Coffee, Tea, and Other Hot Drinks Can Do More Than Just Warm You Up

Quick health tips for making these beverages better for you

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person at desk in front of laptop pouring hot tea into brown mug Photo: Yiu Yu Hoi/Getty Images

Whether you’re lingering at a café with a friend, grabbing a quick cup at a convenience store, or sitting in your own kitchen, a soothing sip of a hot drink can make even the chilliest weather more bearable. But not all hot drinks offer the same health benefits. Here’s what you need to know.

Coffee

Good news for the almost 60 percent of Americans who drink coffee: Research has linked it to a lower risk of heart failure, type 2 diabetes, and several types of cancer. It’s not clear what it is about coffee that’s responsible for these benefits, or what other lifestyle factors might be at play. But with hardly any calories—before adding milk and sugar—and a bunch of protective plant compounds, it’s generally fine to enjoy a morning mug.

Watch out for: Caffeinated coffee after mid-afternoon. Drinking it even 6 hours before bedtime can disrupt slumber, according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. And while coffee’s effect on people varies, the Food and Drug Administration recommends a limit of four to five cups per day.

Also worth noting is that adding sugar and cream can make coffee and other hot drinks far less healthful.

Tea

There are loads of reasons to warm up to black, green, oolong, or white tea. For starters, people who drink it get more health-boosting plant compounds called flavonoids, according to a 2020 study published in The Journal of Nutrition. Research suggests that flavonoids protect against heart disease and offer other benefits.

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Watch out for: Piping hot brews. Those who regularly drank very hot tea—149° F or hotter—had almost twice the risk of a type of esophageal cancer than those who drank cooler tea, says a 2020 study in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention. Tip: Give all hot drinks time to cool. If you can sip comfortably, you’re okay.

Be aware that although matcha and chai teas appear to be healthy hot drinks, that’s not always the case. Traditional matcha is green-tea powder whisked with water, and it’s high in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory substances. The matchas sold in many American stores, however, are matcha lattes, creamy concoctions that may contain a lot of sugar.

Traditional masala chai is an Indian blend of milky, sweetened black tea with spices. But chai drinks sold in U.S. stores are often made from syrupy concentrates and have little in common with the original.

It’s possible to find healthier versions of both drinks. Just be sure to ask what’s in the one you’re ordering—or try preparing it yourself at home

Hot Chocolate

Nostalgia may be reason enough to enjoy a warm mug of cocoa on a snowy day. But the drink has additional pluses. Consuming chocolate and other cocoa products was linked with a small decrease in blood pressure in a 2017 review of 35 studies by Australian researchers. Cocoa may also help decrease inflammation and prevent insulin resistance.

Watch out for: Sugar-packed versions. Those trendy hot chocolate “bombs” can deliver 20 grams of sugar or more, several times the recommended daily max. The occasional treat aside, a mix of cocoa powder, warm milk, and a teaspoon of sugar per mug should satisfy a sweet tooth.

Hot Apple Cider

Not to be confused with apple juice, which has been filtered, apple cider is clouded with apple pulp, which likely accounts for its higher levels of beneficial antioxidant phenolic compounds. Check the ingredients to make sure what you’re drinking is 100 percent juice. Cider is naturally sweet; added ingredients like caramel or cinnamon syrup are unnecessary.

Watch out for: Apple cider that’s sold unpasteurized or “raw.” It has been linked to outbreaks of E. coli and cryptosporidium infection, which can be especially dangerous for older and immune-suppressed adults.

Best Coffee Makers From Consumer Reports' Tests

No matter what kind of coffee maker you’re looking for—a drip, single-serve, or cold-brew model—you’re sure to find one that fits your needs and budget in Consumer Reports’ coffee maker ratings. Here are a few top performers, listed in alphabetical order.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article also appeared in the January 2022 issue of Consumer Reports On Health.