Still, sparkling or hot? My parents only drink warm water – it’s their cultural cure-all

In a room that was overheated and without connection to the thermostat, I started pouring my teammates glasses of refreshing water. I positioned the jug over my colleague’s drink, but she was politely unable to accept it. “I’ve brought my own,” she declared and pulled out the Thermos.

Oh, yes, I’m sure you’ve heard about the Chinese practice of drinking hot water even in extreme temperatures. I’d never heard of that, and it’s a bit surprising, considering that my family members do often.

The Chinese-Malaysian mother does not enjoy cold water. “Ooh, no,” she says, “I’d not drink cold water straight from fridge or even the tap. This is particularly true for those with sensitive teeth.”

My father, born in Guangzhou, suffers from hypersensitivity to dentin and finds hot waters “comforting and soothing.”

My aunt is another who has lived in Australia since she was a kid, but she still likes hot water. It’s due to her family background as her parents would often bring a personal Thermos filled with hot water with them when they went out, and now she is doing the same. “I also boil water and have a bottle of room temperature water to drink.”

She’s aware of the fact that it’s not required. “For goodness sake, I live in Melbourne and I know there’s no need to do this when I can drink high-quality water from the tap!”

Jan is a woman of Chinese heritage whom I met at a random event in the park. She tells me: “My mum always said it was good for digestion.” Evidently, Jan’s mother-in-law also touts its numerous benefits to health. “She refuses to give my two children cold water – it’s got to be at least warm!”

Warmed water’s status as a cure is a common occurrence among Ayurvedic practitioners (Ayurveda is a tradition that has roots in the Indian subcontinent). That means hot or warm water is a huge fan group: two of the largest countries around the globe and Jan’s mother-in-law.

Bloated? Take hot water. Poor circulation? Get hot drinking water. Got a cold? Do you feel cold? There’s a solution. It’s your Chinese grandmother’s cure-all. If soup from chicken is Jewish penicillin, the heated water has for a long time been known as Chinese Amoxil, lavender oil, and Metamucil.

“People drink hot water for cultural, historical and medicinal reasons,” claims Isabel Zhang, who works in cross-cultural research.

Warm water is part of the idea of yin and yang, which is the fundamental principle in Chinese medicine. To remain healthy, the forces need to be balanced, Zhang says. “Cold water is believed to be yin or cold. It is thought that it can disrupt the inner organs and qi energy balance.”

Dr. Scott Ling, a traditional Chinese medicine doctor from Melbourne, drinks hot water at all times of the year because he believes it will boost digestion and circulation. “I’ve been doing it for the last 20 years,” he says.

The hot water drink is a beverage that Zhang prefers. “Although my dad isn’t an acupuncturist, he practices Chinese medical practices and food therapies as it’s a religion. Since I was a young child I always received advice from him not to drink cold-water. The tradition has stayed for me, even though I’ve lived in four different countries.”

Zhang’s research has put her in contact with numerous Chinese communities that include tourists and international students. Both groups have expressed concern about problems in Australia because of the absence of access for all people to hot water.

However, in Chinese restaurants, at the very least, it’s not unusual to find two teapots or Thermoses set on tables: one that has Chinese tea and another filled with hot water.

As more venues get on board and more platforms are able to catch on, we’ll one day get to know “Madam, would you like still, sparkling or hot?”

  • The article was revised on 30 August 2023 in order to correct Dr. Scott Ling’s name.

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