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Cool It, Folks!

Iran tends to rank consistently among the world's biggest tea drinkers on a per capita basis, traditionally around 1.2 kilograms per person per year of the stuff.

Moreover, a quick visit to any chaikhane will confirm that -- to varying degrees, of course -- Iranians also like to drink their tea piping hot.

Put the two together, BBC says, and voila:

Drinking steaming hot tea has been linked with an increased risk of oesophageal (food tube) cancer, Iranian scientists have found.

The research appears to have been spawned by the prevalence of esophageal cancer among men and women in northern Iran. The "Los Angeles Times" summed it up like this:

Residents of Golestan province in northern Iran have one of the highest rates of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma in the world. They don't drink alcohol or smoke -- the two primary risk factors for the disease in the West -- but they do consume tea. Lots of it. Nearly 1.2 liters per day, on average. So local researchers set out looking for a connection.

Grim news for consumers of scalding beverages everywhere.

But there's a lesson here in the prudence of custom, as it were. Because whether you're at that same chaikhane or visiting an Iranian home, you're also likely to see people pouring tea onto their saucers (and popping a lump of sugar into their mouths) before drinking it. Cooling it and, presumably, helping avert a possible health risk.

There is, of course, more than one way to cool a drink: some cultures dictate holding the teapot up high to froth the tea as it hits the cup or pouring the tea back and forth to similar effect; others prescribe ritualistic stalling techniques.

Then there's milk. And the sentence in BBC's article that prompted the most discussion in our newsroom:

Adding milk, as most tea drinkers in Western countries do, cools the drink enough to eliminate the risk.

Really? I'd like to see the statistics on that one. Seems a tad Anglophile, since our own little straw poll (sample size: four) suggested precisely the opposite, outside of the United Kingdom and Australia (unless by "Western" they mean India or Pakistan).

-- Andy Heil and Golnaz Esfandiari

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