National Coffee Day today brings up a hot topic for debate among parents who may disagree about whether it’s right to allow kids to join them in a cup.
When I was growing up, coffee was not something present every moment of the day, or used as a pick-me-up, but more of a social ritual.
With four sons of my own, I’ve made a house rule that they can’t have coffee in any form until they are seniors in high school. By the time my first two, who are now in college, reached senior year, they weren’t much interested in the stuff.
Yet, I have occasionally seen parents handing young children either a steaming, sugary cup of flavored coffee topped with whipped cream at Starbucks, or a cold, frothy shake-like McCafe at McDonalds.
When I was a child, coffee was an adults-only beverage. I can clearly recall my mother and grandmother telling me it would stunt my growth and make me jittery.
According to the Kids Health web site coffee – like many similar, caffeine-laced sport drinks, doesn’t “stunt your growth,” but due to its stimulant and diuretic affects it is considered responsible for a number of issues when placed in the hands of children.
However, according to a study published in Pediatrics earlier this year, tracking caffeine consumption in children from 2000 to 2010, reported that 73 percent of young adults consume caffeine every day, and the increase is coming from coffee drinks, not soda.
I was raised in a family where coffee was more of an event than a drink. If you were drinking coffee, you had arrived at the adult table where serious issues were discussed.
I recall the way my grandparents dealt with kids who wanted to horn-in on grown-up time. They let the kid try a sip of black coffee.
“YUCK!” was the response universally given by any kid who took the challenge. In some cases there was also a “yuck dance” as the kid tried to shake the taste out of their mouth. “When you can sit here and honestly say you enjoy a cup of that then you can sit at this table,” Grandma Annie once told one of my cousins.
That’s how it is at our house today.
Later on in my childhood, we lived with my grandmother and great-grandmother and I got to learn more of her other coffee-related rituals.
For example, if she wanted to butter-up a friend or neighbor, she’d bake sour cream coffee cake and invite them over for what she called, “coffee and.”
“So you come over for some coffee and,” Grandma Annie would tell the person marked for a mind change. “We’ll talk about it then.”
It was like the Polish, Passaic, N.J., coffee version of an ancient Japanese tea ceremony. Grandma would let me help with the preparations, but never partake. In fact, I had to spy to learn anything once the coffee had perked.
Grandma took out the old Pyrex coffee pot, ground the coffee with a hand-crank grinder, chose the right china cups (never mugs) and laid the table with all the right fixings – cream, sugar, and the fresh cake.
I never saw a person, no matter how cranky or disagreeable, not become more pliable and friendly after the “coffee and” treatment.
I was brought up to view coffee as more of a tool, to be placed only in the hands of a skilled adult, for a specific purpose.
That’s why, when the drink begins to take on too great a presence in my life, I take breaks from coffee.
In memory of my grandmother and her love of chocolate covered cherries, I bought a bag of chocolate cherry coffee from the local market, and I am treasuring a cup, for the flavor of the memories that will give me a much needed boost.