No reason to freeze when there’s a hot mug of something to hold.
On a cold winter’s night, there’s no better way to warm up your bones than with a steaming hot drink. From hot tea to deadly fish-fin-enhanced rice, here are some favorite hot drinks around the world—boozy and not—and the best places to try them.
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WHERE: Yunnan Province, China
This fermented hot tea, often aged for decades, may not be to everyone’s taste, but those who are fans are fanatical. It’s made from a specific leaf of ancient trees according to a traditional recipe dating back centuries. Tea caravans transported the precious commodity to India along the fabled Tea Horse Road. The village of Pu-erh still produces it, deep in mist-shrouded mountains, along with three other Yunnan villages: Xishuangbanna, Lincang, and Baoshan. Today, one of the best places to try this exotic warming drink is Kunming’s Kangle Wholesale Market (Guannan Avenue, Guandu District), home to hundreds of teashops. The shopkeepers will gladly brew you some tea to taste without pressure to buy.
WHERE: Somerset, England
If you want healthy apple trees, amble to your apple orchard in the depths of January to sing ancient songs to them, douse their roots with spiced cider, and adorn their limbs with cider-soaked bread. That’s what they’ve done in Somerset for centuries, anyway, in an age-old ritual that continues to this day. A queen is crowned, guns are shot to ward off evil spirits, bonfires light up the night, and too much wassail—hot cider—is surely drunk. True, you don’t have to traipse into a snowy apple orchard to enjoy wassail. It’s become a holiday drink (sometimes made with wine or ale), especially popular with caroling. That said, the best place to experience it is in a Somerset orchard; Sheppy’s Cider offers a traditional experience, including plenty of noise-makers, traditional Morris dancing, and, of course, flowing hot cider.
When winter’s dark falls early in the night and a frigid chill zips the air, Christmas shopping and gløgg go hand-in-hand in Norway (and other Nordic countries). This traditional drink of hot red wine, zingy citrus, almonds, cinnamon, and cloves, spiked with spirit-soaked raisins (and sometimes aquavit or vodka), has been winter’s remedy since days long past. Some say the Vikings started it, though some form of spiced or mulled wine has been around since the ancient Egyptians (circa 3150 B.C.!). Whatever the case, it’s generally enjoyed at home with friends and family, though you can always find it at one of the season’s Christmas markets—try Spikersuppa in the heart of Oslo, open daily from late November.
WHERE: Kolkata, India
You’ll find this sweet-spiced creamy brew throughout India (and the world), but Kolkata is considered the capital of tea, so why not try it there? We’re talking premium Assam CTC infused with crushed ginger and cardamom, supplemented with a bouquet of other spices, perhaps cinnamon, fennel, black pepper, and/or bay leaf, to name a few. In Kolkata, Masala chai is served in red clay cups that you throw against the wall or on the ground when you’re done. Tea stalls sell Masala chai all around town, but for a truly special experience, check out Flurys, a historic tea house from 1927 that offers exquisite cakes and pastries alongside the famous chai.
WHERE: Vienna, Austria
First off, Vienna is famed for its chocolate. So imagine what a few rich squares taste like, melted down, mixed with cream and egg yolk, and served with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Surely, on a cold winter day, you won’t be thinking about the frigid temperature anymore. This dash of divinity can be found at coffeehouses all around town, but ask a local and they’ll probably point you to the famous Café Demel, established in 1786 near the Hofburg Palace (and offering amazing coffee and famous cakes as well).
WHERE: Krakow, Poland
Poke into any of Krakow’s café-clubs on a dark, wintry afternoon and you’ll find locals sipping Grzane Piwo. Yes, that’s “hot beer” in direct translation, which, admittedly, sounds kind of weird. But this “hot beer,” a tradition that dates back to at least the 17th century, is mixed with cinnamon, honey, lemon, cloves, and/or other flavorings to give it a truly seasonal taste. You’ll find it all over Poland in wintertime. In Krakow, try it at Café Camelot, off of the main square.
INSIDER TIPThis hot beer is really hot. Be sure to let it cool down a bit before imbibing.
WHERE: Tokyo, Japan
You may think this hot winter drink is a benign light broth but beware: Hirezake, “fin sake” in Japanese, is a potent mix of hot sake and charred fugu fin. That’s right, it’s a drink containing the deadly blowfish (or pufferfish), and if it’s not prepared properly, it can kill you; the chef must have a license to clean the fish before serving it, and you better make sure he or she has it. Invented in the postwar years to enhance cheap sake, hirezake once was considered an old man’s drink. It’s now prevalent in trendy bars, and you’ll find it all over Japan—as well as finer Japanese restaurants around the world. Sawaichi, in Tokyo’s hipster Roppongi district and a hot spot among Japanese celebrities, uses the finest ingredients.
If you plan to attend Quebec City’s Winter Carnival, be like other revelers and bring your hollow cane filled with Caribou. This potent mix of red wine, grain spirit, maple syrup or sugar and spices, served hot or cold, is the Quebecois’ secret to surviving frigid temperatures as they traipse about the outdoor festivities. The traditional drink harks back to the French-Canadian fur traders of the late 1600s, who, so they say, used Caribou as a food and vitamin supplement. Some also say the original ingredients were wine and caribou blood—but that’s up for debate. Whatever the case, this mighty drink embraces the joie de vivre of the Quebecois winter—or at least provides the ability to survive it. The best place to sample is, bien sûr, Quebec’s Winter Carnival, where you’ll find it sold at stalls everywhere.
Leave it to the Greeks to concoct an alcoholic drink with a healthy bent. But that’s what rakomelo is—a sore throat and cough remedy filled with antioxidants. It’s also said to be an aphrodisiac. Indeed, back in the fifth century B.C., the comedy writer Aristophanes advised women to give their husbands a glass of rakomelo to promote, shall we say, their performance. A zinging mix of raki (grape-flavored spirit), local honey, and Christmas spices such as cinnamon and cardamon, it’s served warm in tiny glasses in Greece’s mountainous regions, especially Crete (though in summer you can drink it ice cold). In autumn, you’ll find rakomelo being distilled in villages throughout Crete; show up and you may very well get an invite to join in the surrounding festivities. You also can find it elsewhere, including Athens—try Anafiotika Café on the Plaka. And order a dish of fresh fava to go with.
The story goes that a certain Aldo Del Bò, who worked the ski lifts at Mottolino in Livigno, invented Bombardino in 1972 by concocting a hot brew of rum mixed with VOV egg liqueur, topped with whipped cream (you also can use brandy or whiskey). You’ll find this super-fiery cocktail at most ski resorts, the perfect après-ski remedy to thawing out after a day on the slopes. Valle d’Aosta’s Hermitage Hotel & Spa serves it up at the base of the Matterhorn.