After suffering through a long hot day with the sun beating down our backs, a bottle of cold water sounds like the perfect solution. Reaching for that can of icy soda from the fridge or ordering a frosty beer from a bar also sound like good plans. In Western countries, we often take our beverages cold – and not just on hot days, but when dining out to dinner, with popcorn at theatres, or sometimes just as a treat by itself.
However, consuming cold drinks may not be the norm internationally. While we often receive a glass of cold water alongside our meals at a restaurant, in China you would get a cup of steaming hot tea instead.
In fact, even when the weather is sweltering hot, many Chinese people will still carry around thermoses filled with hot water. If you order a soft drink at a restaurant, they will often ask you: “冰的还是常温的 (bīng de hái shì cháng wēn de)?” or “Do you want it iced (冰的) or room temperature (常温的)?” Drinking a soda at room temperature is almost unheard of in western cultures (unless one’s fridge is broken!)
Why Hot Water?
When you ask a Chinese person with a hot thermos why he or she drinks hot water, the answer is usually "it's better for your health."
According to ancient Chinese medicine, drinking a glass of warm water in the morning helps kick-start the digestive system. Hot water and warm water, because of its temperature, supposedly aids blood flow. As your blood circulation increases, it helps detoxify your body and reduce painful contractions of muscles. Sore throat? Drink some warm water. Menstrual cramps? Stop drinking cold stuff and switch to some hot water.
On the other hand, cold water slows down organ function and causes muscles to contract.
Some Chinese people also believe that during meals, you shouldn’t be mixing hot food with cold water, as this creates an imbalance of temperature.
However, the suggested benefits of consuming hot water do not solely originate from ancient Chinese medicine. Many people boil their water because they consider it a way to kill off microbes and bacteria. Drinking straight from the tap is also seen as a big no-no for many Chinese people nowadays; 生水 (shēng shuǐ), or “raw water,” is believed to cause stomach and intestinal complications if ingested because it has not been processed and “cleaned.”
Some also proposed that drinking hot water is from a cultural standpoint. Some people note that in the U.S it’s all about the service when you dine out. Waitresses and waiters are expected to fill up your water if they see it running low, and this may be why we tend to see cold water served at restaurants. If accidental spillage does happen, cold water won’t hurt the customer, whereas hot water may sent someone to the ER. In China, your tea comes in a pot and you pour it into cups yourself; if you spill the water you’re accountable for it.
Related: How To Order Food In Chinese
Benefits of Hot Water vs. Cold water
Despite all the supposed benefits of hot water and the supposed detrimental effects of drinking cold water, modern medicine tells us that both are fine to consume. While hot water increases blood circulation and helps decrease complications associated with cramps and indigestion, cold water helps with lowering body temperature after extreme exercise and boosts metabolism. Drinking cold water in moderation will not cause digestion problems, as some assume, because the liquid warms up to your body’s temperature as it travels down the esophagus.
Of course, the debate between cold water and hot water all comes down to preference and body type, but we would like to know more about what you think! Is there a reason why you stick to one or the other? And what made you decide to do so?