Understanding how old you have to be to drink coffee can be confusing because there is no minimum age for buying coffee in the supermarket but it is possible to be refused when you try and buy a cup of coffee in Costa if you are under 16.
Because there are no actual age restrictions laid down in law for the purchase and consumption of coffee it becomes open to interpretation to anyone that sells or buys coffee to decide how old you have to be to drink coffee.
Also as responsible parents, we are all obligated to protect our children from anything that we deem to be harmful to them.
It can be confusing because it is widely accepted that the caffeine in coffee is one of the key reasons billions of people around the world drink coffee every day and for many people multiple times every day.
There are a number of questions that need to be answered when it comes to how much coffee can be consumed at what age such as:
How do you work out how much caffeine is ok to consume as an adult and as a child?
If you drink coffee every day why is it not ok for your children to drink coffee as well?
Although there is no age laid down in law how do you decide at what age it is ok for children to drink coffee?
To answer these questions and more we need to break it down into 4 different subsections to provide some clarity.
The law on the sale of coffee
Unlike alcohol and cigarettes, there is no minimum age to buy coffee. With alcohol you need to be 18 and you also need to be 18 to buy cigarettes.
A 10-year-old can go into any supermarket and pick up and pay for a bag of highly caffeinated coffee but no-one under the age of 16 can go into a supermarket and buy an energy drink that contains the same amount of caffeine or even less than the coffee per cup.
How to decide if coffee is ok for children if you are a parent
This is why it becomes so confusing because why do you have to be over 16 to buy an energy drink such as Red Bull but there is no age requirement for coffee.
It is widely accepted that the caffeine in coffee is one of the key reasons billions of people around the world drink coffee every day and for many people multiple times every day.
Caffeine is a stimulant found naturally in coffee, is perfectly safe and helps millions of people start their day and is a welcome boost of energy throughout the day as well.
The caffeine content in a cup of coffee can vary depending on how you brew your coffee and the type of coffee you use but on average you are looking at about 80mg of caffeine in a cup of coffee.
The average energy drink also contains 80mg of caffeine in an energy drink.
So if a cup of coffee can have the same amount of caffeine as a can of Red bull and you can’t buy Red Bull unless you are 16 does that mean that it is not safe for under 16’s to drink coffee?
Here is a detailed article that compares coffee to energy drinks
The European Food Safety Authority has conducted a study that has concluded that adults can safely consume 3mg of caffeine per kilo of body weight.
They have also concluded that “the rate at which children and adolescents process caffeine is at least that of adults” therefore it may be reasonable to assume children can consume 3mg of caffeine per kg of body weight as well.
To put that into context if you weigh 11 stone (70kg) then 210mg of caffeine or 2.5 cups is fine.
Therefore if you weigh 5.5 stone or 35kg then 105mg if fine. 105mg is well below what 1 cup of coffee contains.
If you are happy with the European Food Safety Authorities assessment then you could conclude that it is ok for an adolescent to drink a cup of coffee.
As an adult you need to drink an awful lot of coffee for it to become a problem, We are talking way more than 8 cups of coffee a day.
This article breaks down in detail how much coffee you would need to drink on a daily basis for it to start to have a detrimental impact:
Coffee shops on the sale of coffee to children
The main high street coffee shops like Costa and Starbucks and Café Nero do not have an age restriction for buying any of their coffee products but interestingly Costa does take a stance when it comes to serving coffee to children.
Costa state that “We do not encourage the sale of caffeine to children under 16” and they also go on to say “it is at store discretion to question a customer’s age if they have any concerns”.
You also have to be 16 or over to get a Costa reward card so Costa seems to be erring on the side of caution when it comes to under 16’s drinking their coffee but they don’t go as far as to impose an age level and they leave it to “store discretion”.
Supermarkets and coffee
All of the main supermarkets in the UK do not sell energy drinks to anyone under the age of 16 but they will sell coffee to anyone of any age.
There seems to be some contradiction there which adds to the confusion as coffee tends to have the same amount of caffeine as energy drinks.
Based on all the information available it seems clear that there is an extremely low level of risk to children drinking one cup of coffee.
The exact age at which it becomes ok to drink coffee is not one where you can specify a number but more an area where you have to apply common sense.
It just seems the right thing to do to not allow a very young child to drink coffee and it’s probably best to not encourage children under 16 to drink coffee.
Any parents out there will know that once your kids get to around 14 or 15 they are going to make their own decisions anyway about whether or not they should drink coffee and in fact if you tell them not to that is more likely to make them do it!
I personally have two grown up children and despite seeing me drinking coffee every day they actually showed little interest in coffee until they were about 14 and at that point I told them that one cup a day was fine.
The body expels caffeine within hours of consumption so any caffeine consumed through coffee yesterday will not be present today and therefore if your kids drink a cup of coffee and do not display any signs of an adverse reaction then you can be pretty sure it’s going to be fine ongoing.