As the cold seeps under your clothes, pierces your skin and gets deep into your very bones, there’s only one solution: hot drinks! Every country in the world that experiences winter has invented something to warm their frigid souls, and so it can be very worth it to look beyond hot chocolate this year. It’s hard to choose from all the offerings, so we tried some of the most popular hot drinks from around the world — some with alcohol, some not — to evaluate how effective they are at warming you up.
Popular Hot Drinks From Around The World
Brief History: Atole has been around for a very long time, going back to pre-Hispanic Mexico. Serving atole has historically played an important role in hospitality, which was and is a highly valued part of Mexican identity. The Aztecs went so far as to say a woman was only “marriageable” when she was able to make atole. The recipe has changed slightly, but the drink is still made today. It is most closely associated with Día de los Muertos, but people drink it year-round with breakfast or dinner.
Recipe: Atole can be made with lots of fun flavors, but the traditional recipe includes corn flour (masa harina), water, milk, cinnamon and vanilla. It can also be sweetened with brown sugar, but is more authentic with piloncillo, which is unrefined, pure sugar cane. You can find the full recipe we used here.
What We Thought: Babbel designer Ally said, “The combination of cinnamon, vanilla and brown sugar gave the atole a subtle, fragrant sweetness, while the corn flour base made for a very rich, mealy texture. The drink was sweet, comforting and thick enough to feel like a full meal. We used 2 percent milk and light brown sugar, though I’m sure whole milk and piloncillo would make it even richer. The atole thickens as it cools down, so I preferred it piping hot.”
Brief History: Matcha has become very popular in the United States in recent years, so it’s not quite as hard to find as it used to be. Matcha, which literally translates to “powdered tea,” was introduced when Zen Monk Eisai brought green tea seeds from China to Japan for the first time in 1191. Eisai also introduced the Zen philosophy to the country, so the drink acquired a close connection to spirituality, most clearly seen in the traditional tea ceremonies that are still practiced today. Its popularity outside of Zen circles is more closely related to its reported health benefits, because matcha is the only tea that is unprocessed, so it has more nutrients than other teas.
Recipe: Because of its burst in popularity, matcha has found its way into literally everything imaginable. The matcha green tea latte is the most straightforward, with just milk, sugar and matcha powder. The recipe we used can be found here.
What We Thought: Social producer Taylor said, “Matcha tea tastes like a freshly mowed lawn…but in a good way. The green tea really adds to the warm feeling you get when drinking it. It also has only about half the caffeine of a regular cup of coffee, so it’s good if you’re trying to get some energy but don’t want to commit to being awake for hours.”
Scottish Hot Toddy
Brief History: The hot toddy has a convoluted past. The name comes from the British anglicizing the Hindi word tārī, which referred to a cold, fermented sap drink that was made in India. The British, never leaving a drink undrunk, drank a lot of them. As the toddy grew in popularity, it made it across the Atlantic to the southern United States, where plantation owners made their own version with spices, sugar and rum. The “hot” part of this beverage comes from Scotland, though, where a hot drink comprising whiskey, hot water, honey and spices was used as a cold cure. When more people found out about the remedy, people developed a tendency to get colds a lot more. The American toddies and this Scottish drink merged at some point in the 1700s, leading to the hot toddy we’re all familiar with today.
Recipe: The hot toddy recipe can vary a decent amount, especially depending on one’s preferred liquor. To recreate the Scottish drink, you need honey, hot water, lemon, cinnamon and whiskey. We used this recipe to make the boozy drink.
What We Thought: Steph said, “I’m no toddy trainee. I’ve had one before, so I mostly knew what to expect. Upon refreshing my recall, I was reminded that a hot toddy is basically a hot cup of tea, but with a boozy backbone. It’s easy to imagine how this bright (but strong) drink came about. Someone needed some healing, so they combined the two most comforting things they could think of: honey tea and whiskey.”
Indian Masala Chai
Brief History: The origins of masala chai date back thousands of years, so trying to find its exact origin can be difficult. The generally accepted story is that either 9,000 or 5,000 years ago in either Thailand or India, the king created masala chai as a cleansing beverage. At the time, there was no consistent recipe, and it was just an arbitrary mix of spices. When the British arrived in 1835, they brought their cherished black tea and mixed it into the drink. As Britain’s East India Company pushed tea in the subcontinent during the early 1900s, masala chai became more popular. Masala chai continued to be made primarily with spices, but when black tea became affordable thanks to technology in the ‘60s, it became a central ingredient. One piece of advice: be sure to avoid calling it “chai tea,” because that just means “tea tea.”
Recipe: Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya wrote in The AV Club that finding authentic masala chai can be very difficult outside of India. She says she is perfectly willing to drink what Starbucks calls a “Chai Latte,” but considers it entirely distinct from what her grandmother would make. The more traditional masala chai has cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, black tea and other spices. The recipe we used for this hot drink from around the world can be found here.
What We Thought: Dylan said, “It was very different from an Americanized chai latte you might get at Starbucks. For starters, it’s not a latte. It tastes much less creamy and sweet and more like what it is: a plain black tea with a variety of spices in it. In the cup I had, the anise seed taste was particularly strong (tastes like licorice). It’s warm and soothing, and the spices are fitting for the holidays.”
Brief History: British Grog is apparently named after British admiral Edward Vernon, who was called Old Grog because he wore a grogram fabric cloak. You get the feeling that the people who named him this were not exactly keen on him. In any case, Vernon gave his sailors rum as a way to prevent scurvy, even though rum does not in any way prevent scurvy. Rum does make sailors complain less, though. On August 21, 1740, Vernon issued Captain’s Order No. 349, which declared that all rum would be watered down to preserve it. Not being too cruel, he allowed the sailors to buy sugar and limes to add more flavor to the drink. Apparently, they actually liked this, so people continue to drink Grog today.
Recipe: Some hot drinks from around the world evolve over time, whereas others stay pretty static. Grog has gone through some refinements since 1740, but it’s still pretty much just rum, lime and sugar.
What We Thought: Jen said, “This was my first time trying grog, and I’m a total convert. The caramel notes of the dark rum combined with the brown sugar is wintery, but the citrus prevents it from being cloying. It would be especially delicious with a twist of burnt orange peel, but as it is, it served as a great accompaniment to putting the holiday lights up outside this weekend.”
Tibetan Po Cha
Brief History: Living in the United States, it seems very strange that you would put butter in tea. We already have butter in everything else, after all. In Tibet, however, where the weather is frigid cold and people live at high altitudes, having a highly caloric drink is very useful. That’s why they drink Po Cha, which directly translates to Yak Butter Tea. There’s no origin story, but this drink is an important part of Tibetan culture. Beyond its personal benefits, butter tea is a major symbol of hospitality. It is usually drunk one sip at a time, and the host will refill the cup after each one so it will never empty.
Recipe: In Tibet, the drink is made with milk and butter from dri, better known to us as yaks. There is also a special kind of black tea used in the country, which is not readily available anywhere else. Unlike most of the hot drinks around the world on this list, this one can be a bit difficult to make without a visit to a specialty grocery store. While we want to be sticklers for authenticity, we decided to use a recipe that stuck with cows for the dairy products.
What We Thought: Thomas, the person writing this right now, said: “I would not recommend this unless you’re planning to go yak herding later in the day. The main problem with the recipe was that it was very difficult to keep the tea from separating from the butter, which means I got a few mouthfuls of liquid butter. I’m certain that on a freezing day, and with the real ingredients, this could be a pleasant drink. For me, it just loaded me up with fat.”
This article was originally published on November 29, 2017. It has been updated.