Piping Hot Tea versus Slightly Cooled — the Debate Rages On

Many tea drinkers insist that tea should be served and enjoyed piping hot while others have adopted the practice of letting the tea cool slightly so that the flavors can be better perceived on the tongue. Which is better? The debate in the world of tea drinkers rages on (in a friendly way).

So luscious looking that you’ll want to sip right away. But be careful! (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)
So luscious looking that you’ll want to sip right away. But be careful! (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

One favorite method of cooling a cuppa slightly is to let it sit for a minute or so. Of course, this requires a bit of patience (tick…tick…tick), which can be in short supply when you really need tea or have a limit time period in which to enjoy it. An alternative is to blow on the liquid a little — a method that has proved to be quite effective for me on a number of occasions. But one cannot blow too hard or risk spraying anyone or anything nearby with tea.

Why would anyone want to let good hot tea cool a bit anyway? In a word: taste. First, there’s saving your tongue (as well as your esophagus) from a scorching, after which you probably won’t be able to taste much of anything for awhile. Then, there are the flavors that become more prominent as the tea cools, changing the taste experience. We have had tea that seemed weak develop rich notes of caramel or floral or fruits as they cooled.

One thing I have noticed with teas that I enjoy with milk and sweetener is they need to be enjoyed hot, but not scalding. If they cool too much, they are more like a cup of warm milk than like a cup of tea. And if they overcool… well, let’s just not even go there. Ugh!

As for warming your innards with scalding hot liquid, it can be a bit too much. Liquid that is heated to boiling and that cools to about 180° F or even 160° F during the steeping is still much warmer than the normal body temperature of 98.6° F. While your body can take this, letting the tea cool a little more will be less of a shock.

Whichever side of the debate you stand on, enjoy tea your way. And if you opt to blow your tea to cool it, provide Macintoshes to your victims.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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4 thoughts on “Piping Hot Tea versus Slightly Cooled — the Debate Rages On

  1. The tea doesn’t develop more flavor as it sits. It’s because your taste buds do not function well at high temperatures. As the temperature of the liquid gets lower the tongue percieves more flavors This is particularly true with your bitter receptors. The converse is also true, Cold has the same impact of dulling flavors.

    1. A.C. Cargill

      Hahahahahaha! Well, actually, the flavor DOES change, plus cooler tea can sit on the tongue longer, giving it time to more fully absorb the flavors. Tastebuds function well at high and low temps, but these temp extremes mean we usually swallow faster. Thanks for reading.

      1. Ron Light

        Now naive to think that tea changes! The commenter was correct flavors changes are perception changes that are created by the temperature of the food/liquid. Wine sommeliers are well acquainted with this phenomena and research backs it up.

      2. A.C. Cargill

        ROFL!!!! How naïve to think it doesn’t. And you are both missing the point. Reread the article please!!

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