rose, and lavender.
Benefits of drinking hot tea
Tea contains disease-preventing nutrients
Tea does not contain any significant quantities of calories or macronutrients.
However, it does contain powerful antioxidants and health-promoting compounds, primarily from polyphenols — substances found in plants, such as catechins.
Unsweetened green teas and black teas are the types most studied for their health benefits. These types of tea may:
Help prevent some cancers. Drinking black tea is associated with a 21% reduced risk of dying from cancer in general, and drinking 1 cup per day of green tea is associated with an 11% decreased risk of endometrial cancer.
Reduce the risk of heart disease. Two cups of tea per day may reduce the risk of developing heart disease, and 3 cups of green tea per day may reduce the risk of cardiac death by 26%.
Lower blood pressure. Regular consumption of tea may marginally reduce blood pressure.
Reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Drinking 4 cups of tea per day has been found to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 10%.
Help prevent obesity. Drinking tea is associated with lower body fat. Black tea polyphenols may help prevent obesity, and green tea may help boost metabolism.
Improve brain health. Drinking tea may reduce the risk of depression and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
A variety of herbal teas are also linked to health benefits such as:
- improved sleep
- relief of menstrual cramps
- relief of menopause symptoms
- reduced anxiety
- stress relief
However, while the research seems promising, many of the studies that have been conducted are small. We need more research before we can be sure that drinking hot tea is beneficial to health.
Hot tea may protect against glaucoma
Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that are the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world.
Population studies have linked drinking hot tea to a lower incidence of glaucoma.
In a survey of 1,678 people, researchers found that people who drank at least 1 cup of hot tea per day were 74% less likely to have glaucoma than those who did not drink it.
Another study found that drinking 2 cups of tea per day was associated with an 18% lower risk of glaucoma.
Interestingly, there was no significant effect for decaffeinated hot tea or iced tea. The positive effects are likely due to the types of flavonoids found in true tea, which tend to be present in much lower levels in decaffeinated and iced teas.
While these results are promising, more studies are needed to establish whether and how hot tea may reduce the risk of glaucoma.
It may positively influence mood
It’s a common belief that a hot cup of tea has emotional benefits such as relaxation and mental clarity.
In fact, drinking tea regularly has been linked to a 30% lower risk of depression.
Interestingly, it is thought that components of true tea, including caffeine, teasaponin, L-theanine, and polyphenols, can influence the brain by reducing inflammation, acting on neural pathways, and modulating mood-affecting hormones such as dopamine.
Moreover, the actual act of preparing and drinking the tea may have positive effects on mood.
Some of tea’s mood-boosting effects probably stem from the action of taking a break to prepare it and the anticipation of enjoying it. Other causes likely come down to the sensory experiences of the tea and the cultural role tea plays in many populations.
Furthermore, it could be that small positive daily activities, such as making a cup of tea, accumulate over time and contribute to the prevention of depression.
However, more research is still needed to determine precisely how hot tea can affect mood.
It may help keep you warm
Some researchers propose that the human abdomen contains temperature receptors. Therefore, drinking a hot beverage such as tea may affect your body’s response to temperatures.
One study found that consuming hot water at 126°F (52°C) can reduce shivering for 10 minutes, which may be beneficial when working and exercising in cold conditions.
Downsides of drinking hot tea
Tea that is too hot increases the risk of esophageal cancer
A significant amount of scientific evidence links drinking tea that is too hot with the development of esophageal cancer, especially in people who smoke and drink alcohol.
It is thought that tea hotter than 140–149°F (60–65°C) may blanch the cells that line the esophagus, leaving them more vulnerable to damage from cancer-causing substances.
Both black and green teas appear to increase risk of cancer when drunk too hot, but when drunk at less than 149°F (65°C), green tea appears to have a protective effect.
Although more research is needed to determine the exact temperature cutoff to reduce risk, if you drink hot tea, it is important to let it cool to below 140°F (60°C) before drinking.
Hot tea can cause burns
Tea is usually brewed with very hot or boiling water and is still around 191–196°F (91–90°C) when served.
This means that if it is spilled, it could cause significant, scalding burns.
Young children and older adults may be particularly at risk of burns as a result of having thinner skin and smaller body size. Hot water is the main cause of burns in children ages 6–24 months and in adults over age 65.
Therefore, it’s important to be careful when preparing tea and ideally to let it cool before serving.
The authors of one study recommend serving tea at 130–160°F (54–71°C) to maintain palatability, but I would suggest keeping drinking temperatures below 140°F (60°C).
Tea contains caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant naturally found in tea, coffee, cocoa, yerba mate, and a variety of other plants.
It may have both positive and negative health effects depending on the person, the source, and the amount.
Some populations may want to reduce or avoid intake of caffeine, such as people sensitive to caffeine, people with liver disease or heart disease, pregnant or breastfeeding people, teenagers, and children.
Adults are advised to limit their caffeine intake to 400 mg per day.
Above this level, it can lead to negative effects such as restlessness, nervousness, gut disorders, muscle tremors, irritability, and changes in heart rhythm.
The amount of caffeine in a cup of true tea depends on the type.
For example, 1 cup (8 fluid ounces, or 237 mL) of brewed green tea contains 29.4 grams of caffeine, whereas 1 cup of black tea contains 47.4 mg. However, these amounts vary depending on the specific blend and brewing time.
If you choose to avoid caffeine, you can opt for decaffeinated teas. Many herbal teas, such as peppermint, chamomile, and ginger teas, are naturally caffeine-free.
How to prepare hot tea
To enjoy hot tea, first select either a true tea or an herbal tea that you want to try. Some common varieties are English breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, sencha, peppermint, and chamomile.
The temperature and time for brewing will vary depending on the tea blend you use.
For example, black tea is prepared with almost-boiling water and brewed for 2–5 minutes, while the more delicate white tea is best brewed at 158–167°F (70–75°C) for 1–3 minutes.
Most teas will come with instructions on the best temperature and brewing time to use.
Once the tea is brewed, pour it into a teacup or mug and let it cool. Don’t leave the tea brewing too long, or it may turn bitter.
If you’re unsure when the tea is cool enough to drink, consider using a cooking thermometer to double-check that it has cooled to at least 140°F (60°C).
Notably, adding milk and sugar to tea may lower the activity of health-promoting antioxidants.
Therefore, it may be best to drink your tea plain. But you should experiment with different blends and flavorings to find a tea to suit your taste.
The bottom line
Hot tea is a delicious beverage that comes in many varieties and flavors.
It also has many health benefits, including powerful antioxidants that are linked to prevention of several diseases and promotion of good mental health.
However, take care when preparing and drinking hot tea, and ideally let it cool to 140°F (60°C) or below before serving to reduce the risk of burns and cancers.