Walking into a strange cafe my eyes dart along the walls, taking in the decor without being too awkward. I walk up the counter and stammer out my order. The barista smiles, prepares my beverage, and I sip a few times. Enjoying the piping hot deliciousness straight only lasts for a few sips. Eventually, I’m going to have to find that doctoring station, or sheepishly ask the barista for that delicious white substance we all love, at which time I’ll be glared down by the previously hospitable barista.
Strange, the subject that divides the entire coffee community isn’t remotely related to coffee at all. Like condiments in a Michelin restaurant, coffee shops are taking to banning sugar from their cafes. We like to think that this practice only occurs in the most pretentious of shops but, alas the practice is spreading throughout the world. Leaving many patrons asking, why?
What is with the sweetening crystals that draws so much ire from coffee culture? Is it the reminder of coffees not so distance commodity past? As patrons sweeten up their perfect drinks, are baristas and owners reminded of coffee being burped out of tin cans and the inevitable spoon of sugar needed to make commodity coffee drinkable? Or is it something else, ego perhaps? Have baristas grown so elitist they presume to contain the end all in knowledge about how coffee should taste, à la French chefs?
Despite the reason, I despise the practice. People should be allowed to be happy in their life and not made to feel inferior. Coffee is so much more than just something to drink and it is the ritual that they crave. Removing part of the ritual is to deprive the consumer of their control in life. So, give them back their sugar and if you pour sugar over your premium Colombian beans, stand tall. After all, you’re the one that has to drink it, it should taste the way you want it to.
Blame it on an overdose of candy when I was a kid, I simply can’t have my coffee without sugar. Even with the best espresso, I make a few delicious sips before I resort to dabbing a bit into the drink. Of course, the higher the quality of coffee, the less I add, that goes without saying. I’m cutting back on my sugar now as I get older and I can’t help but think, the white sugar I’m adding to my coffee really isn’t adding anything to my drink, it’s just making it sweeter. There are plenty of sweetening options available beyond white sugar, so I set out this weekend to find a new substitute for my habit.
Granulated Sugar (White)
White sugar is the most popular and widely available type of sugar. Made from sugarcane and sugar beets, this sugar undergoes an incredibly tedious process to extract molasses and impurities to leave a pure white, evenly granulated product that is popular in baking and cooking. Despite being produced from multiple regions of the world and being used in nearly every type of cooking, white sugar is uniquely uniform from country to country.
The bizarre, elusive cousin to granulated sugar, caster is much finer and is popular for drinks, sauces and cocktails, since it takes far less time to dissolve and is less likely to end up in the bottom of the bowl. Good news for those of you who find it hard to keep track of spoons and prefer for the sugar to just melt into your cup.
extra refinement goes into raw white sugar to produce nubs of white that resist melting even when exposed to higher temperatures. Pearl sugar is nice in decorations and as a topping but doesn’t work well within a drink since the large white chunks won’t dissolve well in the drinks. We opt, instead, to top our mochas and cappuccinos with flavored pearls for a little something extra.
Cane sugar is the most similar to white sugar of all unrefined sugars. Made exclusively from sugarcane, the grainy, sandy texture comes with a mild flavor, earthy color, and an ability to use it as you would white. Since you can substitute this 1:1 for your regular option it’s the easiest for those of you who are brand new to alternative products. Also, since cane sugar is easier to find in your grocery store, it won’t be complicated to source.
Demerara sugar is a type of unrefined sugar. Very similar to those packets of raw sugar you find at your local cafes. I find the grains to be too big to dissolve in liquid, but find the sugar delicious on baked goods and particularly photographic in pictures.
Darker than most raw sugars Turbinado is a very rich, strong-flavored raw sugar. While it isn’t a substitute for brown sugar, this raw sugar has an excellent caramel flavor that works well in rich beverages like coffee.
By far the strongest of natural cane sugars. Muscovado comes from Barbados and has an excellent dark and caramel flavor that shines in gingerbread, baking, and other purposes where you want a rich undertone. In coffee, it can be overwhelming without the right brew.
The simple man’s rustic sugar. Brown sugar is made by adding molasses back into white sugar. Which makes the sugar soft, moist, with a caramel flavoring. I’ve opted for brown sugar in my coffee when the regular stuff runs low, but I’m not fond of the raw molasses taste that comes with it. If you elect to use it in yours, know that brown sugar isn’t actually healthier than white (since it is white) rather, it just contains more flavor.
We know there’s a whole host of natural alternatives. From coconut to stevia we’re going to address them next week. What’s your favorite cane sugar? We’re liking Turbinado right now, although we’re finding ourselves drawn into the strong flavors of muscovado.
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