If you’re anything like us, it’s hard to imagine your life without that daily cup of tea: it’s one of those little moments to reset, collect your thoughts, and just enjoy the taste of a good brew. However, you might want to think twice before introducing your children to the habit!
As a general rule, children do not like tea. This is because younger palettes are more sensitive to bitter flavors, and the tannins in tea can taste particularly bitter. It’s also worth noting that the caffeine content of tea can make it unsafe to drink for children below the age of five.
So: what tea is suitable for children to drink, and which will they enjoy? We’ve put together a handy guide to answer all these questions and more.
Do children like tea?
Do you remember the age you first tried a cup of tea? While now you probably enjoy a hot drink or two on a regular basis, children are often repulsed by the the taste of coffee and tea. You might even remember taking a while to become accustomed to the taste of these astringent drinks – and now you simply can’t do without them. Have you ever wondered why?
It’s the same reason why kids love chocolate, confectionery, and anything sweet: younger palettes are, by and large, built to reject bitter flavors and embrace sweetness. Tea leaves are full of bitter chemicals called tannins, which release as the tea steeps – if you’ve ever left the tea bag in for a little too long and found your cup of tea as dark as tar, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and tannins are part of the complex flavor profile that make tea so enjoyable to drink. For children, however, this bitterness can overload their young tastebuds. This is also why children typically do not enjoy eating their vegetables, much to the chagrin of their parents!
It’s thought that children’s predisposition towards sweet flavors, and against bitter flavors, came about as an evolutionary advantage. Since astringency is common among poisonous plants, humans who were able to identify bitter flavors and express disgust survived more often; humans who gobbled down bitter plants like nobody’s business weren’t as lucky!
So why do we appreciate bitter flavors more as we age? Well, we actually lose more than half of our tastebuds by the time we’re 20, making the bitterness of vegetables – tea included – less detectable. From an evolutionary standpoint, by adulthood we’re better able to cope with disagreeable foods and have generally survived the point at which eating the wrong thing can cause serious issues.
Of course, tastebuds are unique, and some children might enjoy bitter flavors more than others. It might even be the case that, by adding enough sugar, the bitterness of tea can be overcome. However, the taste isn’t the only thing that should keep children from enjoying tea…
Is a cup of tea bad for a child?
Quite apart from the question of whether children enjoy tea is whether or not they should be drinking it at all; many children would love to eat nothing but cake all day, regardless of the consequences! Here’s the truth on whether tea is safe for children to drink:
Tea is generally considered unsafe for children. This is predominantly because of the caffeine content of tea (47mg per cup). It is recommended that children younger than 12 consume no caffeine at all, with children over 12 consuming no more than 85-100mg per day, equivalent to two cups of tea.
This statistic might surprise you: after all, sodas containing caffeine, such as Cola, are frequently served to young children – but they shouldn’t be! A 2014 study by Pediatrics suggested that as many as 73% of children consume caffeine on a daily basis, which can have significant effects on their development. Caffeine is, after all, a high-powered stimulant that adults use to abate sleepiness and feel a buzz; it is not suitable for children.
As per another Pediatrics study, it was found that the consumption of caffeine among children increased blood pressure and reduced heart rate, with recognizable side effects including jitteriness, digestive issues and trouble sleeping. In certain circumstances (thankfully not observed among children, but nonetheless a distinct possibility), excess caffeine intake can be lethal.
When you consider the amount of caffeine that children are already consuming in soda and the like, it would be unconscionable to further increase their consumption by introducing them to tea. However, it’s worth noting that tea that contains caffeine is not the only tea on the market!
Can kids drink green tea?
Green tea is having a bit of a moment right now. Lauded for its health benefits and often considered a key part of any ‘cleanse,’ green tea is more popular than ever. It’s so popular, in fact, that moms commonly ask whether it’s safe to brew a cup of green tea for their children.
It is not recommended that kids under the age of 12 drink green tea due to its caffeine content. However, the health benefits of green tea (with reduced caffeine content compared to black tea) can make it a suitable drink for children over 12. It can help boost immune systems and fortify gut health.
While conventional black teas contain as much as 47 milligrams of caffeine per cup, the average cup of green tea contains only 28mg – that’s just less than half. This means that it’s much easier to include green tea in your child’s recommended daily limit of caffeine.
Caffeine aside, green tea has many health benefits that are equally, if not more, helpful to children. For example, the antiviral properties of green tea can ward off flu (which can be common in close-proximity environments like schools).
What could prove particularly intriguing for parents is the positive effect of green tea on oral health. While green tea could never be a substitute for tooth-brushing, it could form part of a strategy to improve oral health in children who are laxer in their dental care! This is because green tea is packed with catechins, which can combat harmful bacteria – the sort that can ultimately lead to bad breath and even tooth cavities.
However, do remember that green tea is far from caffeine-free, and the negative effects of caffeine consumption – which can include hyperactivity and increased stomach acidity – can still occur. As with all things, consume in moderation and consult a doctor if you feel your diet is an issue.
Can children drink decaf tea?
While not as common as the now-ubiquitous decaffeinated (or ‘decaf’) coffee, decaf tea is steadily growing in popularity as adults seek to curb their reliance on stimulants and lead healthier lifestyles. So, if caffeine is the main issue for children when it comes to drinking tea, they should be able to enjoy a nice cup of decaf, right? Well, not quite.
Children below the age of 12 should not drink decaf tea. This is because, despite its name, decaf tea does contain some caffeine: approximately 2mg per cup. While this is far less than regular tea (48mg/cup), it is not recommended that children younger than 12 consume any caffeine at all.
That’s right: decaf products still contain caffeine (except in cases where the caffeine was an additive, such as in certain sodas). The decaffeination process is not an exact science, as the caffeine in the camellia sinensis tea plant isn’t exactly stored in one specific leaf that can be easily removed. Instead, the tea leaves are exposed to hot carbon dioxide (CO2) at high pressure; the CO2 then binds to the caffeine within the leaf, and the gas is then filtered out. It’s ingenious, for sure, but this process only results in approximately 97% decaffeination.
That said, for children over the age of 12, whose recommended daily caffeine limit is 85-100mg, a 2mg-per-cup decaf tea is much more suitable. While we can guarantee that decaf tea at this age is generally healthy (everything in moderation!), that doesn’t mean your children will appreciate a lovely bitter cup of tea!
In fact, there are several types of tea without any caffeine at all that children can enjoy.
Is sleep time tea good for kids?
Children often struggle to sleep. We hate to say it, but it’s true: we’ve seen enough bleary-eyed moms to know that it’s not a failure of parenting, but a fact of life. If your child struggles to get good rest, you might be tempted to try herbal remedies such as sleep time tea in an effort to make those nights more bearable for everyone.
As a whole, it’s perfectly safe for kids to drink sleep time tea. These infusions typically contain chamomile, scientifically proven to be a mild sedative, and zero caffeine. However, do note that some children can be allergic to chamomile, particularly if they’re already sensitive to ragweed.
Chamomile is a daisy-like flower, used as a herbal remedy for all sorts of ailments for hundreds of years. While many of chamomile’s purported benefits fail to stand up to scientific scrutiny, it’s true that it can reduce inflammation and act as a mild sedative, making it the perfect ingredient for sleep time teas of all stripes. In fact, you’ll find that many people swear by chamomile tea as the best way to ensure a good night’s sleep.
Researchers are also currently testing whether chamomile consumption can reduce anxiety. In today’s fraught world, with children reporting anxiety and other mental health issues in greater numbers than ever before, instilling a healthy habit like drinking chamomile could fortify their mental defences before they encounter the challenging landscapes of school and social media. However, the extent to which chamomile truly helps reduce anxiety has yet to be proven, with a recent study proving inconclusive (though with grounds for further study).
Much as for adults, the flavor of chamomile is certainly an acquired taste; however, it isn’t exactly bitter, which means children are more likely to enjoy its flowery profile than tannin-rich decaf black teas.
Which other teas are kid-friendly?
We’ve learned so far that there are two main factors to consider when evaluating whether a tea is good for kids. First and foremost is the tea’s caffeine content: in order for it to be suitable for children of all ages, the tea should contain zero caffeine. Secondly, we know that children are predisposed to sweeter flavors.
Most herbal teas and infusions are kid-friendly, as they generally contain no caffeine. Even better, children are more likely to enjoy the sweeter flavors present in most herbal infusions (such as hibiscus and lemon), especially compared to astringent, tannin-rich black teas.
With that in mind, here are three kid-friendly teas for you to try with your little one.
1. Hibiscus tea
Hibiscus tea is one of the prettiest teas out there, and it tastes great too. While all kinds of hibiscus blends are available – each with their own selling points and drawbacks – it’s perfectly fine to go back to basics and simply boil hibiscus buds in hot water.
As a hibiscus infusion contains no camellia sinensis by default, and therefore no actual tea, it contains zero caffeine. As a major bonus, its flavor is naturally sharp and sweet, perfect for younger palettes. This means that you won’t need to add any sugar to make it palatable, with the result being a healthy drink that everyone in the family can enjoy.
2. Lemon & ginger tea
A staple herbal infusion, lemon and ginger tea is sweet and fiery – and it could be your child’s new favourite drink! It’s naturally zero-caffeine and ripe for experimentation with flavors your child might already enjoy. Why not try adding apple pieces or cinnamon sticks for a pick-me-up on colder days?
A potential downside of lemon and ginger tea is its latter component: ginger can be a very intense flavor, to which younger palettes might be more sensitive. To overcome this, try adding honey (or even more lemon) for that extra kick of sweetness.
3. Peppermint tea
It’s common in African and Arab cultures for children to drink mint tea from an early age, and there could hardly be a healthier habit. Tasting just as you’d expect, the mint flavor can be quite intense, making this something of a wildcard choice in the realm of kid-friendly teas. That said, you know your own child: if they like mint, they’ll love mint tea!
You could even grow some mint yourself – it’s very easy to do in a window box or small planter – and use it to make mint tea. That’s an activity, a life lesson and a lovely hot drink all rolled into one. Who could say not to that?