How Young is Too Young to Start Drinking Coffee?

August 18, 2016

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.)

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?"

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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.

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.

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

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Lucien
  • Mary-Elizabeth Travale MacDonald
    Mary-Elizabeth Travale MacDonald
  • 702551
  • Kathy Marlow
    Kathy Marlow
  • Lindsay-Jean Hard
    Lindsay-Jean Hard
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


Lucien August 19, 2016
Growing up in New Orleans, I had café au lait with breakfast every morning from the age of 9—this, in addition to juice, grits, a couple of eggs, bacon or sausage, and biscuits. (To my brother and me, Frosted Flakes seemed like gourmet fare, because we were only allowed cold cereal on Saturday mornings while watching cartoons!)
Mary-Elizabeth T. August 18, 2016
We're not a coffee-drinking household, but my parents house is. My son liked the scent of it brewing (as do i) and when he asked to try it, I suggested he try at Grandma and Nonno's. My mom gave him a small cup and let him try it black, then with cream, as my parents take it, and then with cream and sugar. Then, they started a new cup with just sugar. That was when he was maybe 10 or so (6 years ago). He likes it with cream and sugar, but even now, he rarely drinks it.
702551 August 18, 2016
This article ignores a global worldview and the fact that the "right" age is heavily tied to norms in individual cultures and of course, families.

Coffee consumption by youths varies all over the world, but is quite commonplace in coffee producing countries and many coffee consuming countries with a particularly long or deep tradition with the beverage (Latin America, and Europe).

Coffee is not alone in this regard, we see alcohol consumption regarded differently in other countries versus the USA. In Germany, the legal drinking age is 16, but the driving age is 18. In both France and Italy, wine consumption at home by minors is again rather commonplace.

Different cultures have varying attitudes and tolerances. What you do in your own household is pretty much your business, of course.

That said, based on global behavior, I'd say there is ample evidence to show that youth coffee consumption is not a big deal, certainly not a health concern. There might be religious implications and definitely some interaction with local social mores, but those are case-specific instances.

I wish Food52 would acknowledge these differences in how different cultures view food and beverage. This site is so American-centric and the lack of this global perspective can be considered by some as naivete, arrogance and/or shortsightedness.
Lindsay-Jean H. August 18, 2016
Hi cv, you should have an email in your inbox from me!
ghainskom August 19, 2016
Thank you, I couldn't agree more! I'm in awe when reading that a kid aged 10 would be allowed to drink coffee, as I grew up on the black continent, where coffee is only for adults. Now I was abled to tame the awe, since I've lived in North America and now Europa, but I only felt understood when I read your comment so thanks.
Ros August 19, 2016
Even in North America, Quebec seems to be particularly French hold-out in terms of caffeine and alcohol. I started getting splashes of coffee in milk when I must've been 8 or 9, and small glasses of wine on Saturday night dinners around 10 or so. No sodas, though.

My toddler LOVES tea (aka: 1tbs or so of tea in 4x that much milk), and is allowed sips of our coffee. No sodas in our house, because neither my husband or I ever acquired a taste for them (ugh, so sweet. Blech).

That said, caffeinated sodas don't seem to be off-limits for a lot of families who would be scandalized at the idea of giving a 4-year-old a cup of coffee but see nothing wrong with giving that same child a can of coke. Same caffeine, different cultural message.
Kathy M. August 18, 2016
My grandma started giving me coffee when I was a toddler, say 2-4 years old. It was mostly milk/sugar, which is my preferred method of taking it today. :) I've never stopped my kids from having it, but they had no interest until they were in their 20s.