(Not So) Hot Off The Press!

By Bill M. Murray, CAE, NCA, CEO


The latest coffee and health news continues to be overwhelmingly positive for coffee drinkers.

On June 15, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that it can no longer classify coffee as a “possible carcinogen.” In fact, coffee may have protective powers against liver and endometrial cancer (see the full NCA news release).

This announcement marked the first time IARC reversed a food or beverage classification, adding to the growing body of good news about coffee, on topics such as:

We’ve compiled some of this research on Coffee and Me, where you can find links to relevant independent studies and reports.

What Are Very Hot Beverages?

When the WHO released its coffee finding, it also classified “very hot” beverages as a “probable” cause of cancer. Coffee drinkers should understand that the evidence on which this classification was based did not include even a single study of coffee drinkers.

  1. The research on “very hot” beverages, which led to this warning, is based upon studies of people consuming tea or maté at near-boiling temperatures – not studies of coffee.
  2. It’s typical for some consumers to drink maté at around 158oF, while coffee drinkers, on average, like their brew at around 140oF.
  3. From a practical point of view, “very hot” is defined by IARC as “scalding,” or literally causing “thermal burns.” In other words, repeatedly drinking any beverage at a temperature that burns you is a probable cancer hazard. In fact, IARC’s finding (as noted in its Q&A) rests on the thermal injury involved, not the composition of the maté, tea or other beverage.
  4. The warning about very hot beverages relates to the potential for esophageal cancer. In fact, there are a half dozen studies in which authors reported that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of esophageal cancer than non-coffee drinkers.

So to sum up, the warning about “very hot” wasn’t based upon studies of coffee drinkers, and doesn’t reflect the temperature at which most coffee drinkers enjoy their coffee. It even refers to a type of cancer which coffee may, according to some studies, protect against.

Coffee is, of course, brewed and served at a high temperature (with the clear exception of cold brew). Fortunately, coffee starts cooling immediately once served, even without adding creamer.

And that’s the key: Let your lips be your guide, and drink your coffee at a temperature that’s comfortable for you.


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