Cool Off with a Hot Cup of Tea

Teakettle Junction, Death Valley, Calif.

Teakettle Junction, Death Valley, Calif.

At a remote junction in California’s Death Valley, where the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was reached (134°F/57°C, in 1913), is a signpost that marks Teakettle Junction. The landmark has become a shrine to tea, embraced by people who drink their cuppa and leave behind the kettle, some inscribed with names and messages.

No one is certain how the name Teakettle Junction came into being or who started the tradition of hanging tea kettles on the sign, but the idea of pausing here for a hot cup of tea on a blistering day has helped perpetuate the myth that drinking hot beverages really does cool you down.

Apparently, according to recent research, it’s not a myth. Dr. Ollie Jay, Director of the Thermal Ergonomics Laboratory in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney, and his team have shown that drinking hot beverages, such as tea, really does have a cooling effect on the body. A trio of studies coauthored by Jay, the latest appearing in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, reveal that drinking a hot drink after exercise in warm conditions (24°C/75°F) increases body temperature and subsequently lowers the body heat storage significantly more than drinking a cooler one.

One of the reasons for this is that the increased heat load from drinking a warm drink causes the body to sweat more, to a point that outweighs the internal heat gain from the drink. Jay and his team’s experiments indicated that there are sensors in the abdominal cavity that are responsible for influencing sweat response, and therefore regulation of body temperature, and these are triggered during ingestion.

Tamil women drinking tea while they take a work break.

Drinking hot tea in the summer heat really does cool you down.

In their most recent experiment, they discovered that when people consumed ice during exercise, there was a reduction in heat loss in the body, compared to if they drunk a moderately warm (37°C) drink. The warm drink increased sweat evaporation from the skin surface.

This could explain why tea is such a popular drink in some of the world’s hottest locations, such as North Africa, the Caribbean, Pakistan, the Middle East… and even remote corners of Death Valley.

Sources:

Wikipedia, The Conversation, The Smithsonian, National Park Service, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Journal of Applied Physiology, Acta Physiologica