From the moment one of our earliest ancestors poured boiling water over a shaved root or dried leaves, and drank, humans have been partaking of warm, relaxing drinks. There’s something about a glass, cup, or mug of liquid heat that can do us a world of good. At Food Revolution Network, we often talk about how what you eat matters. But what you drink matters too! While pure water is typically the beverage of choice, sometimes you want or need something more than pure hydration.
If you want a chance to unwind, there are few things more comforting and satisfying than slowing down to enjoy a warm, relaxing beverage. Perhaps this is why many of us start our day with coffee and end it with herbal tea. Or you might have fond memories of hot chocolate after ice skating on a pond on a clear winter day. And while warm drinks are a natural fit during cold weather, imbibing a warm and relaxing drink can do much more for us than take the chill off our fingers and lips. In this article, I’ll share the benefits of warm drinks (a couple of which may surprise you), and talk about some of the healthiest ones you can choose, including five recipes for when you need to slow down and unwind.
Why Drink Warm Drinks
Let’s start with the obvious: warm drinks warm you up when it’s cold. You probably don’t need me to back up that claim with a scientific paper, but I love it when science confirms common sense. Researchers from the Thermal Ergonomics Laboratory of the University of Sydney, in Australia, discovered, in 2017, that warm beverages can protect athletes from decreased performance in cold weather. They found that humans have thermoreceptors in their abdomens. And drinking warm or cool drinks can improve perceived and actual body temperature regulation, essentially ramping up or throttling down sweating.
This means that while a warm drink probably doesn’t actually change your core temperature, it nevertheless improves your body’s capacity to handle extreme cold or heat. Paradoxically, drinking a warm drink before exercise can jumpstart your perspiration, giving your body a headstart in dealing with hot environments as well.
Not only that, warm drinks may increase circulation. A 2018 study from Japan found that women who were given a hot beverage to drink experienced a rise in the temperature of their hands. One drink was brewed from dried ginger, and the other (a placebo) was flavored to mimic ginger but did not contain the herb. The ginger-drinkers showed increased hand temperature for twice as long as those receiving the warm placebo. So it appears that certain plants, like ginger, can amplify the power of warm drinks.
Continuing with the obvious, warm beverages can encourage us to slow down and be more mindful about our consumption. When those beverages are too hot to drink when we first wrap our hands around them, we are forced to wait for them to cool. And while we can always scroll on our phones until the tea or coffee won’t scald our mouths, another approach is possible.
Centuries-old tea ceremonies in Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian cultures include rituals that provide a central focus and allow for the cultivation of presence and mindfulness. The idea is that how you drink tea can become a template for how you focus and interact with the world at other, more challenging times. Since drinking hot tea takes a while, given that you have to sip rather than gulp or chug, there’s time to imbue the process with meaning beyond the simple act of hydrating.
Warm beverages may also aid digestion by relaxing stomach muscles. A 2011 study from Turkey found that a cup of warm liquid helped patients who were having their gallbladders removed surgically experience fewer gastrointestinal spasms. As with the ginger experiment I just mentioned, it appears that certain herbs are more potent than others in bringing about relaxation of these involuntary muscles. Some examples of relaxing teas include peppermint, ginger, chamomile, and Pu’er, a fermented tea traditionally grown in the Yunnan Province of China.
Traditions around the world prescribe warm beverages to heal the sick, too. Hot drinks can relieve cold and flu symptoms, and plant-based ingredients can provide additional benefits. Lemons squeezed in hot water can boost immunity through its generous vitamin C content. And the pectin that comes along with the pulp is a potent prebiotic that can contribute to a healthy gut microbiome. Ginger supports the liver as it breaks down toxins for elimination. And many teas, including green, white, redbush, and hibiscus, contain compounds that fight inflammation, cancer, and other ailments. Check out this article for a deep dive into the best beverages to drink when you’re sick.
Some warm beverages can help you transition from the bustle of life and help you to calm down. Containing ingredients called adaptogens, these relaxing drinks can stimulate the production of signaling molecules that promote balance and relaxation. For example, the l-theanine compound found in many teas stimulates the body’s production of GABA and serotonin, both of which are associated with reduced anxiety and increased well-being.
The English language extends the concept of temperature far beyond the physical into the metaphorical. If you feel “warmly” toward someone, you may desire to approach them. If they’re cool toward you, or worse, give you the cold shoulder, they’re telling you to stay away. Science has discovered that our experiences of temperature can actually influence our inner states — and even our appraisals of others.
In a fascinating 2008 study, researchers at the University of Colorado asked participants to quickly assess whether a person they were just introduced to had a caring and generous personality. Right before the meeting, the participants were handed a cup of coffee, which, as far as they knew, had nothing to do with the study. Half received hot coffee, and half got iced coffee. The hot coffee recipients found their target person slightly (but statistically significantly) warmer than those holding iced coffee. And it wasn’t a generalized “I think better of people” effect; the temperature of the beverage didn’t influence their assessments of attractiveness, seriousness, strength, or honesty.
One of the happiest countries in the world understands the psychological and social benefits of warm drinks as well. In Danish culture, hot beverages are central to the concept and practice of hygge (pronounced hoo-gah), a term that encompasses coziness, physical warmth and comfort, as well as things like friendship and laughter. Heat is a big part of the experience of hygge; hyggelig (that’s the adjective) environments include heat from wood stoves, light from candles, and steaming mugs of hot beverages.
Types of Warm and Relaxing Drinks
If your imagination for warm drinks extends no further than coffee, tea, and cocoa, here’s a variety of ideas for your consideration.
Golden milk (turmeric & plant-based milk)
Also known as a turmeric latte, the most widespread version contains milk and turmeric (that most awesome of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory plants!). Below, you’ll find a plant-based recipe that includes other Indian spices too. If you want a delicious and nutrient-packed golden milk “mix,” here’s one from Organifi.
A classic that dates back to the Aztecs and took Europe by storm after they figured out that adding milk and sugar to the beverage moderated the bitterness of the cacao bean. Our recipe below keeps it plant-based and relies on small amounts of healthier sweeteners.
Over the past 20 years, herbal tea has become one of the most popular relaxing drinks, taking the US by storm. Tea houses, retail shops that sell nothing but the dried leaves, a renewed interest in tea ceremonies, as well as entire supermarket aisles devoted to different types and flavors, means that you could try a different variety every day for a decade and not have to repeat a tea. Find an amazing sampler pack of 35 organic herbal teas here.
Coffee and brewed teas
These classics definitely deserve a place on this list. Coffee, some have argued, is the drug that fueled capitalist expansion and created industrial society. Be that as it may, coffee, while not appropriate for everyone, definitely has significant health benefits, like reduced risk of stroke and dementia, as well as enhanced athletic performance. And caffeinated teas such as green, white, and black varieties also are rich in antioxidants and other phytonutrients. Find a delicious fair trade and organic coffee here. For our article on the stunning health benefits of matcha tea, click here.
Adaptogens are ingredients that support healthy immune systems and can help us with resiliency and recovering from life’s stresses. Many warm beverages incorporate these ingredients, such as adaptogenic mushrooms like reishi, cordyceps, and turkey tail, as well as other plants like holy basil, ashwagandha, and maca. Pique Tea makes a delicious, satisfying, and relaxing (albeit a bit pricey) Reishi Calm Elixir, here.
Lemonade isn’t just for summer picnics and roadside stands. A squeeze of fresh lemon into a glass of hot water can add variety to that glass of water, as well as giving you an antioxidant and prebiotic boost. For extra flavor, check out our lavender tea lemonade recipe below.
When it comes to rich, frothy, hot drinks, coffee has nothing on tea. Whether regular tea leaves, herbal recipes, or Indian-inspired chai brimming with spices, you can out-Starbucks Starbucks with your own custom-made and healthy concoctions. And you can even spell your name correctly on the cup! Want to use your own homemade plant-based milk? Check out this article for tips.
5 Relaxing Drink Recipes to Unwind With
Get ready to feel your calmest self with these healing, soul-fulfilling, and relaxing beverages. With each sip, notice the warmth from your head to your toes. Whether you’re a creamy latte-lover, morning caffeine enthusiast, or an herbal tea aficionado, there’s something for everyone below.
1. FRN’s Creamy Golden Milk
There’s something incredibly soothing about sipping on Golden Milk. Maybe it’s knowing that you’re giving your body exactly what it needs. Or, perhaps it’s the warm creamy beverage traveling through your body, touching what feels like every cell along the way. Whatever the reason, the healing blend of spices is sure to warm your heart, toes, and everything in between.
To see how I make this recipe at home, watch the video below:
2. Sweet and Nutty Oat Milk with Cinnamon Spice
If you’ve tried it, you know that making your own oat milk is super simple, tasty, and nutritious. Better yet, take it to the next level by adding sweet and nutty tahini and cinnamon spice flavors. Enjoy this warm and relaxing beverage in the morning, afternoon, or evening since it’s caffeine-free!
3. Soothing Matcha Tea
Starting your day with Soothing Spiced Matcha Tea provides a calm, sustainable energy boost and a gentle sense of awareness and focus. Matcha and turmeric are the superstars here. Give it a try in place of a cup of coffee, and let us know how it makes you feel.
4. Lavender Tea Lemonade
Lavender’s aroma is known for its calming effect. But did you know that edible lavender can offer the same benefit? This mild tea with a hint of lemon is perfect for an afternoon of unwinding with a book and blanket, or an indulgent evening with a bath and candle. No matter the setting, revel in the relaxation response as you sip and enjoy.
5. Hot Coco-Cocoa
You might have guessed that a warming and calming beverage article wouldn’t be complete without cocoa. Cocoa is the solid portion of chocolate (cocoa butter is the fat portion), and it’s where all of those healing compounds live. They give us a happy and energized yet calm and satisfied feeling when we consume it. Enjoy this homemade version of an all-time favorite.
Cuddle Up with a Relaxing Drink
There are lots of different warm and health-giving drinks you can enjoy year-round, in hot or cold weather. Warm beverages can benefit your physical health, mood, and overall well-being. And warm drinks can help you relax and unwind whenever you need to give yourself a gift of comfort and self-care. Some of them can also be a great way to give your body the antioxidants and other nutrients it needs to thrive, so drink up!
Tell us in the comments:
- What’s your “go-to” warm or relaxing drink? When do you enjoy drinking it?
- What ideas did you get from this article about warm beverages to try?
- Are there other relaxing beverages that you like that aren’t mentioned here?
Feature image: iStock.com/Alina Rosanova