Are you an iced coffee lover looking for new ways to sweeten your favorite drink? Finding the perfect way how to sweeten cold brew coffee can be a challenge, especially if you're trying to avoid using traditional sugar. Today we'll explore some creative and delicious ways to sweeten coffee drinks, from natural sweeteners to unconventional ingredients. Whether you prefer a classic sweet taste or want to try something new and exciting, I've got you covered!
Coffee is a delicious and energizing beverage that many people enjoy (I assume you're one of them!), but sometimes it can be too bitter or strong. Cold brew coffee has become increasingly popular over the years due to its smooth and less acidic taste — great for those of you who don't love bitter flavors.
That said, sometimes even deliciously smooth cold brew needs a little doctoring up to make it Goldilocks perfect. If you're looking for ways to sweeten up your coffee and make it taste even better, don't worry — there are plenty of easy and fun ways to do it with ingredients you probably already have at home!
Is Iced Coffee The Same As Cold Brew?
Simply put, iced coffee is brewed hot and then chilled, while cold brew is steeped in cold water for an extended period (around 12-24 hours). The brewing process affects the taste, making cold brew smoother and less acidic than its hot-brewed counterpart. While I personally prefer cold brew (it's easier on my tummy), any of the following ideas will work for adding delicious flavor to any cup of coffee — hot, iced, or cold brewed.
What does sweetened iced coffee taste like?
Imagine the perfect blend of bitterness and sweetness, with just the right touch of creaminess. Sweet iced coffee delights the senses and is my go-to choice for hot summer days. That said, HOW you sweeten your coffee will have a major affect on the end flavor.
Whether you prefer classic sweeteners like simple syrup, creamy additions like milk or cream, sugar-free options like stevia or monkfruit, or oddball ingredients that you might not have thought of yet, there are countless ways to create hundreds of at home iced coffee recipes.
If you're looking for classic sweeteners that you probably already have in your home, there are plenty of options to choose from. Here are a few to get you started:
Made from a blend of equal parts water and sugar, simple syrup is one of the, well, simplest things you can make! Feel free to use either neutral-flavored granulated sugar, or swap in molasses-y brown sugar. You can also make simple syrup using less processed varieties of sugar like coconut sugar, muscovado sugar, jaggery or piloncillo.
But, that’s not all! Feel free to get creative and create your own gourmet coffee syrups by infusing simple syrup with the flavors of your choice. Go traditional by creating a vanilla syrup by steeping a split vanilla pod in your syrup, or spicy by adding a few inches of cinnamon bark.
You can also get wildly creative with other herbs and spices — lavender, rose petal, cloves, ginger, citrus, flavored teabags, or any other edible items you want to try.
Mmmmm, honey to sweeten coffee. I love the rich, floral flavor this syrupy delight adds to my boldest brews, plus it’s a great thing to keep on hand in the pantry — it never goes bad, is great for helping heal a sore throat, and can even act as a salve for cuts and scratches. It’s truly magical!
That said, every time I’ve tried to add honey to my cup of cold brew, it stiffens up and sinks to the bottom. Wah! The easy solution? Simply dissolve equal parts honey and hot water like you’re making a simple syrup. Once you’ve made your honey syrup, it’ll magically disappear into any cold drink you like. Just make sure to keep it stored in the fridge.
Agave, Maple Syrup, Brown Rice Syrup, Molasses
If you prefer to go au naturel, there are some other liquid sweeteners you probably have on hand. Maple syrup has a rich, distinct, fall flavor that pairs well with coffee and can add a deliciously cozy, breakfast-y burst to your drink. No need to dissolve it in water first — just pour and go!
Agave syrup is another popular alternative to sugar and has a lower glycemic index, making it a great option for those looking to reduce their sugar intake. Brown rice syrup has a mild and slightly nutty flavor and is a good choice for those who prefer a more subtle sweetness. These two sweeteners can also be added directly to your iced coffee and will dissolve with a bit of stirring.
Finally, we have black gold. Molasses has a strong, earthy, slightly bitter flavor that adds a deep burnt-sugar sweetness to your iced coffee. The flavor can vary depending on the type of molasses — light molasses has a milder toffee-like taste while dark molasses has a more intense and robust flavor. Like honey, you’ll want to dissolve molasses in some hot water first to make it easier to stir into your chilled beverage.
Remember using chocolate syrup to make chocolate milk as a kid? This is like that, except all grown up and caffeinated. YUM. Don’t forget to top your masterpiece with a squirt of whipped cream and an extra drizzle of chocolate syrup for the full coffee shop effect.
Dairy & Other Creamy Things
Creamy additions like milk or half-and-half are a great way to make coffee taste sweeter without adding any extra sugar. The added fat helps create a softer, more velvety mouthfeel that tames the bitter acidity of the coffee. In addition, milk products actually have naturally occurring sugars that help to sweeten your drink. Here are some of my favorite ways to add some milky goodness to my cold brew:
Milk, Cream, or Coconut Cream
A splash of milk (either dairy or plant-based) or cream can go a long way in creating a smooth, creamy cold brew. Another favorite of mine is coconut cream. If you dig tropical iced coffee flavors, this one is not to be missed.
Condensed Milk or Evaporated Milk
Condensed milk is a thick and sweet milk-based product that's made by removing most of the water from milk and adding sugar. It has a rich and creamy consistency and a sweet flavor that can make coffee taste like a decadent dessert. If you've ever tried Vietnamese or Thai iced coffee and wondered how it tasted so friggin' good (seriously! It's like melted coffee ice cream), sweetened condensed milk is a big piece of the answer.
Evaporated milk, on the other hand, is milk that has had most of the water removed through a heating process. It's thicker and creamier than regular milk and has a rich, caramel-like flavor that adds a unique and delicious twist to coffee.
Best of all, both of these options come in cans, so they're totally shelf-stable. If you haven't gone to the grocery store in awhile, it's likely you have one of these options lurking somewhere in the pantry!
Powdered Milk, Powdered Cream, Hot Cocoa Powder, Ovaltine, Instant Breakfast
Powdered milk and powdered cream are popular options for those who want a creamer that doesn't require refrigeration. They are both easy to store (just keep them in an airtight container at room temp) and can be used in hot or cold coffee without any additional preparation. You can even find plant-based milk and cream powders these days, so everyone can get in on the shelf-stable fun!
Hot cocoa powder is another great option for those looking to sweeten their coffee. Add a packet (or less, if you prefer your drinks less sweet) for a sort of quick and easy version of a mocha.
Similarly, Ovaltine, other malted milk powders, and Carnation Instant Breakfast are both powdered drink mixes that can be added to your iced coffee to create a deliciously sweet beverage. They come in a variety of flavors and can be used to make coffee taste like a dessert, so have fun mixing and matching!
Caramel Sauce or Hot Fudge
Caramel iced coffee at home? Yes, please. Grab a jar of your favorite ice cream topping to give your cuppa Joe the dessert treatment. Note that these sauces are thicker than flavored syrups, so you may want to dilute them with some warm milk/creamer or a few tablespoons of warmed cold brew before adding them so they don’t sink to the bottom of your bevvie.
You can also try adding homemade white chocolate sauce!
Melted ice cream is perhaps my favorite way how to make sweet iced coffee. Scoop it in frozen so it acts as your ice, then as it melts, it adds creamy flavor to the mix. Vanilla, chocolate, and mint ice creams are my personal favorites, but feel free to get creative.
Note that if you opt for an ice cream flavor with lots of solid mix-ins, you may be better off blending it up like a milkshake so you don’t get chunks that clog up your straw.
If you’re wondering how to sweeten coffee without sugar, you’re in luck! There are tons of options to choose from.
Sugar-free sweeteners are a great option for those who want to sweeten their coffee without sugar or extra calories. There are several types of sugar-free sweeteners available, including artificial sweeteners, natural sweeteners, and sugar substitutes. Just keep in mind that many are much sweeter than sugar by volume, so start slow when adding them.
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin (those are the pink, yellow, and blue packets in a sugar caddy) are low-calorie alternatives to sugar that can be added directly to coffee.
Natural sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit extract are also great options. Stevia is a plant-based sweetener that is calorie-free and has a slightly sweet, herbal flavor. Monk fruit extract is another natural sweetener that's made from a small green fruit.
Sugar alcohols like erythritol or xylitol are also popular, naturally derived low-calorie alternatives to sugar. They have a similar taste and texture to sugar and can be used in the same way, but they are not metabolized by the body in the same way as sugar and therefore have fewer calories.
Remember that each of these options will have a slightly different taste than sugar, so experiment with different types to find one that suits your taste. You can also experiment with using any of them to make a sugar-free simple syrup if you prefer.
Flavor extracts (like vanilla extract) are a super easy, delicious, and healthy way to sweeten coffee. Just a small bit (start with just ⅛ teaspoon) can be added to coffee to create a warm and cozy flavor that pairs particularly well with creamy additions like milk or cream.
But vanilla isn't your only option here! Almond extract has a nutty and slightly sweet flavor that adds an amaretto vibe. Hazelnut extract, on the other hand, has a rich and creamy flavor that makes coffee taste like a decadent treat. Peppermint extract is a refreshing addition to coffee, particularly during the holidays, and it pairs beautifully with chocolatey additions like Ovaltine.
Best of all, flavor extracts are easy to find in most grocery stores and can be added to coffee with zero fuss. Oh, and they can also be used to make specialty coffee drinks like flavored lattes or cappuccinos. However, it's important to use extracts in moderation — they can be quite potent and can overpower the taste of coffee if too much is added.
Cinnamon (and other spices)
Cinnamon is a versatile spice that adds a warm and cozy flavor to coffee. It has a slightly sweet and woody flavor that somehow makes everything it touches taste sweeter.
Haiwaj, a traditional Middle Eastern spice mix specifically designed for flavoring coffee, is another great way to add a unique flavor profile to your afternoon pick-me-up. It typically includes a blend of aromatic spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and cloves.
You can also experiment with your own blend of warming spices like nutmeg, allspice, and ginger to enhance the overall flavor of your drink. The great thing about spices is you can either brew your coffee with them (just add the spices directly to the coffee grounds before brewing) or sprinkle them on afterward. They can also be mixed with granulated sugar for a fun, sparkly topper to your drink.
Salt may seem like an unlikely addition to coffee, but it actually helps to suppress the bitterness of coffee and enhance its natural sweetness. Much like seasoning food, it can also help to bring out the subtle flavors and notes of the coffee, creating a more complex and nuanced taste. You can either add a few pinches to the coffee grounds before brewing or add a pinch to your glass when serving and stir to combine.
Feel free to experiment with different flavors of protein powder (e.g. chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter) and try different brands to find one that you like. You're also welcome to use unflavored collagen, though it won't help to sweeten your brew.
Make sure to choose a high-quality brand and start small as you add it — you don't want your iced coffee to end up tasting chalky or gritty. I also recommend investing in a milk frother to help you dissolve the powder into the liquid more quickly and evenly.
The ingredients we’ve discussed up until this point have been relatively tame, and may have already crossed your mind at some point or another. These remaining ideas are admittedly a bit off the wall, but I promise they all yield delectable results!
Flavored/Sweetened Ice Cubes
Flavored ice cubes are a creative and easy way to add some extra flavor to your afternoon drinks. Better yet, they are super simple to make and can easily be customized.
Try your hand at making some custom ice cubes with a variety of ingredients, including fruit (like berries or citrus), herbs (like mint or basil), or flavored syrups like vanilla, caramel, or honey syrup. You can also freeze melted ice cream cubes!
Simply fill an ice cube tray with the solid ingredients of your choice. Then, add water, syrup, milk, or juice as needed and freeze until solid. Once the ice cubes are frozen, keep them in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. Then add them to your iced coffee anytime you need a burst of flavor.
For all you black jelly bean lovers out there, this one's for you! Licorice root has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. It also just so happens to be a great way to add some fun variety to your coffee routine.
Licorice root has a sweet, woody flavor that adds a subtle brightness to coffee without the need for added sugar. The slightly spicy and herbal taste pairs well with rich, bold coffee.
To use licorice in coffee, simply add a small piece of the root to your coffee grounds before brewing. Alternatively, add some licorice root extract or syrup to your prepared coffee or espresso for a pop of interesting flavor. If you can't find licorice root, fennel seed is a great substitute!
Nutella/Nut & Seed Butters
If creamy, nutty goodness is your idea of a good time, consider adding some rich nut or seed butters to your java. They’re pretty thick, so you’ll want to blend them up with some milk before adding them to your coffee (or directly with the iced coffee if you’re not adding any milk). That said, a dollop of chocolatey Nutella or creamy peanut butter will give your beverage a serious flavor boost that I happen to love.
Fruit Juice, Coconut Water, & Seltzers
Ok, I know what you’re thinking. Fruit juice… in COFFEE?? It sounds weird, but hear me out. Fruit juices are naturally sweet, sorta like thinned out flavored syrups. You’ll want to be mindful of your flavor combinations — I’d recommend apple juice over orange juice, for example.
But if a raspberry mocha sounds good, try adding some berry juice and a drizzle of chocolate syrup or some hot cocoa powder. It works, I tell you!
Coconut water is also a fun addition that happens to add electrolytes and lightly sweetens the coffee. You can also play with adding flavored seltzer waters (I honestly really enjoy Coconut La Croix) to give your iced coffee a soda vibe.
Granted, this is more for when you’re in party or relaxation mode rather than as an afternoon pick-me-up. That said, Kahlua, Bailey’s, Cointreau, Chambord, Godiva, and other sweetened Schnapp’s-style alcohols are a great way to add sweetness. Just sayin.
Up top I listed over 30 options. At this point, the question is more “what CAN’T you put in iced coffee to make it sweeter,” LOL.
Heck yeah! It’s one of my favorite sweeteners, especially during the fall. And the best part? You can add it right to the iced coffee without needing to dilute it first. Boo-ya!
Sure! Feel free to blend up a fruity coffee smoothie, add some fruit purée instead of flavored syrups, or even use fruit juice as your primary sweetener. I tend to lean more towards berries than citrus, but that’s just me. In Europe they serve espresso with a lemon or orange twist, so who am I to argue?