Cream and Sugar

KGB Coffee CupHow do you take your coffee? Cream and sugar? Black? Flavored creamers? Let’s take a look at the options.


Sugar used to be simple: white granulated powder. Nowadays there are other options, like raw sugar or agave nectar. Sometime I see coffee shops with simple syrup. I saw this a lot in both New England and California, but not so much in Michigan or Texas. In any case, when it comes to sugar, I usually skip it. I used to add sugar to my coffee, but I weaned myself off of it. Unless it’s really cheap coffee. “Diner coffee”, as I call it, needs a generous heap of sugar.

Artificial Sweeteners

I like the occasional Diet Coke, but when it comes to coffee, tea or other hot drinks, I don’t care for artificial sweeteners. In any case, there are a multitude of colors to choose from. When I was a kid, there was just pink and blue: saccharin and aspartame. Then, a decade ago, there were yellow packets too (sucralose). In the past few years, I’ve seen green packets (stevia) and even orange (mogroside). I’ve not tried these in my coffee, and now that I’ve weaned myself off of sugar, I’m not sure if I even want to try.

Milk and Cream

I no longer use both cream and sugar, but I still can’t drink my coffee black. I need some sort of dairy product. I like half-and-half, though in a pinch I can use milk. Whole milk, that is, or even Two Percent. Skim milk in coffee is hardly worth the effort. It just waters it down without affecting the taste.

Of all the things you can add to coffee, the dairy options have changed very little in the last century. Though one option nowadays is fat free half-and-half. This is my least favorite option on the list. It often comes in similar packaging as the real half-and-half, and it’s easy to buy it by mistake. But despite the name, it has more in common with non-dairy creamer than with the other options in the dairy case.

Non-Dairy Creamer

Note the “er” on the end if creamer. It’s an agentive suffix. Creamer is not cream. It’s an agent that makes liquids creamy. Most creamers use vegetable oil to give a cream-like texture to your coffee. Since these vegetable oils taste nothing like the milkfat in real milk and cream, they add sugar or high fructose corn syrup, along with artificial flavorings. The result is non-dairy creamer. Notice that it’s “non-dairy” and not “vegan”. Most non-dairy creamer actually has cow-derived casein, but because it lacks the lactose that makes people disagree with dairy products, it’s allowed to call itself “non-dairy”. Like the word “creamer”, the words are chosen for narrow and precise legal reasons.

I used to use creamer, back in the early 2000s, though even then, I didn’t care for the powdered Coffee Mate. I liked the flavored International Delights. My favorite was hazelnut, with French vanilla a close second. Then one day I read the label. I was horrified at the conglomeration of oils and sugars and things I would never dream of putting in my drink. Moreover, I realized that I was buying expensive coffees and drowning them in cheap artificial flavors. I immediately switched to half-and-half. It was a hard transition, but once I got over the oily sweetness of flavored non-dairy creamers, I never looked back. Despite all the options in the modern world, I recommend good old fashioned cream and sugar. The original options are still the best.

Steve Lovelace

Steve Lovelace is a writer and graphic artist. After graduating Michigan State University in 2004, he taught Spanish in Samoa before moving to Dallas, Texas. He blogs regularly at

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7 Responses

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