Britain's Costa Coffee Might Card Teens for Caffeinated Drinks

Stores in Britain’s largest coffee chain can now refuse to sell caffeinated drinks to children under 16.
Bettina Makalintal
Brooklyn, US
Women drinking take-out coffee
Getty Images / Csondy

Ah, those teenage trips to the mall. Who among us did not, in adolescence, enjoy the saccharine swill of the Frappuccino, slurped by way of a straw poked through a heavy cloud of whipped cream, basking in the sugary taste of freedom away from the watchful eye of parents or guardians?

We will have to pour one out for British teens, for whom this age-old rite of passage may be no longer. Costa Coffee, Britain’s largest coffee chain, now allows its shops to refuse caffeinated drinks to anyone under the age of 16.


A representative for the chain told the Manchester Evening News that while it’s not a company-wide directive, “We do not encourage the sale of caffeine to children under 16 and it is at store discretion to question a customer’s age if they have any concerns.”

The policy has been around since the summer, but it has received recent buzz after an anonymous parent expressed his displeasure to the Daily Post when his 12-year old was barred from buying a iced coffee. Calling the drink an “occasional treat,” he pointed out that many drinks on Costa’s menu—laden with syrups, chocolate, and whipped cream—appear to target a younger audience.

Costa’s policy echoes a decision earlier this year by British grocer Waitrose to ban the sale of high-caffeine energy drinks to children under 16. Other major chains including Asda, Aldi, Tesco, and Sainsbury’s followed suit.

If there’s merit in curbing childhood caffeine consumption, making lattes and other coffee drinks harder to come by might not be the most effective route. A study published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition in 2017 identified soda and tea as the most popular sources of caffeine for adolescents.

Plus, according to the European Food Safety Authority, children can consume certain amounts of caffeine “without safety concerns.” For an average-sized 10-year-old, the organization approves of up to 90 milligramsr of caffeine, about as much as is in a grande Frappuccino or small cup of drip. Still, the science remains inconclusive as to if—and how—caffeine consumption might negatively affect children and adolescents.

With a mere 1,000-ish Starbucks locations in the United Kingdom, looks like the teens will really have to search far and wide to get their next fix.