As I recently sat working at my computer in a nearby cafe, Earl grey milk tea in hand, I watched as a group of students walked past the window, all dressed in variations of the same school uniform. A local school was letting out. A few moments later, another wave of students walked by. As the third group began to float past the window one-by-one, my eyes narrowed in on something. Coffee cups. I realized many of these fifty or so school children had been holding on to take-out coffee cups. It struck me at once: what are these young people doing drinking coffee?
As a budding pediatrician, I have known to vilify soft drinks and juices as being a great contributor to our nations’ obesity epidemic, each containing about ten teaspoons of sugar per serving. What about coffee? Certainly these coffee drinks contain sugar, not to mention a significant amount of caffeine. Why had I not been counseling on coffee drinks?
I tried to think back to a time before I drank caffeinated beverages. I remember my mother’s cup of tea, an ever-present fixture at her office desk. When I asked about it as a child she would say, “Oh, no. You wouldn’t like it. It is for grown-ups.” That answer satisfied me until about junior high – the age of the throngs of students I mentioned earlier – when I tried my first glass of sweetened ice-tea. Add sugar to anything, and a child will like it. Sweet tea became my drink of choice.
It wasn’t until my final year of college that I really drank coffee. And, of course, it wasn’t really coffee. It was a mocha – a sickly sweet concoction of sugar and caffeine, desperately needed to fuel a late-night physics cram session. After that, I was hooked. Now, in my last year of residency, in addition to my morning cup of tea, I still look forward to treating myself to an occasional latte or a milk tea in the afternoon, as a treat on an especially rough day.
When did our nation’s fixation with coffee and caffeinated beverages begin? And when did children become so transfixed? It’s not just plain coffee, mind you, (again: add sugar, and children will like anything) it is the wide assortment of caffeinated and sugar-laden drinks available to our nation’s children: milk tea, energy drinks, lattes, cappuncinos, mochas, frozen mochachinos! Should we see these drinks as a problem? And why are they so darn habit-forming?
We explore these questions more tomorrow…