We will explain why sweet coffee drinks are so popular and how sugar harms the healthiness of coffee.
The majority of coffee lovers add sugar to their coffee: 75% among those who use ground coffee and 82% among instant coffee enthusiasts. Coffee shops cater to these preferences by offering a wide variety of sweet beverages that sometimes resemble desserts.
However, this statistic does not please health experts around the world. They believe that sugar masks the taste of quality coffee beans and deprives individuals of the opportunity to enjoy their natural sweetness and diverse descriptors.
In this article, we will discuss the origins of the disagreement between coffee lovers and industry professionals, why sugar became a common addition to coffee cups, and whether it is necessary.
Why is sugar added to coffee?
Five centuries ago, coffee beans arrived in Europe, where they were used to prepare an invigorating beverage. At that time, coffee was of poor quality, and to compensate for its shortcomings, it was heavily roasted, resulting in a bitter and pungent drink. However, bitterness in nature is associated with poisonous substances, so humans instinctively avoid this taste. The easiest way to mask it is with something sweet, such as sugar, which makes the flavor smoother and more enjoyable. Additionally, sweetness also triggers a sense of pleasure and reward.
Sugar alters the balance of coffee by suppressing its bitterness and acidity.
Therefore, even today, most people begin their coffee journey with sweet variations. Many individuals dislike the acidity or intense taste of pure espresso. They prefer milk-based drinks to which they add white or brown sugar, raw sugar, or sweeteners:
- Artificial sweeteners: stevia, aspartame, erythritol;
- Natural sweeteners: honey, maple syrup, agave nectar.
If one desires to not only change the taste but also the aroma of the beverage, coffee syrups are used. These syrups maintain their consistency at high temperatures and are less sweet than cocktail syrups.
The primary consumer of syrups is the United States, where sweet flavors like caramel are highly popular. Initially, Starbucks, an American coffeehouse chain, introduced only four syrup-infused drinks. Today, they offer dozens of different variations of sweet coffee, constantly updating their assortment.
Adding syrups is popular in the Philippines, Mexico, South Korea, and Vietnam. However, in Europe, the range of flavors available is much smaller, and the syrups themselves are not as sweet as those in the United States.
A small amount of syrup can enhance the vibrant fruit notes of the beverage.
In European countries, traditional coffee recipes are preferred, which often include ingredients such as ice cream, chocolate, and whipped cream. In some Asian and Latin American countries, condensed milk is used. Many of these national recipes have gained significant popularity, and today they are prepared in coffee shops worldwide. We will provide more details about them in the next section of this article.
Sweet coffee beverages from different countries
Sweet coffee is enjoyed in most countries around the world. Each locality has its own traditional drinks that differ in composition and recipes. By examining the geography of their popularity, a pattern emerges: sweet coffee is consumed in regions where historically low-quality coffee beans were used. Sugar was used to balance the intense bitterness of the drink. The Middle Eastern countries are exceptions to this trend. In these regions, additional taxes are imposed on sweetened beverages, including soft drinks, energy drinks, and others. To avoid potential complications, customers prefer not to order sweet beverages, and coffee shop owners do not include them in their menus. To reduce bitterness, Eastern desserts, dried fruits, and nuts are typically served with coffee.
Here are a few interesting recipes for sweet coffee from different countries around the world.
Bicerin: This drink consists of hot chocolate, espresso, and whipped cream. The components are layered in a glass rather than mixed together.
If you don't want to choose between coffee and dessert, try affogato.
Glace: It includes chilled Turkish-style coffee and creamy ice cream in a 3:1 ratio. You can experiment with flavors by using crème brûlée, chocolate, or vanilla ice cream. For decoration, grated chocolate, crushed candy, or coconut flakes are used. Cinnamon, nuts, and cocoa powder are added to enhance the taste and aroma. A similar recipe can be found in Italian affogato, which is not just a beverage but a full-fledged dessert. A scoop of creamy ice cream is topped with a shot of hot espresso. A drop of alcohol, such as Italian amaretto or Irish cream liqueur, can add a touch of sophistication.
Italian Caffè con Panna: It consists of regular or double espresso topped with whipped cream. Grated chocolate and nuts are added to the beverage.
Korean Dalgona Coffee: Instant coffee and sugar are whipped into a thick, airy foam and poured over milk with ice. Vanilla extract or cinnamon is added for aroma.
Viennese Coffee: The recipe includes coffee, cream, and sugar. Optionally, chocolate, cocoa powder, and cinnamon can be added.
Imagine tiramisu in the form of a beverage—that's precisely what Vietnamese egg coffee resembles.
Vietnamese Egg Coffee (ca phe trung): This beverage is based on a thick, strong coffee brewed in a special filter press. It is complemented with a sweet and airy foam made from whipped egg yolks and condensed milk. In Vietnam, it is challenging to obtain dairy products of animal origin, so coconut condensed milk or diluted coconut cream is used instead.
Cuban Cafecito: This is a dairy-free recipe that includes only strong espresso and a frothy sugar cream known as espuma.
Yuanyang: This coffee beverage can be tasted in Hong Kong. Its uniqueness lies in the combination of a sweet and creamy taste with a powerful dose of caffeine. It consists of a mixture of strong drip coffee and Hong Kong-style milk tea.
Mexican Coffee: This recipe combines freshly ground coffee, hot chocolate, cane sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The ground spices are brewed with the coffee grounds, resulting in a spicy beverage. Whipped cream is used to garnish the glass.
Mexican Coffee is easy to make and doesn't require any special equipment or skills.
Delhi-style Coffee: This cold coffee cocktail is popular during the summer in India. It involves mixing instant coffee with milk, sugar, and adding ice.
Irish Coffee: This drink combines Irish whiskey with sweet black coffee. It is traditionally topped with whipped cream.
German Pharisaer Kaffee: This sweet coffee includes rum and whipped cream. It is considered a national drink of North Frisia.
Caramel Macchiato: It is a variation of an espresso macchiato—single or double espresso topped with a spoonful of steamed milk. In this recipe, it is enhanced with vanilla syrup and caramel sauce.
Mocha: To prepare it, a small amount of cocoa powder, milk, and sugar are mixed together. This mixture is then poured over hot coffee and topped with whipped cream. It can be served hot or over ice.
Kentucky Coffee: Another alcoholic coffee recipe that includes bourbon, coffee, and honey liqueur for sweetness.
Kentucky Coffee is perfect for cold weather—it provides excellent warmth.
There are many fans of sweet and milk-based coffee beverages. However, today, with the rise of the specialty coffee culture and the possibility to forget the burnt bitter taste of the beans, is sugar really necessary in a coffee cup? We will attempt to answer this question in the following section.
Is sugar acceptable in specialty coffee?
Although the combination of sugar and coffee has been a centuries-old tradition, efforts are now being made to move away from it. This can be attributed to the propagation of specialty coffee culture, particularly evident in Florida coffee roasteries, where the fundamental objective is to secure premium quality coffee, thereby unveiling its unique taste and aromatic qualities
The work of all specialty coffee specialists is focused on highlighting the unique characteristics of each lot. There is no longer a need to add milk and sugar to mask the flaws of the beverage. On the contrary, additional ingredients can obscure the delicate taste and aroma descriptors that one would want to savor.
The taste and aroma characteristics of specialty coffee are determined by a range of factors, such as:
- Genetic variety of the beans;
- Geographic location of the farms;
- Terroir characteristics;
- Coffee berry processing methods.
Next, the roasting profile is carefully selected to bring out the best flavor qualities of the beans. Then, a beverage recipe is developed to highlight the uniqueness of that particular lot.
A barista can offer guests the opportunity to first taste a specialty coffee beverage without any sweeteners.
In this case, sugar tends to overshadow many delicate descriptors, increases the energy content of the beverage, and reduces the natural bitterness due to its interaction with coffee caffeine molecules. If sweeteners have their own distinct flavors, such as natural honey or brown sugar, the taste profile of the coffee is altered to the point of being unrecognizable.
So, what can be done to help lovers of sweet coffee beverages appreciate high-quality specialty coffees? How is this issue addressed in our coffee shops? We will discuss this further.
Signature Beverages: Transitioning from Excessive Sugar to the Taste of Specialty Coffee
For those with a sweet tooth, we recommend starting the journey into the specialty coffee culture with Florida coffee roastery. In our coffee shops, they are prepared using the following scheme: espresso + milk base (cream or milk) + additional ingredients that determine the uniqueness of the flavor. The sugar added to such beverages serves two key functions: enhancing the taste and acting as a natural preservative.
Specialty coffee beans are used to prepare the espresso. It is essential to consider how the flavor characteristics of the beans will blend with the other ingredients. Milk-based beverages can bring out the descriptors of dark berries, citrus, and floral notes. It can be more challenging to perceive the nuances when sweeteners are added. It is also important to remember that an excessive amount of acidic ingredients, such as berries and sauces, can cause the milk component to curdle. Sugar stabilizes the beverage in such cases and enhances its taste.
In our coffee shops, we offer seasonal sweet beverages to our guests.
Now, let's explore how we introduce lovers of sweet beverages to the particularities of specialty coffee through the example of our coffee shops.
Historically, the combination of coffee and sugar was justified by the low quality of the beans and flaws in the roasting process, which imparted a bitter and unpleasant taste to the beverage.
Interest and fondness for sweet coffee has led to a multitude of beverage and dessert recipes that have become popular worldwide.
However, with the emergence of the specialty coffee culture, the focus has shifted to the uniqueness of the coffee bean's taste and aroma, making the use of sugar undesirable. Coffee is no longer bitter and harsh. The flavor notes impress with their variety. You can prepare a beverage with the perfect balance of acidity, richness, and natural sweetness of the beans. But if you can't imagine coffee without sweet syrup or whipped cream, you can always choose a signature beverage based on high-quality coffee.