I recently made the switch from hot coffee to iced coffee and quickly discovered that my normal method of adding a spoonful of sugar to sweeten the drink won’t work.
Sugar simply doesn’t dissolve in cold liquids and just sinks to the bottom of the cup. Bummer.
This gave me a bit of a dilemma. I decided to conduct an experiment to find out what the best way to sweeten an iced coffee is.
I tried and tested 9 methods. I’ve explained my results and what I thought about each method below.
A note about my experiment:
For consistency, I ordered two venti (largest) sized iced coffees from Starbucks. I portioned these out into smaller glasses for each sweetener. I then documented the taste, texture and overall effectiveness of each sweetening ingredient.
This isn’t one of my most scientific experiments, as sweetening is largely personal preference. But I hope it helps you to discover some interesting and creative ways to sweeten your coffee without just plain old simple syrup.
How to sweeten iced coffee
To sweeten iced coffee, make a simple syrup by heating sugar and water in a 1:1 ratio until the sugar has dissolved. Agave or maple syrup are good alternatives to sugar. For a sugar-free way to sweeten your iced coffee, add vanilla extract, coconut milk, or unsweetened cocoa powder.
The below methods are all traditionally sweet things and contain sugar in some form (but not necessarily pure sugar).
Not all of them are unhealthy though, such as honey.
If you want to avoid sugar completely skip the section on how to sweeten iced coffee without sugar.
Make a simple sugar syrup
This is the most common way to sweeten iced coffee.
You dissolve sugar in hot water to make sugar water. You can then add this sweetened water to your iced coffee. It will mix in well.
How to make sugar syrup at home
Sugar syrup (AKA simple syrup) is super simple to make and will last at least a month in the fridge, so you can make a big batch and save it for later.
- 1 part granulated sugar
- 1 part water
- Extra flavorings (optional)
- Mix the sugar and water in a saucepan
- Heat the mixture on a medium heat until all the sugar has dissolved (if you’ve added any extra flavorings leave the mixture heating for 1-2 minutes extra)
- Remove from the heat
- Leave to cool before storing in an airtight container in the fridge
You can play around with the ratio of sugar:water a little if you want a sweeter or less sweet syrup. Adding more sugar will result in a thicker consistency and also increase the shelf life of the syrup.
One of the best things about making your own sugar syrup is that you can customize it however you want.
You can add extra notes of flavor in the form of spices, herbs, citrus zest, vanilla beans, and even some extra espresso powder. These additional ingredients will lower the shelf life of your sugar syrup, but you’ll probably be drinking so much iced coffee that won’t be a problem!
How long does simple syrup last?
Syrup with a 1:1 sugar:water ratio will last a month in the fridge. Syrup with a 2:1 sugar:water ratio will last closer to 6 months.
Any flavourings you add to the syrup can reduce it’s shelf life.
Your simple syrup should be totally clear. If you notice it start to go cloudy this is a sign your syrup is past it’s best.
Store bought syrups
Okay so you can’t be bothered making your own syrup. That’s okay – people have busy lives.
For a quick fix, you can buy ready-made syrups from the shop. There’s a wide range of brands and flavors to pick from.
You can even pick up Starbucks Syrups (available on Amazon) to use at home. Cool, right?
Honey is a nice alternative to plain sugar and will add a subtle flavor to your coffee.
However, it doesn’t dissolve all that well in cold liquids.
To sweeten iced coffee with honey you need to first make a honey syrup. This is the same as making a simple sugar syrup. Add equal amounts of honey and water to a pan, heat until the honey has dissolved, and leave to cool. The mixture will last a month in the fridge.
You can add the honey syrup straight to your coffee from the fridge.
For a single serving, you can just dissolve the honey in a small amount of hot water before adding it to the drink.
Agave and maple syrup are great alternatives to honey because they dissolve well in cold liquids. There’s no need to make a syrup with these options – you can add them to your coffee straight from the packet.
Perfect if you’re in a hurry.
Sweetened condensed milk
In Vietnam, it’s standard to have sweetened condensed milk in your coffee and I don’t blame them. It’s DELICIOUS.
The milk sweetens the coffee and gives it a slightly thicker consistency.
I’d add 2 tbps of condensed milk per glass of iced coffee.
You’ll need to stir the mixture pretty thoroughly to ensure the condensed milk fully mixes with the coffee. It has a tendency to sink straight to the bottom if it isn’t stirred well enough (see pic above).
This ones pretty indulgent, but everyone deserves a treat now and again!
A few spoons of your favourite ice cream will sweeten your coffee right up.
My personal favorite is mint choc chip or plain old vanilla.
Again, be sure to give the drink a good stir to completely melt the ice cream and mix it in well.
Chocolate ice cubes / sweetened coffee ice cubes
There’s nothing worse than leaving you drink for two minutes only to come back and find the ice cubes melted and the drink watery.
A clever way to get around this, and sweeten your coffee at the same time, is to use flavored ice cubes.
Chocolate ice cubes or ice cubes made of sweetened coffee work wonderfully. Another option is mint-flavored ice cubes.
To make chocolate-flavored ice cubes you can use chocolate milk, or mix milk with cocoa powder and sugar. With the coffee ice cubes, you can sweeten the coffee however you want, then freeze it and add the cubes into your coffee the next time you drink it.
It’s like coffee inception!
Because you have to wait for the ice cubes to melt before you get the full sweetened effect this option is best for those looking for just a hint of sweetness.
Almond milk (sweetened)
Instead of normal milk you can switch to a non-dairy alternative that’s been pre-sweetened.
Vanilla flavored almond milk will add even more sweetness.
Other non-dairy alternatives include coconut and soy – whichever one you have in the fridge is fine (as long as it’s sweetened!)
Chocolate milk is every child’s dream, it sweetens milk and makes it taste MUCH nicer.
It does the same with coffee.
It effectively turns your drink into a mocha by adding the chocolate flavor. What more could you want?
At Starbucks, I always like to have extra caramel drizzle on my drink. While it doesn’t dissolve all that well in cold drinks, if you stir it enough the caramel becomes well incorporated and you’ll be able to taste it in every sip.
This works best if you add the caramel to your cup BEFORE you add the coffee. This way you can drizzle it down the sides of your cup and it will sweeten the whole drink. If your caramel is too hard to drizzle put it in the microwave for a few seconds to soften it up.
How to sweeten iced coffee without sugar
If you’re just lacking sugar in your pantry then hopefully you’ve found a suitable option above.
But if you’re trying to completely avoid sugar in all it’s disguised forms here are some healthier options for sweetening iced coffee.
Use coconut milk/water (unsweetened)
Coconut is naturally sweet, so swapping out some water for coconut water, or using coconut milk instead of normal creamer will add a hint of sweetness without the need for sugar.
It also gives the drink an exotic flavour. As you drink it, the coffee will transport you to a white sand beach somewhere in paradise!
Coconut cream will work as as well. These are great natural options for sweetening your iced coffee.
Unsweetened cocoa powder
If you’re into mochas, but not into sugar, swap the sugary chocolate syrup out for unsweetened cocoa powder.
The powder wont directly sweeten the drink but it’ll have a sweet aftertaste, and taste like chocolate!
The powder won’t dissolve if you put it into a cold drink. What I do is make a slurry with some hot water and the powder then add an ice cube to cool it down. Once it’s cool I put it into the drink and stir well.
Extracts (mint, vanilla, coconut, hazelnut)
It can be difficult to get a hard hitting sweet flavour without using sugar, but pure extracts manage it.
Simply mix 1-2 drops into your coffee and stir.
The extracts will also add another flavor dimension. Vanilla is best if you want a plainer sweet taste. Hazelnut or almond will add a nutty sweetness. Mint will go well with unsweetened cocoa powder.
Cinnamon is a spice, but it has a nice sweet aftertaste that can be pleasant after a mouthful of coffee. It’s also a keto-friendly spice, so a good way for anyone on the keto diet to sweeten their iced coffee.
Unfortunately, cinnamon wont dissolve in cold beverages so you need to get a bit creative. You can add the spice to your coffee grounds (but be careful not to mess
Or you can leave a cinnamon stick in the coffee while it’s cooling down. It won’t dissolve, but the oils will leach out and flavour the coffee.
Be careful not to overdo it because the drink can get quite spicy with too much cinnamon.
Unsweetened vanilla almond milk
I’ve already mentioned using sweetened almond milk, but it contains sugar.
If you opt for the vanilla version of the unsweetened milk the vanilla flavor will bring a hint of sweetness to your drink.
Again, you don’t have to stick to almond milk. You can use any vanilla-flavored dairy alternative, you can also deviate from vanilla to chocolate or nuts if you have that option.
Skinny syrups are sugar free alternatives to the traditional simple syrups.
You can buy them from your local supermarket, or online (like these delicious ones on Amazon).
Instead of sugar they use sweeteners such as sucralose. They’re zero-calorie and keto-safe.
How to sweeten iced coffee at starbucks
Ordering at starbucks can be a stressfull experience, even more so if you’re unsure on what exactly you should be ordering!
If you want a sweet iced coffee from Starbucks you have a few options:
- Ask for sweet vanilla cream instead of normal milk/cream. This works REALLY well with cold brews. If you haven’t tried it yet, what are you waiting for?
- Ask for extra pumps of syrup. Each size of drink has a specific number of pumps they use
- Use a sweet flavored syrup. White mocha is one of the sweetest. There are loads of different flavors and some are sweeter than others. Ask the server which syrups are the sweetest and then ask for a couple of pumps of that.
- If you get a flavored syrup, make sure to also get the classic syrup. Sometimes when people order flavored syrups they sub these for the classic sugar syrups. If you want a sweet drink, it’s best to keep both
- Get extra caramel drizzle.
How To Sweeten Iced Coffee
- 1 portion iced coffee
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
Make a simple sugar syrup
- Mix the sugar and water in a saucepan.
- Heat the mixture on a medium heat until all the sugar has dissolved (if you’ve added any extra flavorings leave the mixture heating for 1-2 minutes extra).
- Remove from the heat.
- Leave to cool before storing in an airtight container in the fridge.
- You can play around with the ratio of sugar:water a little if you want a sweeter or less sweet syrup. Adding more sugar will result in a thicker consistency and also increase the shelf life of the syrup.
- You can add extra notes of flavor in the form of spices, herbs, citrus zest, vanilla beans, and even some extra espresso powder. These additional ingredients will lower the shelf life of your sugar syrup, but you’ll probably be drinking so much iced coffee that won’t be a problem!