CIGARETTES, alcohol, salt and even bacon are all things we are frequently told to avoid for the sake of our health.
Now it seems that even the much-loved cup of tea is at risk of being added to this roll of shame – at least if you drink it too hot.
Research that is likely to leave tea lovers spluttering into their cups has found that a steaming hot cuppa could increase your risk of cancer of the oesophagus – the pipe carrying food from the throat to the stomach.
Drinking hot tea – between 65C and 69C – was associated with twice the risk of oesophageal cancer compared to drinking warm tea – less than 65C. But drinking very hot tea – above 70C – was linked to an eight-fold higher risk.
Compared with drinking tea four or more minutes after being poured, drinking tea less than two minutes later was linked to a five-fold higher risk of cancer, according to the research published in the British Medical Journal.
Bill Gorman, chairman of the UK Tea Council, said British tea drinkers tended to take their drink on the cooler side.
"The way we brew our tea in the UK is we boil the water, put it on to the tea bag in a mug or a pot and let it brew – for a minute or for five minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea.
"Then by the time it is poured and we add milk to it, which 96 per cent of us do, the tea has come down to a very acceptable temperature."
Mr Gorman said tea was rich in antioxidants, which helped the heart, and he urged people to continue enjoying their tea as usual.
"This isn't about tea or coffee, it is about scalding liquid that happens to have tea or coffee in it. You would be daft to drink scalding liquid," he said.
Comedian Simon Munnery agreed that the research would not be enough to deter tea-drinkers from their habit.
"These doctors have just gone too far now," he said. "It's just health and safety gone mad, that's what it is."
Munnery said common sense would hopefully prevail in this tea drinking debacle.
"This seems to be a temperature thing, but we know that anyway don't we? Don't put too hot things into your mouth. Apart from something that's very hot giving you cancer, it will burn your throat.
"But, apparently, we do need to be told about this. Whenever I buy a coffee at the shop I go to, they say, 'Be careful, it's hot'!"
The study was carried out in the Golestan province of northern Iran – a country where large amounts of hot, black tea are drunk every day.
The researchers said: "Our results showed a noticeable increase in risk of oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma associated with drinking tea hot."
Writing in the BMJ, David Whiteman, from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Australia, said people should not be scared by the findings, but instead wait before drinking a cup of freshly boiled tea to let it cool down.
"These findings are not cause for alarm... and they should not reduce public enthusiasm for the time-honoured ritual of drinking tea," he said.