4 Minute Read

The Science Behind Hot Drinks

Posted by Steph S.

Let’s be real, we rely on hot drinks for A LOT! Most of us can’t start our morning without one and it's become part of our personal rituals for getting through our days.


In a hectic, fast-paced world they also give us a reason to slow down and take a moment to ourselves even when we’re with other people because it’s, well, HOT.



Believe it or not, there’s actually scientific proof that hot drinks are good for you.



I’m A People Person When I’m Warm



Photo credit: @cassandra_hamer via Unsplash


According to an article published in The Guardian, an experiment conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder in the USA discovered that “experiences of physical warmth (or coldness) would increase feelings of interpersonal warmth (or coldness), without the person's awareness of this influence”.


The hypothesis being tested during the study was that the part of the brain that forms judgements about others also registers temperature range. What this boils down to is that when people are physically warmer, they are physiologically warmer as well. The study was broken down into two parts:


Study 1: participants who briefly held a cup of hot (versus iced) coffee judged a target person as having a “warmer” personality (generous, caring).


Study 2: participants holding a hot (versus cold) therapeutic pad were more likely to choose a gift for a friend instead of for themselves.


And here I thought of myself as a nice person all the time…



Hot Drink or Cold Drink?



According to another study by the University of Ottowa’s Thermal Ergonomics Laboratory, drinking hot liquids can have either a warming or cooling effect, depending on the pre-existing state of the body. Yes, I know that sounds weird, but bear with me…


The warming effect is obvious: if you’re cold, you have a hot drink to warm you up. The reason behind this is that once the hot liquid hits the thermosensors in your oesophagus and stomach they react to slightly increase your body temperature to make you more comfortable.


The cooling effect takes it to the next level. If you’re already hot, the hypothesis is that the thermosensors react to “turn up the sweat flow so much that, provided your clothing allows it to evaporate, you’ll end up cooler than when you started”. Move over cold drinks!


The experiment saw nine men cycle for 75 minutes and they were given water 5 minutes prior to the exercise and then at 15, 30 and 45 minutes at 1.5°C, 10°C, 37°C, and 50°C after they began.


It’s far from being an exact science and greatly depends on the individual’s body heat storage capabilities (like some people run hot and others are always cold…), but the upshot of the experiment was that imbibing hot liquid can have the effect of either wrapping yourself in a warm blanket if you’re cold or jumping in a pool if you’re hot.


Size Matters… And So Does Weight




You know that favourite mug that you always use and if you’re forced to use anything else, it just doesn’t feel the same? That one that feels just right in your hands? Well, there could be a reason for that.


A study conducted by the Marketing and Consumer Behaviour department at Wageningen University in the Netherlands determined that “the influence of the weight of the dish in which food is served on people’s perception” and that “people expected to feel fuller when holding a heavy versus a lighter bowl, containing exactly the same amount (and type) of yoghurt.”


This effect is not solely attributed to meals, it can also be associated with drinks. If what you’re drinking isn’t being served in your favourite mug, there’s a fairly good chance you may not find it as satisfying.


Do you have a favourite mug? I have two, and it makes me crazy when someone else uses them…



The Placebo Effect



Photo credit: @kellysikkema via Unsplash


An experiment was conducted in 2008 by the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University to study the effects of hot drinks on people suffering from colds, and it was surprisingly effective.


Sufferers were given either hot or room temperature cups of cordial, and the result was that the hot drinks had a far more positive effect on symptoms than the room temperature drinks. Recipients of the hot drinks reported “immediate and sustained” relief from their cold symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, blocked or runny nose, sore throat, etc, however, when they were tested it was discovered the effects were mostly psychological as there was little to no physical change, just the feeling of feeling better.  


The scientists attributed this effect to the theory that the “taste receptor that picks up sweet, bitter and [savory] tastes sends a stronger electrical signal to the brain when food or drink is warmer.”


I know having a hot cuppa is always my automatic go-to to feel better.


My hot drinks are habitually scheduled to get me from morning to night (my 'it's after 3, it's time for tea' rhyme has become a bit of a joke amongst the team), and all this science just gives me an excuse to drink even more.


How many do you have a day? Let us know in the comments below.