Friday, 3 April 2009


“If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.” - Japanese Proverb

“Picture you upon my knee Just tea for two And two for tea Just me for you And you for me...alone”

So the old song goes, and the wonderful beverage from China, made now a citizen of the world and after water is the most popular drink worldwide. Tea refers to the agricultural products of the leaves, leaf buds, and internodes of the Camellia sinensis plant, prepared and cured by various methods. Tea also refers to the aromatic beverage prepared from the cured leaves by combination with hot or boiling water, and is the colloquial name for the Camellia sinensis plant itself.

Unless you drink your tea iced, chances are that you enjoy it scalding hot! Iranian scientists have published a study in the British Medical Journal where they report that drinking steaming hot tea has been linked with an increased risk of oesophageal cancer. The oesophagus is the muscular tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach. The study found that drinking black tea at temperatures of 70˚C was associated with a heightened chance of developing this cancer.

Oesophageal cancers kill more than 500,000 people worldwide each year and oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) is the most common type. Tobacco and alcohol are the main factors linked to the development of oesophageal cancers in Europe, America and Australia. Until now, it has not been clear why other populations around the world have high rates of the disease although there has been a theory that regularly drinking very hot drinks damages the lining of the gullet.

Golestan Province in northern Iran has one of the highest rates of OSCC in the world, but rates of smoking and alcohol consumption are low and women are as likely to have the cancer diagnosed as men do. Tea drinking, however, is widespread. The University of Tehran researchers studied tea drinking habits among 300 people diagnosed with OSCC and compared them with a group of 570 people from the same area. Nearly all participants drank black tea regularly, on average drinking over a litre a day.

Compared with drinking warm or lukewarm tea (65C or less), drinking hot tea (65-69C) was associated with twice the risk of oesophageal cancer, and drinking very hot tea (70C or more) was associated with an eight-fold increased risk. The speed with which people drank their tea was also important. Drinking a cup of tea in under two minutes straight after it was poured was associated with a five-fold higher risk of cancer compared with drinking tea four or more minutes after being poured. There was no association between the amount of tea consumed and risk of cancer.

Because the researchers had relied on study participants to say how hot their tea was, they then went on to measure the temperature of tea drunk by nearly 50,000 residents of the same area.
This ranged from under 60C to more than 70C, and reported tea drinking temperature and actual temperature was found to be similar. Hot black tea is a tradition in the Middle East

Previous studies from the UK have reported people prefer their tea to be about 56-60C - cool enough not to be risky. In a British Medical Journal editorial, David Whiteman from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Australia said: “The mechanism through which heat promotes the development of tumours warrants further exploration and might be given renewed impetus on the basis of these findings”.

Dr Whiteman advised tea-drinkers to simply wait a few minutes for their brew to cool from “scalding” to “tolerable”. Adding milk, as most tea drinkers in Western countries do, cools the drink enough to eliminate the risk. Oliver Childs, a spokesman for Cancer Research UK, said: “Tea drinking is part of many cultures, and these results certainly don’t point to tea itself being the problem. But they do provide more evidence that a regular habit of eating and drinking very hot foods and drinks could increase your risk of developing cancer of the oesophagus”.

Linda Solegato has said that: “Iced tea may not have as much wisdom as hot tea, but in the summer better a cool and refreshed dullard than a steamy sweat-drenched sage - leave sagacity to the autumn!”; but perhaps there is much more wisdom in iced tea after all!

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