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