Harvard Women's Health Watch

Beverage temperature tied to cancer risk

Research we're watching

beverage temperature hot coffee
Image: GeorgeDolgikh /iStock

A working group of 23 scientists convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization has evaluated the carcinogenicity of coffee, tea, and other hot beverages and has exonerated all of them. On the other hand, the scientists determined that almost any nonalcoholic beverage, when consumed at temperatures above 150° F, may contribute to the risk of esophageal cancer. They even found limited evidence implicating hot water.

The report reversed a 1991 ruling, which designated coffee drinking as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." But after reviewing more than 1,000 studies conducted in the past 20 years, the panelists were unable to find conclusive evidence that any nonalcoholic beverage, served at lower temperatures, contributes to cancer. Habitual heavy alcohol consumption, however, is still a major cause of esophageal cancer, along with smoking. The report appeared June 15, 2016, in The Lancet Oncology.

If you've been drinking your coffee or tea steaming hot, you may want to let it cool a few minutes before taking the first sip. Blowing on the surface and stirring the beverage with a spoon can expedite the process.

You may even like the change—many people find that subtle flavors come through at lower temperatures. And if you're ordering at Starbucks—which serves its brews at 175° F or higher—you may want to ask for the "kid's temperature" (130° F), at which hot chocolate is served.