How Young is Too Young to Start Drinking Coffee?

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As parents, we often joke that kids should come with instruction manuals when they're born (admit it—it would be nice sometimes). Yes, you learn as you go, and sometimes there are general recommendations to go by, but sometimes there aren't. Like in the case of caffeine consumption.

Although the Mayo Clinic says that caffeine isn’t a good idea for kids and that adolescents should stick to 100 milligrams of caffeine of day, max (that’s about 1 cup of coffee), the U.S. doesn’t currently have guidelines for children’s caffeine consumption. (Canada, on the other hand, does have guidelines, starting with 45 milligrams for 4 to 6-year-olds​ and shifting to weight-based limits once kids are 13 years and older.)

Worth It or Not Worth It: Freshly Ground Coffee Beans
Worth It or Not Worth It: Freshly Ground Coffee Beans

In the absence of clear standards, we often turn to our community for advice, which is what Food52 co-founder Amanda Hesser recently did on the Hotline. She asked: "What's considered an acceptable age for teens to drink caffeinated coffee?"

Not surprisingly, a rousing discussion followed, ranging from recommendations to hold off as long as possible to multiple cries for the value of all things in moderation.

A Simple Way to Save $1000? Make Coffee at Home
A Simple Way to Save $1000? Make Coffee at Home

So when is the right age for start drinking coffee?


While answers varied, there did seem to be a trend among some Food52ers—quite a few of you started drinking coffee around age 10:


I was allowed to have a small amount of coffee in my milk from when I was about 10 years old (something like 1/5 coffee to 4/5 milk), and guess what, the ratio is still about the same today.


Cafe au lait (very heavy on the warm milk) at about 10 for our daughter on the weekends occasionally. We are a heavy tea-drinking family so it wasn't a big deal, and now at 19 she drinks coffee not on a daily basis, and still loves her tea.


My brother started drinking coffee about age 10 because he liked it. I wouldn't say he had it every day, but many days. He never got addicted to it, and quite honestly, none of us gave it much thought.


I think I had a cup with lots of milk every A.M. by age of 10 and my sister was a diehard coffee fan long before her age was double digit.


Growing up, my mom took my brother and me to frozen yogurt every Friday afternoon—special treat for the weekend and whatnot. We'd get our frozen yogurt, she'd get a cappuccino. This was the routine most Fridays for probably 3 years. Then one day, when I was about 9, we walked into the frozen yogurt shop, and my mom looked at the daily flavors, looked at me, and said, "Today I'm giving you a real treat." Then she ordered one froyo for my brother, and two cappuccinos, one for each of us. Best practice? Who knows. But boy, was that cap good.


I began drinking coffee at around the age of ten or eleven. Just black, no sugar or cream and my parents saw no harm in it.

Zabaglione al Caffé
Zabaglione al Caffé

Although, there's at least one very precocious coffee imbiber among us:


Coffee and I go wayyyy back. I started drinking "caffelatte"—that's what we called milk with a splash of coffee—around 4 years old. One of my fondest memories of grammar school was opening my lunch box to find caffelatte in my Charlie Brown thermos, with a side of biscotti to dunk.

Tell us what you think: What’s an acceptable age for kids to start drinking coffee? Continue the conversation on the Hotline post or tell us in the comments below!

First photo by Alpha Smoot, second by James Ransom, and third by Bobbi Lin

Tags: your burning questions, hotline, kids, caffeine, coffee