How To Sweeten Cold Brew And What Are The Alternatives To Sugar?

For those of you who like their coffee on the sweet side, the choice of how to sweeten your favorite caffeinated beverage is no longer as simple as adding a spoonful of sugar. The proliferation of syrups, sugar alternatives, and low calorie sweeteners in recent years means there are a dizzying number of ways to spike your daily coffee.

When it comes to cold brew coffee, which is already naturally sweeter than hot coffee, there are still a number of ways to dial up the sweetness even further. Whether you use honey, syrups, or even raw sugar, it is fairly easy to put a cafe style spin on your cold brew.

If you want to sweeten your cup of cold brew, you’ll need to take a few things into account. Things such as the temperature of your coffee and the type of sweetener you use will all impact the taste of your cold brew – sometimes not for the better!

Should I sweeten my cold brew differently to my hot coffee?

As any good cold brew enthusiast will know, cold brew coffee is naturally sweeter than its hot brewed cousin. This has to do with the cold brew extraction method, which prevents any bitter notes or oils escaping from the beans into your brew. 

As such, you may find that your cold brew needs slightly less sweetener than your typical latte. Begin by using half as much sweetener as you usually would, then adjust up or down for taste. 

Another key difference that may impact the way you sweeten your brew is the respective temperatures of cold brew and hot coffee. Hot coffee, brewed with water that is almost at boiling point, is a better solvent than cold coffee. This means it is better able to dissolve solids, including sweeteners like sugar and stevia. 

Although these solid sweeteners will eventually dissolve in your cold brew, you may find that it takes a little longer than you are accustomed to!

Sweetening cold brew with sugar: pros and cons

Sugar remains one of the most popular natural sweeteners in the world. It is relatively inexpensive, readily accessible, and almost completely ubiquitous. 

Given all this, should you use sugar to sweeten your cold brew? 

Processed sugar comes in various guises, from highly processed caster and icing sugars to the slightly less processed brown and demerara sugars. Raw sugar, also known as table sugar, falls somewhere in the middle. This is the type of sugar that is usually added to coffee or tea.

The pros

Table sugar is not expensive, and you can find it in any grocery store or corner shop. It has a very mild taste, so will not alter the taste of your cold brew, and it is fairly easy to measure and moderate.

The cons

Unfortunately for those of you with a sweet tooth, table sugar is really not very good for you. There are no nutritional benefits to eating processed sugar and it is very calorific, with one tablespoon of sugar clocking in at around 50 calories. 

Additionally, excess consumption of sugar has been linked to increased likelihoods of obesity and diabetes and has also been shown to increase your chances of heart disease. In a modern day society in which sugar is in almost everything, from sauces and soups to breads and cereals, excess sugar consumption is a real worry.

Sugar alternatives for sweetening cold brew

If the pros tend to outweigh the cons for you when it comes to sugar and sweetening your cold brew, there is some good news. There are plenty of other alternatives that will not only satisfy your sweet tooth, but can also lend an additional layer of flavor and complexity to your cold brew coffee!


Another very well known natural sweetener, honey is also readily available in many forms. Honey is a great source of antioxidants, which can boost the powerful effects of the antioxidants already in your coffee. Additionally, honey has been used over the years to help a whole host of maladies from digestive issues to a sore throat. 

The flavor profile of most honey varieties is fairly mild, so you can add it to your cold brew without changing its distinctive taste too much. 

Maple syrup

Similarly to honey, the flavor profile of maple syrup is very mild, and it can be paired with your cold brew coffee very easily. Maple syrup also complements other additives such as cinnamon, if you really want to elevate your coffee to the next level. 

The only thing to be conscious of when adding maple syrup to your coffee is the relatively high cost of this syrupy sweetener. Although it certainly won’t break the bank, it could add up if you’re using a lot of it! 


Molasses is a byproduct of the sugar production process, but is actually considered to be much healthier than standard table sugar. With a glycemic index rating of 55, it compares favorably to sugar, which has a glycemic index rating of 65. 

That said, the flavor of molasses is quite strong and very distinctive. It will add a caramelly, rich taste to your coffee if you use it as a sweetener. If you do elect to use molasses as your sweetener of choice, you may want to add a dash of cream or milk to your coffee – the fat in these dairy products can help to mute some of the stronger flavors in the molasses. 


Although they are made from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, the stevia products you can find in your local grocery store actually have very little of the Stevia plant in them. 

Touted as a healthier, natural alternative to sugar, stevia has gained increasing popularity in recent years. It is extremely low in calories, but can be very highly processed, and is often blended with artificial sweeteners and other flavors. 

It is also much, much sweeter than normal table sugar – almost 200 times sweeter! If you opt for this low calorie sugar alternative, go easy at first!

Coconut sugar

Coconut sugar is another natural sweetener that has gained popularity in recent years as another healthier alternative to table sugar. Very similar in appearance to table sugar, coconut sugar is typically very minimally processed, and comes in relatively low on the glycemic index at around 54. 

Coconut sugar also retains many micronutrients throughout its processing, unlike table sugar. The micronutrients and minerals include iron, zinc, calcium and potassium. However, that is not a good reason to heap tablespoons of coconut sugar into your coffee cup! 

Although it does retain some nutrients, you would have to eat extremely high volumes of coconut sugar for these to be of any use to you. Coconut sugar is also extremely high in calories, basically equivalent to table sugar. 

Sweetened condensed milk

For a slightly more international spin on your cold brew, add sweetened condensed milk to your coffee. Although it is not strictly the same as the traditional method, you will end up with something very much like a Vietnamese style coffee.

It also couldn’t be easier to make this delicious drink once you have your cold brew concentrate ready to go. Simply add 3 parts cold brew concentrate to 1 part sweetened condensed milk and 2 parts milk, top it up with some ice and enjoy your deliciously sweet iced coffee!

Raw agave syrup

Agave syrup, which is made from the same plant as tequila, has been used as a sweetener in Mexico for centuries. However, modern commercially produced agave syrup bears little resemblance to the traditional Mexican sweetener and also contains dangerously high amounts of fructose. 

In fact, agave syrup contains a higher percentage of fructose than table sugar! This can lead to an increase in insulin and bad cholesterol, which can in turn lead to diseases such as type 2 diabetes. 

With so many delicious sweeteners out there that contain much lower amounts of fructose, it makes sense to avoid agave syrup if possible.

The verdict

There are many means and methods of sweetening your cold brew. Although there are a few dubious types of sweeteners out there, there are also many others that both taste good and are good for you (in moderation, of course!).

Why not try experimenting with a few sweeteners next time you make a batch of cold brew – you may find your new favorite coffee!