When Hot, Drink Hot Things

Today's heat, perhaps the season's last spike in temperature, is the perfect occasion to enjoy a hot coffee drink

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You wouldn't know that fall is coming from the last two days, with temperatures expected to perhaps reach the 90s in New York and across the Eastern seaboard. And that presents perhaps one of the last opportunities of the summer to drink extremely hot things in extremely hot weather.

I write this from a coffee shop on the Upper East Side. Sweat drops on the chrome surface of my laptop, for the air conditioning in here is not enough to negate the effects of a tall triple latte. I mean a hot latte, a steaming one — just the way I like it on a sweltering summer day like this.

Inevitably, the barista asked if I wanted my coffee hot. Maybe I am paranoid, but she looked at me curiously when I said that I did want it hot, which is the way I always want it. I don't blame her, though, because most everyone around me is drinking iced coffee, clutching their flimsy plastic cups. It is the same outside, where people move lazily through the morning's heat and haze.

Pity these people, these iced-coffee drinkers. Theirs is a paltry defense against the heat, exacerbated by the fact that caffeine is a diuretic (albeit a mild one) that will dehydrate the body regardless of which form it comes in. So while the ice cubes in an iced coffee may indeed have some cooling quality, their effect is likely minimized by the very caffeine solution they are supposed to cool. Moreover, they turn coffee into watery swill — one that we are forced to drink through a straw, as if we were still children.

That's why, instead of trying fruitlessly to evade the heat, I embrace it, much the way people in some other parts of the world do. For example, NPR producer Madhulika Sikka proudly embraces the hot-things-in-hot-weather ideology. "Trust me," she says, "I'm Indian, I'm British. A billion Indians can't be wrong. They drink hot tea in hot weather."

It's not just culture that drives people to fight heat with heat. Researcher Ollie Jay explained the phenomenon to Smithsonian magazine:

 “Yes, the hot drink is hotter than your body temperature, so you are adding heat to the body, but the amount that you increase your sweating by—if that can all evaporate—more than compensates for the the added heat to the body from the fluid.”

That settles it, doesn't it? But I fear that the sweat is drying. Time for another coffee — a hot one, that is.

Photos: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer; Alexander Nazaryan

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.