If you are drinking your tea at a very high temperature it’s best you stop, especially if you smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol daily- or drink heavily when you do drink. (Although it’s also a good idea to stop smoking and drinking heavily.)

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According to a new study, among those who smoke or drink heavily, drinking beverages when they are too hot could increase your risk of esophageal cancer (perhaps because very hot drinks make the esophagus more vulnerable to known cancer-causing agents). The study was published on Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine and reported that “drinking ‘hot’ or ‘burning hot’ tea was associated with a two- to fivefold increase in esophageal cancer, but only in people who also smoked or drank alcohol.” 1
Esophageal cancer, the eighth most common cancer in the world, is often fatal and kills about 400,000 people every year. It has historically been attributed to repeated injury to the esophagus because of smoke, alcohol, or acid reflux (like GERD).

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“The study, the largest of its kind, followed close to 500,000 adults in China over an average of 9½ years.
Participants who drank tea on a weekly basis were asked to describe its temperature as “warm,” “hot” “or “burning hot.” Drinking “hot” or “burning hot” tea was not, by itself, a predictor of esophageal cancer, which is good news for tea aficionados.
However, for people who smoked tobacco or drank alcohol — both of which are known to cause esophageal cancer — drinking “hot” or “burning hot” tea made their risk of cancer even higher, according to Jun Lv, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Peking University and a lead author on the study.”2
For the study, researchers collected information about tobacco and alcohol consumption and defined “excessive alcohol consumption” as 15 grams or more of alcohol per day. Tobacco use was defined as one or more cigarettes per day.3
It is important to note that the tea participants were drinking wasn’t measured with a thermometer, so an exact temperature wasn’t measured. But, previous research has already suggested that drinking beverages at temperatures above 149 degrees Fahrenheit could lead to esophageal cancer. In fact, in 2016 The Lancet Oncology classified drinking beverages that hot as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” 
Here in the U.S. and in England, tea is rarely consumed above 149 degrees and even then something like milk, a sweetener or lemon is added, which slightly decreases the temp. However, in places like Russia, Iran, Turkey and South America, it is common to drink tea that hot or even hotter.
And lastly, let’s not forget how healthy tea is for you. So, the takeaway is not to stop drinking tea, but rather not to drink it too hot and most certainly not to smoke or drink too heavily.

Sources and References

  1. CNN, February 5, 2018.
  2. CNN, February 5, 2018.
  3. CNN, February 5, 2018.