Is Hot Tea Healthier than Iced?

Maybe you’re out for a cool evening around the fire pit. Or kicked back in your recliner watching Lifetime movies. Or heck, even crouched over your computer, telecommuting. Wherever you take it, we know our readers well enough to know that when we talk about enjoying a spot of tea, most of you are thinking of a nice warm cup or mug. So it might surprise you to know that 85 percent of tea is served over ice.

If that freaks you out a little, here’s a confession: that statistic is for the United States only. In fact, the US is probably the only location in the world where an order for tea is automatically assumed to be iced tea; if the waiter asks “What type?” he’s wanting to know if you want it sweetened or non.

And while we’re on that subject … heavily sweetened iced tea is as bad for you as sugary coffee drinks, juice-ades, or soft drinks. Packed with nutritious compounds and natural caffeine, tea can serve as a nutritious and healthy alternative. A good portion of the world enjoys the mild flavors, at hot or cold temperatures. You’ll be happy to note, however, that drinking hot tea has advantages when compared to cold tea. They’re admittedly minor, but better is better, right?

It Tastes Better

Taste is subjective, we get that. BUT: if you actually enjoy the taste of tea—as with coffee, some undiscriminating folk drink it mostly for the caffeine—but if you enjoy the taste, you should note that you’ll get a noticeably stronger aroma and flavor when drink tea at hot temperatures. Your taste buds have a sensitivity trigger which is much more sensitive to warmer temperatures than cold ones…meaning your tongue has a better opportunity to enjoy flavors that are hot when they are introduced to the mouth. Drinking hot tea makes that taste bud sensitivity kick in, sending stronger electrical signals to the brain. The brain, in turn, interprets the hot tea as measurably more flavorful. Don’t blame us if it tastes better: this is science.

It’s Higher in Antioxidants

The steeping process used for making tea is fairly simple: the hot water infuses the tea leaves and draws the flavor and any nutritious compounds out into the water. We’ve talked about flavor in the precious section, so let’s take a look at those nutritional compounds. As it turns out, they include something called flavonoids, which are defined as “…a group of plant metabolites thought to provide health benefits through cell signaling pathways and antioxidant effects.”

In layman’s terms, they’re a natural compound with antioxidant properties, meaning they help fight cell damage. This is good, but note that the particular antioxidants in tea are highly reactive: they oxidize and dissipate once they’re exposed to oxygen. In other words, allow tea to sit in an open container (say, a pitcher) for very long, and the oxygen in the air will deplete the tea’s antioxidant supply relatively quickly.

So follow the logic here: antioxidants are extremely beneficial for the body, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, supporting good bone health, and boosting the immune system. The longer it takes to get from steeping to drinking, the lower the amount of antioxidants, ergo, drinking hot tea is more beneficial than drinking cold tea. In fact, if you’re trying for the maximum antioxidant content, you pretty much want to drink hot tea fresh from the kettle.

It’s Overall Healthier

Antioxidants are just one of the health benefits of drinking hot tea. One study showed that out of nearly 6,500 women tested, those who drank hot tea lost weight over the course of the study, whereas women who drank iced tea actually gained weight (possibly because it was more likely to be sweetened, but that’s beside the point.) Plus, research has demonstrated that drinking hot tea can lower your levels of unhealthy HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. The same benefits are not found when drinking iced tea.

In the long view, drinking tea is good for you, regardless of how you prefer to take it. As long as you don’t pour in the sugar, the benefits are substantial whether you drink it over ice … or over a good book in front of a fireplace.

4 Pop Culture Tea Lovers

Some people like tea; some people LOVE tea. If you’re reading this blog, you probably fall into one of those categories. Then again, there are people who consider a day without tea a crisis of biblical proportions, and dunking a criminal offense. You might even be one of those—which is fine. We’re not here to judge.

The point is, there are tea people. From kings and presidents to writers and artists, plenty of folk have declared their passion for liquid happiness. So much so, that tea-drinkers have become a part of our popular culture. Here are a few examples:

1. Mary Poppins

Ok, let’s start with the obvious: in both books by Pamela Travers and movies, Mary Poppins taught us that a spoonful of sugar might help the medicine go down, but nothing calms the nerves like a proper cuppa. Our favorite flying nanny may’ve been a textbook example of sophisticated manners, but she turned teatime into an art form. — even flying nannies. Whether she was sharing a spot around an aloft table with her laughing, floating charges, or being served by penguins inside a chalk drawing, tea time was a priority for Ms. Poppins…which seems only proper.

2 Jean-Luc Picard

What better cure for an over-indulgence of Romulan Ale than a spot of “Earl Grey. Hot.”? Captain Jean-Luc Picard, commander of Star Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise, regularly traveled where no one had gone before. When it came to teatime, however, his choice was much more down-to-earth. It’s oddly comforting to think that no matter big our universe is, people in the future could still find comfort in the second-oldest beverage known to man (the first, of course, being water … which we’ve heard doesn’t go nearly as well with a photon torpedo.)

3 Alice in Wonderland

The riddles are ridiculous, the dishes are dirty, and the host? Well, he’s stark raving mad. Still, it could be argued that Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter is the single most recognizable tea-lover in the world of fiction. The Mad Hatter’s tea party qualifies as one of the most colorful such gatherings in literature … enough so to leave readers wondering if perhaps the participants weren’t dropping more than their napkins. Alice herself labeled it “the stupidest tea party I ever was at in all my life.” That’s as may be, but you can’t say it isn’t memorable.

4 Dowager Countess of Grantham

Played to perfection by Dame Maggie Smith, the grand lady from PBS’s acclaimed drama Downton Abbey can often be seen enjoying a cup or serving some up for guests. This is the epitome of what we think of as Brits drinking tea…so much so that it could almost fall into a well-worn cliché. The writers are better than that, though, and use tea as a broader trope, giving it the role of historical time-stamp, as well as subtle commentator on class and food in the early 20th century. It also serves as a meeting place to exchange ideas and … observations: the origins of the modern-day water cooler.

Taking time for yourself has been shown to keep people healthy, more mindful and more productive. So take a cue from pop culture and sit down with a nice steaming cup of tea.