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.