Most of the Hoxton Coffee crew are fans of a pure, rich black brew, but we appreciate that for millions, slightly sweeter coffee is just the ticket to get out of the right side of the bed in the morning.
Like all things coffee, there are many options.
You can get a really complex flavour by mixing and matching natural organic sweeteners (think honey or even maple syrup!) or opt for more conventional sugar or calorie-free alternatives.
Here we'll run through some of the popular options and explain how they impact the taste of your quality coffee blends and which you really should try out.
Is Natural Sugar Sustainably Sourced?
If you know anything about us, you'll get that Hoxton is strongly focused on all that's good about coffee - closed-loop production methods, net-positive carbon impacts and full-bodied brews with a gentle bite.
Natural sugar is refined from cane or beet to create sucrose (about 60-70% comes from sugar cane).
The big variance is that raw sugar is made from sugar cane, whereas sugar beet is crystallised from the juice.
It's all fairly natural, so what's the beef?
Crop cultivation damages natural habitats and requires stacks of water, agricultural chemicals and air pollution, so it's not a top point-scorer from a green perspective.
The other hurdle is that we're all familiar with the health impacts of sugar.
Although most organic alternatives contain a fair few calories themselves (let's not throw stones in glass houses!), the difference is that several sugar replacements have positive health benefits on the side.
We're not saying you can't use sugar in your coffee - far from it - but that you'll need to choose carefully to keep earning your eco points while you sip your favourite beans.
What Types of Sugar Can I Use to Sweeten Coffee?
In terms of conventional sugars, you have three options:
- White sugar
- Raw sugar
- Brown sugar
Each has pros and cons, but raw sugar (not actually raw, just slightly less refined) is probably the best bet because it's not as processed as its counterparts.
Also known as Turbinado Sugar, this golden brown sugar comes from sugar cane juice, preferable to sugar beet products since it's marginally more sustainable.
Raw sugar tastes lighter than brown sugar, but it has thicker granules, so you can grind it a little in a clean spice grinder if you prefer a delicate dusting of sweetness!
Muscovado and Demerara sugar are primarily used in baking, and while they’re not identical to Turbinado, you can use them in coffee, too, if you wish.
Why Do Coffee Lovers Avoid White Sugar as a Sweetener?
White sugar isn't the root of all evil (despite what diet practitioners might have you believe!); it's low cost, accessible, and available everywhere.
You can buy granulated, finely ground or cubed sugar, and it's the base ingredient in coffee syrups - so you're likely consuming it even if you're not aware of it.
This type of sugar starts as the raw sugar we've just looked at and is heavily refined, turning gold and then white.
Keep a close eye on the packaging, as most manufacturers use pretty unpleasant products such as animal bone char during processing.
The benefit of white sugar as a coffee sweetener is that it dissolves quickly, won't impact the natural essence of your coffee, and doesn't have any taste at all.
From a sustainability point of view, though, it's definitely second best to raw produce.
Is Brown Sugar the Best Sweetener to Use in Coffee?
Coffeehouses commonly use brown sugar with less minerals and slightly fewer calories than white sugar.
Commercially produced brown sugar is made from white sugar, with molasses added to get that distinct colour and flavour, although it's still not nutritionally advantageous.
A lot depends on your preference, but punchy brown sugar can produce a different taste profile than sweetening with white sugar.
Which Artificial Sweeteners for Coffee Are There?
There are thousands of sweeteners or alternatives such as sucrose. We'll have a quick look at some of the common types.
Stevia Coffee Sweetener
Stevia is a natural sweetener extracted from a plant, used as a herbal sweetener and a calorie-free option that replaces sugar.
It's suitable for veggies, and although you should steer clear if you have any blood sugar conditions, it's by and large a healthier option.
Stevia also has a smaller carbon and water footprint than any processed sugar.
One downside is that some people find stevia has a tangy aftertaste, although you can cut down on portions since it's up to 300 times sweeter than standard sugar.
Xylitol in Coffee
Xylitol (sold under far easier to pronounce brand names!) is a viable option if you're after more eco-conscious sweeteners since it's mostly sustainable and doesn't have any significant impacts on air, soil, forests or water.
The sweetener is extracted from corncobs - believe it or not! - and tastes a lot like white sugar, just with a fraction of the calories.
You'll find xylitol in your toothpaste, so it's also good for your teeth!
One caveat - xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is lethal to dogs and is the reason you can't feed your pup chocolate, cookies or human peanut butter, so keep your jar tightly shut.
Organic Natural Ways to Sweeten Your Coffee
Now onto some of the truly natural sweeteners you can use, without the concerns about highly processed or synthetic additives - provided you go for good quality products, of course!
Raw, locally sourced honey is a beautiful way to sweeten hot drinks, although it does have a complex flavour that will change the tone of your coffee.
It contains a wallop of calories, but the health benefits are often considered worth the trade-off, as a low-GI sweetener full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.
Check out our Honey in Coffee guide
Ever thought about putting maple syrup in your coffee instead of on your pancakes? Try it!
This natural alternative is a simple syrup extracted from the maple tree and has a low-GI flavour, which means it raises blood sugar slowly and won't cause a hunger crash.
There are benefits similar to honey, including essential vitamins and minerals, with the same warning about not overdoing it due to the calories!
Another plant-based coffee sweetener you might swap for brown or white sugar, agave syrup is made from blue agave plants - although it's unfortunately not blue!
There are calories to count (more than in sugar!), but those vitamins and sweetness add a jolt of health benefits to your coffee.
Given the high-calorie content, you should use agave sparingly.
Check out: Tate & Lyle Agave Syrup on Amazon
Our final suggestion is to look at maltose syrup, made from two glucose units bound together - table sugar, in contrast, is made from one glucose and one fructose molecule.
Maltose adds a little flavour complexity to coffee, and it's not quite as sweet as corn syrup, with zero fructose.
How Much is Too Much Sugar or Sweetener in Coffee?
There's no right answer here because the important thing is that you choose a sweetener for your coffee that is compatible with your lifestyle, taste buds and budget.
Strong black coffee might put some hairs on your chest (or so our grandparents say!), but a smidge of honey or a tiny sprinkle of sugar might make your coffee that much more enjoyable if you're so inclined.
Of course, we should be mindful of the carbon impacts of the sweeteners we choose and the health effects of overconsuming sugar and calories.
If you have any blood sugar conditions, it's well worth looking into low-GI alternatives.
Lifestyle also matters - if you spend hours a day doing manual work, likely, a few extra calories in your coffee aren't going to pose a problem!
But, as a general rule, we should try to minimise our sugar intake, so 1/2 a teaspoon or a very small amount of super-sweet alternatives is plenty to take the edge off.
Conclusion - What is the Best Sugar for Coffee?
Hoxton is always advocating for personal preferences, but we're equally happy to share our thoughts!
We love sampling local, carbon-negative - or at least neutral - sweeteners that we know aren't harming our bodies or our environment.
Natural sugars are 'better' because they lack the odd aftertaste of anything artificial, and conventional sugar hasn't yet been developed so that the production doesn't leave a nasty scar behind.
Our recommendation is to try raw, unpasteurised honey as the most earth-friendly option, or go for stevia if you need to be mindful of calories and sugar consumption.