Should we allow children to have coffee

Coffee bar in kindergarten: when can you actually drink coffee?

I can already feel how the faces of helicopter and lawnmower parents are distorted just by my headline: Coffee for children? Arne, are you still okay? Malte-Jeremias is not even allowed to play in the sand (danger of fine dust!) And you want to serve him coffee ?!

With this article, however, I want to shed light on a topic that has kept me and old barista colleagues busy: Is there a (statutory) age limit for coffee? Do you have to ask the kids who come to the coffee counter after school and order a triple caramel something to show you their ID? And if so, with which drink?

You may laugh at Kikifax like this or have always wondered why I wrote this article over ten years ago. But just the serious comments and my conversations with countless colleagues have prompted me to give him an update and to disagree about how coffee and growing up are related.

Certainly, everything is not meant as deadly serious as it always seems in view of popular debates with parents. And no, I don't want to make fun of parents. Not even about children. Yes, with helicopters and lawn mowers.

Because when it comes to getting started with coffee, I advocate the third variant, which I simply call bird parents: At a certain point, it's time to kick the kids out of the nest and force them to fly. You can read what I mean by that here.

Do children even want to drink coffee?

I can no longer tell you exactly when I had my first coffee - seriously, with drinking it and on purpose. I just know that I was definitely older.

Back then, however, there weren't any sexy coffee bars that could have seduced me in the past. And coffee wasn't as naughty as cigarettes and alcohol that people wanted to drink it secretly behind the hedge.

The coffee bar phenomenon is one reason why we illuminate the subject so intensively in the first place. Because coffee itself is totally unfriendly to children: it tastes bitter, it looks sad and it is also quite hot.

A fluffy mountain of milk foam, perhaps garnished with caramel lines, marshmallows, cream and other colorful things suddenly turns the boring drink into something that you absolutely want to taste.

And at the same time, every child inevitably poses a question for every child at the afternoon date in the coffee shop: "Why are they allowed to drink these great, colorful sweets in their cups and I am not?"

The argument “This is not for you” does not make sense even to the most gifted child in view of the sweet piles of sugar.

In addition, the coffee shops are extremely smart and attract their next generation of buyers very early on. On many cards you will find “Babyccinos” or similar things, which are often even free of charge.

Usually it is foamed milk with a little cocoa powder - the kids are happy and have a cup in front of them that is similar to that of mum and dad, the parents save themselves screaming and discussions.

Seen in this way, children don't want to drink coffee, they want to be like mom or dad. They want the “sweets” that accompany modern coffee and they want to feel really grown up.

Bitter as a taste is repulsive for children because they are still at the very beginning of their taste socialization and perceive bitter substances of all kinds on an evolutionary level: The bitterness basically indicates poisonous, immature or otherwise problematic foods.

Nature has given us this gustatory perception so that while snacking on the prehistoric bush we don't immediately exterminate our entire species. In addition, children with around 10,000 taste buds have around five times as many receptors as adults and perceive intense nuances - of which there are plenty in coffee - all the more violently.

However, these receptors are still underdeveloped (see evolution) and first have to learn to distinguish “good” bitters from “bad” bitters. But children are born with “sweet” in all its facets. You will find these findings nicely prepared in a presentation by the sensory laboratory at ttz Bremerhaven.

This leads to a clear conclusion: If you ask yourself why your kids suddenly call for coffee when they are apparently far too young, you should take a look at your own coffee culture in the presence of your offspring. Those who only drink black coffee from the hand filter educate their children less (or later) to drink coffee.

The mistake in the caffeine bill

An essential point of argument for parents who forbid their children to drink coffee is understandably the caffeine. I deal intensively with this component of coffee in the article "Is coffee healthy?"

As a psychoactive substance with a stimulating effect on the autonomic nervous system and undoubtedly toxicological properties, caffeine has no place in children's nutrition. However, we are subject to a mistake in thinking:

Caffeine and coffee are synonymous for us, but the substance can also be found in many other foods that we give our children without hesitation.

Like coffee beans, cocoa beans naturally contain caffeine. Depending on the type, coffee contains around 839 milligrams per 100 grams, while cocoa beans still contain 230 milligrams.

This means that a bar of (bitter) chocolate weighing 100 grams has a caffeine content of around 34 milligrams. A great many sweets also contain caffeine in one way or another. The stimulating effect of the alkaloid must always be added to the stimulating effect of the sugar. And after a sweet treat, our kids are more excited than we actually intended.

In addition, sugar and fat are really not conducive to child development and, in my opinion, even more problematic than caffeine. Even the popular iced tea is a real caffeine monster when it is based on black or green tea.

But how much caffeine can children consume? For adults, for example, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment has one Daily dose of 400 milligrams for harmless. That is the equivalent of around 800 milliliters of filter coffee (90 milligrams to 200 milliliters).

For children, the formula 3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight applies. For example, that adds up to half a cup of coffee or 0.5 liters of cola for a toddler weighing 17 kilograms. On the other hand, children are very good metabolizers. You feel the effects of caffeine much faster and more intensely than adults.

The fact alone that the Federal Institute has no problem with counting in coffee cups even with four-year-olds shows how ubiquitous caffeine is in our diet. Accordingly, it is also a bit hollow when we forbid the kids to have coffee, but stuff chocolate en masse into their faces and rinse them off with delicious iced tea.

Minimum age for enjoying coffee?

Many parenting guides give 14 years as the optimal minimum age for (limited) coffee enjoyment. I think this is more of a socially constructed limit than a biological one. According to the law, from 14 you can have sex, have the pill prescribed, choose your own religion, stay away until 10 p.m., become an organ donor and, and, and ...

14 is a “magical age” from which children exercise more self-determination. This can and should of course also be extended to coffee enjoyment. Whether that is then "healthy" or not has nothing to do with legal maturity or biology.

In addition, puberty and thus the training to become a physically adult takes place earlier and earlier. So it's no wonder that 11-year-olds already enjoy coffee. But I am sure that here, too, it is more about coffee as a “status symbol”.

Nevertheless, the 14th limit is a good rule of thumb for when parents should get involved in discussions on the topic and allow their children to discover the world.

Coffee bars, however, treat the topic differently. One commentator reported that he didn't get any coffee at Mäcces because he was only 14. The same is said to have happened at Tchibo, where the minimum age was 18 years.

Since there are no laws for this as there are for alcohol or tobacco, every dealer can proceed at his own discretion. And I think that's perfectly fine too.

If a coffee bar refuses to sell certain drinks to children who they consider underage, it is not out of malice. But out of a sense of responsibility. What should be wrong with that?

If a coffee bar also supplies young people with coffee, I don't find that problematic either - or rather, I think it's their business. I would just think about the quantities and drinks that go over the counter.

Which coffee to start with?

If we assume that the introduction to drinking coffee will happen at some point anyway, we can also immediately think about which coffee is most suitable.

In order not to pose huge challenges for the young body, I would recommend coffee with little bitter substances and the lowest possible acidity. This means that - surprise, surprise - all coffees from turbo industrial roasting are eliminated.

Because this roasting process beats the bitter substances. However, there is also no typical third wave coffee - light roasts and the like are simply too acidic. The situation is similar, of course, with particularly dark Italian espresso roasts or even Robusta blends.

The golden mean between medium roast and full city roasting is a good entry point - and perfectly also the area in which is currently the most happening with good coffee beans.

However, I don't think that the first cup of coffee will be enjoyed straight. After all, nobody discovers his love for cocktails with a tough Negroni, but instead starts with Pina Colada.

The coffee equivalent for me is the milk coffee, if only because the coffee disappears here with an average of three times the amount of milk. It can hardly be “milder”.

In addition, Brazilians reportedly found in a study that white coffee protects children from depression. But as I wrote in "Is coffee healthy" and in "Chlorogenic acid in coffee":

Studies are just spotlights, not evidence. And when it comes to coffee, we should finally stop doing an egg dance about the health issue.

As with all other parenting questions, it is your responsibility as parents to take a close look at your child and, based on the facts before you, to decide whether to prohibit coffee until day X or turn a blind eye when it is secretly sucking on the cappuccino.

The best way to discuss the topic is in the comments. See you soon!