Enough is enough.
As an avid coffee drinker, I'm helplessly drawn to scientific studies purporting to reveal the effects of my daily habit.
So of course, as I scrolled through my news feed from The New York Times, the following statement caught my attention:
In a rare reversal, a panel of experts convened by The World Health Organization concluded that regularly drinking coffee could help protect against some types of cancer.
Okay. So I guess this is good news. But my first thought is one that I tend to have often:
When it comes to scientific research, the conclusions change all the time.
In 1991, researchers described coffee as "possibly carcinogenic" and even linked it to bladder cancer. Now, health authorities endorse it as part of a healthy diet, believing a regular cup of joe helps lower rates of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, neurological disorders, and several types of cancer.
But wait. There's more.
The scientists did identify one surprising risk for coffee and tea drinkers. They said that drinking "very hot" beverages was "probably carcinogenic," because the practice was linked to esophageal cancer in some studies.
The report's concerns about "very hot" beverages included mention of mate, a type of tea traditionally consumed in South America, the Middle East and some parts of Europe, often at high temperatures. The agency said that regular consumption of beverages hotter than 149 degrees Fahrenheit was "probably carcinogenic" based on a small number of studies showing a link between the practice and esophageal cancer.
One reason is that, over time, scalding hot beverages may injure cells that line the throat, setting the stage for rare cancers. But [Dr. Dana Loomis, the first author of the report] cautioned that the increased risk was seen in people who regularly drink their tea or mate at very high temperatures, typically at 158 degrees Fahrenheit or greater.
In other words, drinking extremely hot coffee is asking for trouble.
I especially appreciate the exceptionally precise words the experts have chosen to use, such as "possibly" and "probably".
But my real question is, did we really need a series of scientific studies to tell us not to drink coffee that's extremely hot? I think my four-year-old could have reached that conclusion in a much shorter time. (Although he can't fathom why anyone would drink the stuff in the first place--no matter what temperature it is.)
In addition to the obvious risks, coffee connoisseurs have long extolled the benefits of allowing your coffee to cool down before drinking it. For example, Liz Clayton has traveled the world to satisfy her coffee obsession, interviewed numerous coffee pros, and even published a book of photographs of the best coffee in the world. Here's what she had to say in a piece she wrote for Serious Eats:
"Though coffee's best brewed at just under boiling temperatures, in about a temperature range from 195 to 205°F, drinking [it] that hot is another story completely. Beyond the obvious risk factors of burning your tongue or the inside of your mouth, you're simply not getting as much flavor out of your coffee if you reach for the cup too quickly.
Coffee pros have long since argued in favor of allowing coffee to cool off to allow a great many more flavors to open up--and on professional cupping tables, coffee is indeed allowed to cool for a very long time, with flavors being compared and contrasted at increasingly cooler temperatures."
So, let's sum it up. Is drinking a moderate amount of coffee okay? Possibly. Or probably. (Take your pick.)
How about drinking coffee that's hot enough to produce a burning sensation? Probably not.
My surely unscientific opinion is one that I like to believe is rooted in common sense. The key to this discussion is the key to life:
In a single word, balance.
Now, if you'll excuse me. All this talk has me ready for a cup.