The art of crafting a cup of coffee is serious business, people. Lovers of a cup o’ joe are often quite invested in ensuring their brew is made precisely how they like it. It’s a whole thing. (In fact, apparently, November 23rd is National Espresso Day in the U.S).
Anyway, if you’re one of these coffee-obsessives (same) we have a hack for you. If you’re having your coffee made by a barista, there is one detail you should pay close attention to. It could be argued that this detail is the difference between a good coffee and a great one (if you’re a fan of sugar, that is).
You should take note of whether your barista adds sugar in before milk.
If you take sugar in your coffee, factors such as solubility (and kinetic energy) would suggest you should add it before any sort of cold dairy is involved. But even if you’re enjoying an espresso-based beverage made with steamed milk, you’ll end up with a better drink if you add any sweetener before that milk is added.
Espresso drinks such as cappuccinos (cappucini?) and lattes should come with a layer of foam on top. Sometimes this foam has a fun picture in it. If you add sugar or syrup after the drink is built, you have to swirl a spoon around in the cup, destroying the foam (and foam art). This may not seem like the biggest deal, but it affects the taste and mouthfeel of the beverage. (If you don’t give a damn about foam, or the beautiful heart you barista drew in the foam, you could probably save some money and order a double espresso. Another coffee hack for ya.)
Adding sugar early in the drink-making process also maximizes the amount of time it sees hot liquid, helping it dissolve. If you make espresso drinks at home, add your required amount of sweetener to the cup before adding your shots. If you are ordering out, just tell your barista you want sugar (or honey or agave or whatever) in your latte, cappuccino, or macchiato so they can add it at the beginning. (Because I am not a coffee nerd, I asked a couple of barista friends if this was indeed the correct way to order a sweetened espresso beverage, and they said I was right. I mean, I kind of knew I was, but it was nice to have my coffee hack confirmed.)
This story has been updated since its original publication.