Photos by Cara DiFabio, Words by Nandini Ahuja
Why do I drink hot coffee in the summertime? I pondered this question yesterday when the TasteBUds staff and I grabbed donuts at Mei Mei (more about that in an upcoming article) and I waited patiently for fifteen minutes for my hot pour-over coffee over an instant iced beverage. And I wasn’t alone; editor-in-chief Cat Lau also insisted on a hot drink in the very warm and packed Mei Mei Street Kitchen. Isn’t it counter-intuitive to heat yourself up when all you want is too cool down and embrace the summer’s iced coffees, teas and frozen hot chocolates? Experts disagree.
National Public Radio’s Madhulika Sikka, executive producer of Morning Edition, asked Joe Palca to investigate this hot drink on a hot day ritual. “Trust me,” she said, “I’m Indian, I’m British. A billion Indians can’t be wrong. They drink hot tea in hot weather.” Palca tracked down Peter McNaughton, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, to help explain. TRPV1 receptors in our tongue nerves get the heat signals from our hot drinks and tell our brains to start cooling our bodies down by sweating. These same receptors respond to chemicals in chili peppers—an indication as to why hot countries often have the spiciest foods.
How long does the effect of a hot drink last in cooling your body? Longer than that of a cold one. McNaughton insists, “cool drinks only cool you momentarily because the volume of the cold drink is relatively small when compared to your body, so the cooling effect gets diluted quickly,” as reported by Deutche Welle. There is a catch, however, to this hot drink effect. Joseph Stromberg of the Smithsonian Magazine interviewedOllie Jay, a researcher at the University of Ottowa, said the sweat produced as a result of the drink must evaporate first in order for the cooling to begin.
As someone who has sweated walking Comm. Ave. in humid Boston August with a hot drink, I admit that some days I might need to reach for some cold lemonade instead. But on one of the first warm days we’ve had in eight months, when I'm sitting on a bench surrounded by the sounds of people sucking on their straws, draining the last of their iced lattes, I'll still be clutching a cup of hot tea because sometimes I like to feel the sun from the outside in.