Start them young
May 9, 2014 7:32 AM   Subscribe

My nearly 10 year old son is very interested in how coffee is made - he compares the difference between our presso and the french press; he loves watching the whole espresso machine at the coffee shop thing. He is also a kid that likes to 'go out for coffee' with me, but with a chocolate drink for him. How early can a kid safely start drinking coffee?

I doubt he would be up for double espressos right now, but would probably be able to handle a latte every now and then. Can you point me in the direction of studies about coffee consumption and children? I know I started having the odd brown caffeinated hot beverage* around age 12, but he would be having something with approximately one shot of coffee in it.

*sorry, but we don't call 'instant coffee' coffee in our household
posted by Megami to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A shot of espresso has about as much caffeine as a can of Coke, so you can make a comparison with his soda intake.
posted by hwyengr at 7:42 AM on May 9, 2014

If your worry is about caffeine, then you could search the American Academy of Pediatrics.
posted by Houstonian at 7:43 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

A decaf mocha has got to be as benign as his hot chocolate.
posted by glibhamdreck at 7:44 AM on May 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I started at seven. Sanka, half and half and a half packet of Sweet n Low. (Thanks Grandma!) Cuban Moms I know put cafe con leche in baby bottles for their toddlers. (rocket fuel--crazy)

Here's an article that sites a study.

There is caffeine in soft drinks too, so if a coffee drink, then swap out some other caffienated beverage.

I'd start out with 50% milk/50% coffee.

Basically I've had one cup a day since I was a kid and I'm okay. *tweek*
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:44 AM on May 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Apparently, the idea that coffee is bad for kids at all was the result of an early 20th-century marketing campaign.

That said, the reason to take it slow is that different people, regardless of age, are affected by caffeine differently and have different tolerances.
posted by vacapinta at 7:45 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Caffeine use in children: what we know, what we have left to learn, and why we should worry, a 2009 review from the journal of Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews.

  • "the safety of caffeine use among children is understudied and poorly understood"
  • "very few studies have examined the physiological and psychological effects of caffeine use in this population. Although data from adult populations suggest that caffeine is relatively safe, children should not be thought of merely as small adults."
  • " childhood and adolescence is a period of rapid growth and the final stage of brain development. In order to maximize growth and development, proper sleep and nutrition are essential. Caffeine use disrupts sleep patterns"
  • "there is evidence from animal studies that caffeine can prime the brain to increase responding to subsequent drug exposure, thereby potentiating the reinforcing effects of drugs (Schenk et al., 1994). Children and adolescents may be particularly vulnerable to these effects, as their brains are still undergoing significant development; in particular areas of the brain involved in executive function, impulsivity control, and planning"
  • posted by The White Hat at 7:46 AM on May 9, 2014 [12 favorites]

    Not scientific, but: my mom would sometimes let get frapuccino-type flavored coffee drinks sometimes at around age 9 or 10. But it was an occasional treat, not something I drank daily or even regularly. In high school, I began drinking actual coffee, but while socializing - I didn't have it every day. My daily coffee habit began in college.
    posted by breakin' the law at 7:46 AM on May 9, 2014

    Here's an article (or part of one) that outlines some concerns: Caffeine Use in Children: What we know, what we have left to learn, and why we should worry (section 9)

    It seems like there's not a whole bunch of totally clear science saying that the simple consumption of caffeine is awful all the time. It can disrupt sleep, which is super-important to growing kids, and we don't know exactly what other things it might do, but it looks like most of the concern is about behavior/habits that caffeine consumption (in the form of coffee as well as other drinks like sodas) establishes.
    posted by needs more cowbell at 7:47 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

    decaf latte?
    posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:47 AM on May 9, 2014

    Best answer: According to Starbucks' website, a grande hot chocolate has 25mg of caffeine while a grande latte has 150 mg caffeine, or 75mg/shot of espresso (per this pdf and math)

    Some studies:
    Caffeine Consumption and Weekly Sleep Patterns in US Seventh-, Eighth-, and Ninth-Graders
    The Association of Caffeinated Beverages With Blood Pressure in Adolescents

    ...there's also decaf espresso, while not 100% caffeine-free, it probably has an amount similar to or less than the hot chocolate (I couldn't find exact figures on this count).
    posted by melissasaurus at 7:52 AM on May 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

    Here's some info on caffeine content of various beverages. I lived in France when I was a kid and French kids younger than your son drank café au lait every morning. (They also drank diluted wine at lunch and dinner, but that's another story.)

    I doubt that a cup every now and the will do any harm. Caffeine tolerance varies a lot, so start with just a bit, or get some decaf.
    posted by mareli at 7:55 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

    I drank a cup of black tea (which Google tells me has 47 mg of caffeine, compare to 64 mg in a shot of espresso) every evening from the age of 5 onward with no ill effects. I think the occasional small latte will be fine.
    posted by coppermoss at 8:02 AM on May 9, 2014

    Just a data point but I started drinking mocha (I assume you know that's essentially coffee and chocolate) at around 11 years old on a fairly regular basis. My mother was a big coffee drinker too. No harm to me from what I can tell. Did great in school, normal health, no behavior issues, etc. Probably helped me wake up for early morning band practices in high school.
    posted by WinterSolstice at 8:07 AM on May 9, 2014

    Started drinking black coffee I'd brew myself (usually in the evening!) at age 16. After a couple years I realized that stuff was nasty, and I stopped. Started drinking tea with milk around age 21, when I also rediscovered coffee, and how delicious it was with milk and sugar, been drinking it ever since.
    posted by Rash at 8:10 AM on May 9, 2014

    I had chronic severe asthma way back in the 1970's when there were no medications other than amphetamines available. My doctor prescribed coffee when I was about 7. I grew up to be pretty smart and 5'9, a full seven inches taller than my sister who never drank caffeine (there used to be the worry that drinking coffee would stunt growth).
    posted by Sophie1 at 8:14 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: Caffeine: safe enough for preemies! (I let Wee Thumbscrew have coffee occasionally. A friend who is a doctor lets HER son have coffee occasionally. It's really not a huge deal at all. I'd hesitate more over Tylenol, to be honest.)
    posted by julthumbscrew at 8:16 AM on May 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

    Response by poster: Thanks for the info so far folks!
    He doesn't regularly drink sodas.
    I guessed to odd latte/mocha is not going to do much harm, more thinking if he wants a brew every morning like I do.
    posted by Megami at 8:17 AM on May 9, 2014

    Cuban Moms I know put cafe con leche in baby bottles for their toddlers. (rocket fuel--crazy

    I was one of these babies. My kids didn't take to it, though. It would never occur to me that this is a bad idea. My kids drink caffeinated tea just about daily, just like hundreds of millions of other Japanese.

    FWIW, chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine.
    posted by Tanizaki at 8:17 AM on May 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

    I'm Italian and I don't even know when I started drinking coffee as a kid. Most children drink caffè latte (milk and coffee) for breakfast before they are ten, at least. And we're talking stove top moka coffee here. Never occurred to me that it might be an issue.

    Much like with alcohol, moderation is a good thing to teach kids.

    posted by lydhre at 8:27 AM on May 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

    I nanny for a 10 year (have since he was 8) and he is allowed the occasional Starbucks Frappacino (which has a single shot of espresso and a ton of sugar), but not after 4pm so as to not disturb his sleep. He has maybe one a month as a treat and it has no adverse effects other than the sugar rush and subsequent crash.
    posted by greta simone at 8:33 AM on May 9, 2014

    I stopped drinking coffee at age 5.
    posted by Madamina at 8:45 AM on May 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

    i was drinking coffee at age 10. i was a member of a youth chess club that routinely played evening team matches against adult teams at their sites. they would try to wear us out, figuring time was on their side. tournaments would also have evening rounds, and adult players who didn't know us would get behind on the board, and figure if they could just push us into the a.m., we would go to sleep at the board. nuh-uh.
    posted by bruce at 8:54 AM on May 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

    If you are making cafetiere coffee at home, you could make a cafe au lait with 50% boiled or scalded milk and 50% coffee. That won't be too strong or too bitter, but he will still be able to taste the coffee.

    Or he could try an affogato - espresso poured over vanilla ice-cream. Then he gets the taste of the coffee but since it's a pudding it will seem like more of a treat and there won't be any expectation of getting it every day. Plus it's really tasty!
    posted by tinkletown at 9:01 AM on May 9, 2014

    I guessed to odd latte/mocha is not going to do much harm, more thinking if he wants a brew every morning like I do.

    I guess the thing here that might be worrisome is that he could start becoming dependent on the morning caffeine jolt so young. There's a small study on caffeine withdrawal in children. Here's some more info about caffeine withdrawal, which says:

    Significant caffeine withdrawal has been shown to occur after abstinence from a dose as low as 100 mg/day, which is the caffeine equivalent of one 6 oz. cup of brewed coffee or two to three 12 oz. servings of caffeinated soft-drink. Caffeine withdrawal has also been shown to occur after stopping regular once-a-day consumption of caffeine (e.g. daily consumption of a single cup of coffee).
    posted by inertia at 9:03 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

    As another anecdotal data point, I am Mexican and I started drinking coffee when I was around 5 or 6. My grandma made it with evaporated milk and instant coffee.
    posted by cobain_angel at 9:04 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

    I was drinking strong coffee starting at age five, and it did not "stunt my growth," or have any other noticeable ill effects.

    And a single shot latte has about 75 mg of caffeine, that's about as much as a mug of black tea, I'm sure a ten year old can handle that just fine, he probably gets more if he ever drinks soda. I think a lot of people overlook that their kids are getting tons of caffeine when they let them drink lots of sugary soda, but not coffee.
    posted by catatethebird at 9:19 AM on May 9, 2014

    I grew up in a culture where very young children (like preschool/kindergarten age) are routinely given coffee, albeit with lots of milk.

    One of my brothers started drinking coffee adult-style around your son's age, maybe even a little younger. I had my first latte at 12 or 13. I didn't acquire a real taste for it till college, but I don't think there's anything harmful about a 9 or 10 year old drinking it, as long as they don't overdo it on caffeine.

    I'll also add that both of my parents work in medicine and never worried about this being bad for us.
    posted by Sara C. at 10:49 AM on May 9, 2014

    As a piece of anecdata, with some frequency my mom used to give me "coffee milk" (half coffee, half milk?) when I was little, and I must have been very young as I remember drinking it out of a sippy cup. She may have acquired the habit from her time in Austria - I'm not sure. In any case, I grew to a very normal height (I guess that was my doctor's fear), had no problems sleeping as a child or now (I think I mostly was given it in the morning), and - responding to the article above - have never tried drugs, have no problems with impulse control (and in fact, must have a high tolerance for delayed gratification, as I'm doing a PhD), and generally would consider myself to be a healthy and well-functioning 20-something-year-old member of society. Obviously anecdotes aren't data and all, but if this were my kid, I'd go right ahead.
    posted by ClaireBear at 11:19 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

    My grandfather brought my grandmother a cup of coffee in bed every morning for the 50+ years of their marriage.

    One of my fondest memories as a child is "sneaking" into bed with my Nonnie after I heard him get up in the morning, waiting to "surprise" him by being there when he returned with her cup in hand. Small children are not known for their stealth, so I can only imagine how much racket I made as I ran down the hall of their small home and clambered into bed, giggling with my grandmother.

    Of course he knew I was there, no matter how surprised he pretended to be; on those days he brought two cups of coffee--one for her, and one for me.

    Any harm it might have done me is vastly outweighed by how, more than three decades later, thinking about our little routine never fails to remind me how fiercely I was loved by my grandparents, and how fiercely I loved them in return.
    posted by jesourie at 12:44 PM on May 9, 2014 [21 favorites]

    Disclaimers: I am a coffee lover; I have moderated my intake in the past few years to limit my own caffeine consumption; I started drinking black coffee as an early teen.

    I would have two concerns: the stimulant effect of caffeine (greater for some kids than others), and also the quantity of sugar and cream that a lot of people put into their coffee.

    And here is the announcement of a fairly new paper, "Caffeine Sources for Teens More Varied Than Before" (quoted from the announcement):
    Authors of a study in the March 2014 issue of Pediatrics, “Trends in Caffeine Intake Among U.S. Children and Adolescents,” (published online Feb. 10) examined dietary data from the 1999-2010 NHANES and concluded that 73 percent of children consumed caffeine on a given day. And while caffeine intake has not increased, the American Academy of Pediatrics maintains a position that stimulant-containing energy drinks have no place in the diets of children and adolescents. This study raises concern about the role of energy drinks and coffee as increasingly significant contributors to caffeine intake among children and adolescents. The authors conclude that this study provides a baseline for caffeine intake among U.S. children and young adults as additional research is conducted to monitor trends in this area. - See more at:
    posted by wenestvedt at 12:49 PM on May 9, 2014

    I hadn't get gone to nursery school when my caregiver started giving us 'coffee-milk-and-sugar', which was a cup of warm milk with a tablespoon of coffee in it (and some sugar). From others' links, it sounds like this might not have been a great idea. I'm imperfect, but can't tell you if this has anything to do with that drink. It was delicious.
    posted by cotton dress sock at 7:09 PM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

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