Why Drinking Hot Tea in a Hot Climate Is Not Nuts

I’m often asked how I can drink hot tea in Florida in the summer. I live in a state favored by tourists and snowbirds alike for its extremely clement climate. I had to wonder. After over 30 years in Florida, I begin each day with a cuppa before moving on to my more recently acquired coffee habit.

My husband, who is a native Floridian, thinks he has drunk hot tea (or simply “tea” as we Brits call it) when he was sick. However, if I know him, he was probably consuming hot toddies.* Iced tea, preferably sweet, is his cha** of choice. After all, 80 percent of the tea consumed in the United States is iced tea.

As for me, I grew up drinking hot tea all year round. I do not drink iced tea. I consider it to be an abomination in pretty much the same way that my husband thinks hot tea is.

While Britain isn’t known for its tropical climate, I have lived more than half of my life in warmer climes. I spent a year in Africa, teaching English in the Sudan. Hot, sweet tea was served all day long at the schools where I was stationed. In Port Sudan, temperatures could reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit with upwards of 70 percent humidity. Yet we would drink hot tea with aplomb and it was always the first beverage offered when visiting someone’s house.

During a couple of stints at a language school in Cairo I witnessed the same scenario. Back with my host family, my Egyptian mummy (pun intended) and I would spend hours sipping steaming hot tea with lashings of sugar and mint leaves. Iced tea was never a concept, let alone an option.

I was thrilled to discover that a fellow Cambridge grad has clarified the subject for the curious. Peter McNaughton PhD, a neuroscientist at my alma mater, explained in an interview with NPR that consuming hot beverages in hot climates isn’t as nutty as one might initially think.

From what I have gleaned, the matter has all to do with mechanisms that instigate sweating. According to Dr. McNaughton, hot beverages raise the body’s internal temperature, causing us to sweat more. As sweat evaporates, we cool down. Even though you might feel hot as you drink the warm beverage, you will feel cooler once you start to sweat.

The act of sweating is vital. As Dr. McNaughton says, “If you didn’t sweat in a hot environment, then your central temperature would rise and it only takes a rise of a couple of degrees for that to cause brain damage and death. ***

That in and of itself should have us all rushing to drink a mug of hot Rosie Lee (Cockney rhyming slang for tea).  I’ll put the kettle on…

Jayne Withers is an author, dining and business etiquette coach, and co-owner of a British café in Vero Beach, Florida. She is currently finishing up a book about afternoon tea.

* A hot toddy is a delightful mix of whisky or whiskey, honey, lemon juice and hot water, often used as a remedy for the common cold. You will sweat after consuming a hot toddy, thus confirming Dr. McNaughton’s theory. Toddies are best taken in conjunction with a nap.

** Cha is a British slang term for tea that comes from the Cantonese name for the beverage. I liked the alliteration in this particular sentence.


© Adapted from A Companion Guide to Afternoon Tea, 2022, Jayne Withers

Everything you ever need to know about Clotted Cream

There is a reason that a cream tea is so called and it has nothing to do with putting cream in one’s tea before you drink it. Actually, we hope you won’t do that. The star of the show is the clotted cream, the thick rich buttery concoction slathered on a freshly made scone either before or after the jam.

There is no substitute for clotted cream, although many have tried dishing up heavy cream or even icing to pass off as a real cream tea. That simply will not do. What makes clotted cream so special? Where does that unique taste come from?

Clotted (also clouted or scalded) cream bearing some similarities to the near eastern kaymak or kajmak,  is thought to have been introduced to Cornwall by Phoenician traders seeking tin some two thousand years ago. The special method of making the cream was discovered to extend its shelf life, as it were, and to yield more cream. With few means of refrigeration in days of yore, milk products would sour quickly. The settlers from the Mediterranean and Near East as we now call Phoenicia, showed their new hosts a method of removing liquid from milk leaving a residue of butterfat that did not spoil as quickly. We now attribute this longer shelf life to the higher butterfat content of clotted cream which is 64% on average compared with 48% for heavy or double cream.

To make clotted cream, milk or cream is heated at a low temperature until a buttery crust forms. The latter is scraped off and cooled until the milk separates and clots of cream are left on top.  While refrigeration is no longer an issue, we continue to enjoy clotted cream for the sheer joy of it.

Most production of clotted cream centers in Southwest England, particularly the counties of Devon and Cornwall, but also Dorset, Somerset, and the Isle of Wight. In 1998 Cornish clotted cream was awarded the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) to thwart imposters.  Cornish clotted cream must be made with milk from Cornwall and have a minimum 55% fat content. Cornish clotted cream is yellower in color than that of Devon owing to the higher carotene levels in the grass that Cornish dairy cattle consume.

In literature, clotted cream appears to be a popular food of Tolkein’s hobbits and is mentioned in Edmund Spenser’s first published work, The Shepherdes Calendar, in 1579.

For a more romantic version of the history of clotted cream, I shall defer to Devonshire folklore.  A beautiful princess and an elfin prince wanted to marry. However, a nasty old crone of a witch wanted the princess to marry her equally undesirable son so she set about ruining the young lovers’ plans. In those days brides were required to bathe in cream before their nuptials. So the witch cast a spell over every batch of fresh cream to sour it. Finally the prince procured a special bowl of clotted cream made with “fire and water” by pixies. No matter what spells the witch conjured up, she could not sour the cream.  The young couple was able to be married at last. The prince was so happy that he ordered the pixies to teach all young maidens to make clotted cream in order to pass down the secret from mother to daughter. That, dear tea enthusiast, is why we can enjoy the wonders of clotted cream today – it is a gift from the pixies.

The fire and water are references to the original method of making clotted cream in a type of bain marie or water bath, and heating it over a fire.

Jam or Cream first?

Most of the time the English are regarded as reserved and relatively calm. However, get us on the topic of whether to spread cream or jam on the scone first and we are at each other’s throats.  Traditionally the Cornish put jam then cream on their scone while in Devon the preference is for cream then jam.

Devonians might tell you that, since jam was the most expensive component of a cream tea, the cream would go on first, topped with a small portion of jam.  The Cornish may provoke their neighbors by saying their cream is the best thus it is displayed proudly on top of the jam.

Neither side will ever win this argument. I suggest you follow your preference and enjoy your cream tea accordingly.

To make your own clotted cream, here is a link to a recipe using the traditional method. A quick internet search should also yield slow cooker and instant pot recipes.