The perfect cup of coffee can be elusive. When it’s brewed properly, from the best beans and in the perfect way, it can be sweet and chocolatey and simply delicious the way it is without the need for anything else.
Unfortunately, coffee like that doesn’t happen all the time – and many people prefer to add sugar or other sweeteners to mask the natural bitterness. But is it ok to use brown sugar? How does it affect the flavor?
Here, we have the answers you’re looking for.
What is sugar?
Before we talk about the main question of brown sugar in coffee, let take a step back and think about what sugar is.
The most common type of sugar most of us are familiar with is white, granulated sugar, also known as table sugar. However, there are many others available. How are they made and how do they differ? Let’s have a quick look at this first.
Where does sugar come from?
The sugar we buy and use to sweeten our food and drinks is a crystallized form of sucrose, one type of sugar found in many fruits and other plants. Two plants, in particular, produce enough sucrose to be grown commercially for sugar production, sugar cane and sugar beet.
Whether sugar originally comes from sugar cane or sugar beet has little effect on the end product. The process of producing sugar essentially involves extracting the juice from the plant, boiling it and reducing it until it crystallizes.
What remains will be a mixture of sucrose and molasses, known as “raw sugar”. The different types of sugar are then created by employing additional refining processes.
Check out this video for more about the process of making sugar from sugar cane.
White sugar is created by completely removing the molasses from the raw sugar. This eliminates certain unwanted flavors from the sugar and is usually achieved by spinning the liquid in a centrifuge.
White sugar is available in several forms.
- Sugar cubes (also known as sugar lumps)
Sugar cubes are a convenient form of sugar generally used for sweetening tea, coffee and other hot drinks.
- Granulated sugar or table sugar
This is probably the type of sugar we are most used to seeing. It is versatile and can be used to sweeten drinks as well as in cooking.
- Caster sugar
This is a form of granulated sugar that is much finer than regular table sugar. Its fineness makes it more useful in baking.
- Icing sugar
The finest type of white sugar, this is used for sprinkling on top of cakes and other desserts.
- Brown sugar
There are a couple of ways of making brown sugar but in all cases, the brown color comes from molasses. In general, brown sugar is moister and softer than refined granulated white sugar and retains a certain amount of flavoring from the molasses.
- Raw sugar
In its simplest form, brown sugar is simply the sugar crystals that are created by boiling the juice from the sugar cane or sugar beet. Sugar can already be used in this form to sweeten food or drinks, but it can retain unwanted flavors.
- Light brown sugar
Light brown sugar is one of the common types of commercially-available sugar. This is sugar that has been refined into white sugar before a certain amount of molasses is added back in, imparting a hint of the flavor of molasses.
The reason for removing and then adding the molasses again after is that it is easier to control the amount of molasses in the sugar this way.
Light brown sugar typically contains around 3.5% molasses by weight.
- Dark brown sugar
Dark brown sugar is produced using the same techniques as with light brown sugar except that the amount of molasses added after refining is higher, typically around 6.5% by weight.
This kind of sugar has a richer flavor and tastes more strongly of molasses.
- Demerara sugar
This is classified as a raw sugar but is actually semi-refined. It has large grains and a flavor reminiscent of toffee.
Similar to demerara, this is a dark sugar with a strong molasses flavor.
Can you put brown sugar in coffee?
So now we know a bit more about some of the different types of sugar available, we can talk a bit more about which ones to use in your morning brew.
There are some differing schools of thought here.
First of all, there are the hardcore coffee fanatics who would argue that you shouldn’t add anything to your coffee. No milk, no sugar, certainly no caramel or vanilla flavorings!
To these people, a properly prepared specialty coffee should be appreciated for what it is and adding anything that masks the natural complex flavors defeats the object of drinking high-quality specialty coffee in the first place.
According to this way of thinking, adding sugar to coffee would be akin to adding lemonade to a fine wine because you don’t like the flavor.
However, for many, this might seem a little extreme. For a start, not everybody drinks rare and expensive specialty coffees all the time – as not everybody enjoys fine wine with every meal – and if adding a little sugar helps you enjoy your coffee more, then nobody can stop you.
(Although we do draw the line at putting lemonade in wine!)
Can you use brown sugar instead of white?
So which one should you use, white or brown? The simple answer is that it is purely a question of taste. Some people like their coffee to taste just the way it is, only a little sweeter. If this sounds like you, go for white.
However, others enjoy the extra flavors the coffee gains when you add brown sugar. The flavor of molasses from brown sugar certainly marries well with a good brew. Personally, we enjoy the extra layer of richness the coffee takes on from a spoon of brown sugar, especially the darker varieties.
As far as the flavor is concerned, our advice is this – give it a go. If you usually take white sugar in your coffee, next time you have the chance, try it with brown sugar. See if you can taste the difference.
If you like it, you can keep doing it. If you don’t, go back to white. There are no rules!
The aesthetic angle
There is another factor to take into consideration – how it looks. Again, this is completely a question of taste, but for our money, brown sugar just looks classier. If you are having a dinner party, when it’s time for coffee, passing around a bowl of brown sugar looks great.
Even better, fill a bowl with brown and white sugar cubes and let your guests decide. It’s just a small detail that will earn you some extra points!
Is brown sugar healthier than white sugar?
In the modern world, we are becoming ever more health-conscious. We no longer eat food just to fill our stomachs – now we want to know everything about what effect that food is going to have on our bodies.
Call this a fashion or call it progress – however you see it – but sugar hasn’t escaped the trend. Just as we are supposed to eat brown rice and brown bread over the white varieties for their health benefits, some people say we should also opt for brown sugar.
Is there any truth in this?
In a word, no. As we have discussed, brown and white sugar are made using the same processes, with white sugar undergoing further refining steps before it reaches you. White sugar is marginally more calorific than brown sugar, but the difference is so small as to be negligible.
Otherwise, there is little difference between them. If someone tells you brown sugar is healthier, you will know it’s just not true (1).
How to sweeten coffee without sugar
How about if you don’t want to use sugar? What are the options?
There are several artificial sweeteners available, including saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. If you want to enjoy sweetened coffee without the calories, products made from these could be an answer (2).
However, you need to be aware that these sweeteners are not without problems either. While they may not contain the calories of sugar, it is thought they can change your eating habits, causing you to avoid naturally more nutritious foods.
Another issue is that, since these are relatively new inventions, nobody really knows what the effect of consuming them might be in the long term.
Check out this video that discusses the issue of the safety of artificial sweeteners.
Another option is something called stevia, a low-calorie natural sweetener. It is supposedly 200-300 times sweeter than sugar, so you only need a tiny amount. Other natural, healthy options include cinnamon or coconut cream – and these even add a whole new dimension to your brew (3).
Drink it the way you like it
The best advice concerning white sugar, brown sugar and anything else you want to add to your coffee is simply to drink what you enjoy most. If you prefer coffee with white sugar or brown sugar or with no sugar at all, then that is the best way for you to drink it.
And don’t let anybody try to tell you anything different!
Which do you prefer, brown or white? Or perhaps you take it just the way it is with nothing else added. Whatever your opinion, leave us a comment – we always love hearing from you. And if you enjoyed our article, please don’t forget to give us a share!
My name is Kathy Gallo, Editor of Ag Ferrari food blog. The guide you find here is designed exactly for you, and it is our hope that you find it not only interesting but also actionable.