How to Cut Coffee’s Bitterness Without Using Sweetener

How to Cut Coffee’s Bitterness Without Using Sweetener
Photo: Shutterstock, Shutterstock

When it came to coffee, for ages I was a milk and “Sugar in the Raw” girl. Just one packet at most, or ideally half a packet — but that was the absolute minimum amount of crystals required to make it palatable. (Before that, I vacillated between Sweet ‘n Low and Splenda, two artificial alternatives I was never happy about, both because of how easy it was to overdose on sweetness while using them, and due to their nasty potential health effects. Mostly, I didn’t like the taste.)

Probably because I grew up in a Cheerios and air-popped popcorn kind of house, with nary a bowl of Cap’n Crunch or Twinkie to be found, I was never fully on board with Sugar in the Raw either, despite its claims of unbleached, tropical “rawness” and it’s humble brown-paper-bag packaging. When I learned it is no better for you than white sugar (and as a new natural sugar substitute climbed the ranks), I bailed on that too.

Enter Stevia: Plant-based sweetness that comes from a member of the Chrysanthemum family, growing wild in Paraguay and Brazil? Sign me up! But after using that in my coffee for the better part of a decade, its aftertaste started to wear on my tastebuds. Oh, and I was getting frequent headaches. When I noticed they were plaguing me multiple times a week, I decided to cut Stevia out to see if they’d improve. Sure enough, they did.

So what’s a person who loves a cup of joe, but isn’t down for the taste of drinking it black (and also hates all the sweeteners) to do?

Use cream to neutralise the bitterness

When my brother-in-law told me the fats in half and half and cream can neutralise the bitterness of black coffee, I was sceptical. Seriously, amped up milk can do for my coffee what sugar used to do? Note: He was not talking about coffee creamer, whose processed, fancy-flavored powders and liquids can contain up to 5g of sugar per serving. He was referring to plain, unadulterated heavy cream or half and half (which contains milk and cream in equal ratios).

And he was right. A few years into this method, I am 100% satisfied and never looking back. Not only does my daily dose of half and half smooth out the tarry, acidic tang of black coffee, it infuses it with an almost buttery-flavored richness — and some nutritional value.

Isn’t heavy cream bad for you?

While many diet crazes over the years have demonized fat as the enemy, fats perform many vital functions inside the body, such as building cell membranes and aiding in blood clotting. Additionally, healthy fats can enhance your body’s ability to burn fat, and keep you full for longer. Of course, there are negative effects if you eat too much fat, but a tablespoon or two of cream in their coffee never sent anyone over the precipice into poor health. Also, if you use full-fat cream, you don’t have to worry about any negative effects if you’re lactose-intolerant — lactose is a type of sugar found in milk, while cream contains almost no sugar.

The bottom line

Not only do I not miss sugar, it is now an unwelcome invader in my coffee’s serene, velvety flavour profile. (Reluctantly, but desperately, I recently resorted to fat-free milk and sugar while at my dad’s house, and ended up throwing the whole cup out.) If you’re sick of sugar and its alternatives, try introducing (or upping) your coffee’s cream content for a thicker, more textured beverage. This article suggests you can achieve similar results with salt and cinnamon, but you’ll have to try that one on your own — and report back.

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