When the weather is cold, we often reach for a hot cup of tea to warm up. But did you know that some hot teas might actually make you colder?
It seems counter-intuitive, but according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, some teas have cooling properties that lower your internal temperature, even if the tea is boiling hot. Basically, it is the nature of the tea, not the temperature, that determines if it creates warmth in your body.
Hmm… a bit of a head-scratcher, this one!
Let’s decode this hot temperature/cold nature business and talk about all the delicious teas you can drink this winter to warm your body as much as the mug warms your fingers!
The 5 Natures of Food
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), food is divided into five natures: cold, cool, neutral, warm, and hot. This is based on the concept of siqi, or “four energies,” which also correlates with the seasons—cold/winter, cool/autumn, warm/spring, and hot/summer.
Like we mentioned before, these natures aren’t based on temperature, but rather the effect a food has on the body. Cool/cold foods will decrease warmth/heat in the body, and vice versa. Neutral foods are considered balanced and won’t alter the body’s internal temperature.
Green tea, for example, is cooling. Even though hot green tea feels warm to drink, it actually cools down the body. This is great during the spring, but in the bitter cold of winter? Not so much.
The goal is always to create balance in your body. See, TCM is based heavily on the concept of yin and yang. This is the idea that everything in the universe contains two opposite, but complementary, energies. It is the balance of these energies that creates harmony, health, and wellbeing.
Like all foods, different teas have different natures, so you can personalize your tea routine to support yin-yang balance based on whether your body needs more warmth or coolness.
Enhance Your Qi with Tea
Unlike western medicine, which uses a standardized model of symptom-based treatments, TCM takes a highly individualized approach to health. It focuses on creating yin-yang balance which supports the important organ systems and enhances qi.
Qi is your vital life force, or energy. If your body has too much yin or yang, it can drain your qi and create health problems.
Yin energy is considered cold, dark, and damp. If you have too much yin in your body, TCM says you might have cold hands and feet, frequent chills, phlegm, weakness, poor circulation, or diarrhea. (1) You would want to drink teas that are warming in nature to increase your internal heat.
Conversely, yang energy is hot, light, and dry. Too much yang might make you feel hot, sweaty, grumpy, or cause slow bowels or a dry mouth. (2) You could create more yin by drinking cooling teas.
Every person has a unique constitution and may naturally be more yin or yang in nature. Your constitution is also influenced by the weather, your environment, and even the time of day. As these are ever-changing, the best type of tea to drink changes along with them.
During the winter, the dark, damp, cold weather creates more yin energy, so this time of year you can support balance and enhance your qi by drinking teas that promote light, dryness, and warmth.
Warming Teas to Beat the Winter Chill
You’ve heard the expression, “chilled to the bone?” Intuitively, we all know that chilly weather creates coldness deep within our bodies. Teas that increase yang energy can help warm your vital organs, support blood circulation, and dispel that deep chill during the winter months.
So how do you know which types of tea are warming? Easy, just look at the color.
See, all “true” teas—black, white, green, oolong—come from the same plant: camellia sinensis. What changes it from a grassy, earthy green tea to a robust black tea is a process called oxidation. The more oxidized the tea is, the darker its color and the warmer its nature.
Toasty “True” Teas
- Black teas – completely oxidized and the warmest of all the teas, perfect for creating heat deep within your core.
- Chai tea – blend a black tea with ultra-warming spices like ginger, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon to create this favorite holiday brew. For a caffeine-free version, use red rooibos for the base. Made from African red bush leaves, rooibos is naturally caffeine-free and its warm, nutty flavor is a great substitute for black tea.
- Pu’er black tea – this rare black tea has undergone a fermentation process which makes it high in beneficial bacteria (probiotics) that may provide added health benefits. (3)
- Oolong tea – go for a highly oxidized version (at least 60%) for the most warmth.
Lighter teas, like green, yellow, and white, are minimally oxidized and cooling in nature. These aren’t ideal during chilly weather.
But if the idea of going an entire winter without green tea makes you want to cry, opt for a green tea blend like ginger green, jasmine green, or mint green (spearmint, not peppermint). The warming flavors balance the cooling nature of the green tea, creating a more neutral brew.
What about herbal teas? Any warming herbs, spices, roots, bark, flowers, and leaves can be steeped in hot water to make a nourishing, caffeine-free winter brew.
Warming Herbal Teas
As a rule, herbs and spices that taste bold, spicy, and create a hot or tingly sensation in your mouth are going to create more warmth in your body. To combat the winter chill, opt for these warming herbal teas:
- Ginger tea – dried ginger is considered hot in nature, while fresh ginger is warm. Both may support digestion and immune function. (4)
- Spearmint tea (not peppermint!) – this invigorating herb is great after meals. Heed your mints: spearmint is warming, while peppermint is cooling.
- Cinnamon tea – sweet, spicy, and may help support healthy blood sugar levels. (5)
- Fruity herbal teas – fresh or dried fruits with warming properties, like pomegranate, plum, peach, pineapple, cherry, or apricot make perfect winter infusions.
- Ginseng tea – used in eastern medicine for centuries, ginseng may help support immunity, brain function, and healthy aging. (6)
- Pumpkin spice tea – harder to find than the famed pumpkin spice latte, but worth the effort! You can also make your own using black or rooibos tea, loads of warm spices, and, of course, pumpkin (a warming food in and of itself).
- Turmeric tea (or golden milk) – this trendy super-spice is especially beneficial during the winter! Enjoy it on its own with a pinch of black pepper to enhance absorption, or make a golden milk by mixing it with ginger, cinnamon, and a warming coconut milk.
- Goji berry and Jujube tea – steep these superfoods in hot water for a sweet, warming brew. They contain bioactive compounds that may promote a healthy immune response and support digestive function and weight management. (7)
- Burdock root tea – Lesser known in the west, burdock root contains vitamin C and is often used to boost immunity and support healthy skin. (8)
And here is some inspiration for a warming winter tea routine that will keep you cozy to your core all day long…
Your Cozy Winter Tea Routine
- Morning: Start your day with a hearty, caffeinated black tea, like English breakfast or earl grey.
- Midday: A fermented pu’er black tea will promote digestion after that midday meal and give you a focus-enhancing caffeine boost. If you are sensitive to caffeine, make sure to switch to herbal teas (like a sweet and spicy cinnamon tea) after 2pm to avoid sleep troubles.
- Evening: Digest your dinner with the help of a caffeine-free ginger herbal tea, then de-stress and wind down with a reishi mushroom elixir. Many superfood mushrooms, like chaga, are more yin in nature, but reishi is actually warming. Our Reishi Calm Elixir also contains goji berries and Chinese jujube dates for added warming effects and health benefits!
The cold, damp, dark winter months can create coldness in your body and drain your energy and vitality. You can support warmth from the inside out by drinking teas that are warming in nature, not only in temperature!
Dark teas and herbs that taste bold and spicy tend to create the most warmth in the body. These, coincidentally enough, include holiday favorites like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and black pepper. Combine them with a black tea, and you have a spiced chai tea—a perfect warming winter brew!