Caution: Contents Magical

Whether you want to begin drinking black coffee or simply want to reduce your daily sugar intake, coffee can taste so much better without sugar once your taste buds adjust.

I started drinking coffee when I was nine; back then, eighty percent of my mug was cream and sugar with a splash of coffee. Without meaning to, I regularly reduced the sugar in my coffee over the years. With time, I started to favor the subtle flavors in coffee, which meant I needed less sugar to cover up the taste.

The truth is sugar doesn’t taste like anything. Once you begin to think: what are the inherent flavors here without salt or sugar, you begin to truly appreciate what you’re eating and drinking.  

Some people will be able to quit using sugar in their coffee cold-turkey; but if you cherish your morning cup of coffee as much as I do, that simply won’t fly.

Instead, I’ll give you tips for reducing the amount of sugar in your coffee over time. We’ll also cover what you can use in coffee instead, as well as some sugar alternatives for those who simply need their sweet.

How to Transition: Drinking Coffee without Sugar

As with any new venture in life, figuring out your why will greatly improve, not only the likeliness you’ll make the transition but, your perspective while making it. So why do you want to drink coffee without sugar?

I know it’s tempting to skip this part; I’m not asking you to write down your answer. But do take a couple seconds to ask yourself.

Overtime, my answer to that question has changed. For many years, I followed unhealthy diets that required black coffee. Those regimes never lasted—I love coffee too much for that.

But a funny thing happens as you reduce the sugar in your coffee. It doesn’t happen right away; it may take you months or even years. Eventually, you won’t want much sugar in your coffee because it tastes better without it.

I know that may be hard to believe if you’re a two-tablespoons-of-sugar-per-cup kind of person; the key is to have patience with your taste buds. It’s good to note that if you’re reducing the overall daily amount of sugar you’re consuming, your taste buds will adjust more quickly.

Instead of reducing the amount of sugar you use in a few weeks, slowly reduce the amount of sugar over a few months.

The slower you reduce the amount, the less your daily routine will be affected and the easier the transition will be. If you can’t take your time reducing the amount of sugar, you’re going to have a much rougher transition period.

There are plenty of alternatives to make the transition smoother if your goal is to drink black coffee. Below I’ve got some suggestions you may enjoy, as well the only thing I add to my coffee everyday, whether I get it from a coffee shop or make it at home.

What to Use in Coffee Instead

Non-Dairy Milk (Soy, Oat, Almond)

Instead of sugar and cream, add a non-dairy milk of your choosing to your coffee. This is how I was able to reduce the sugar in my coffee to nearly zero.

In my opinion, soy milk is the best in coffee; oat milk is a close second, and almond milk is a very distant third. Non-dairy milks replace sugar seamlessly because of their slight inherent sweetness.

You can buy non-dairy milk unsweetened if completely removing sugar is your goal. However, I’ve found that using original soy milk is phenomenal in coffee.

Yes, there is added sugar in original soy milk. But if you’re using less than half a cup, the amount is minimal and totally worth the hint of sweetness. I no longer use any sweeteners or syrups in my coffee, even when I’m at a coffee shop—it’s that good.

Another benefit of using non-dairy milks is that once your taste buds adjust and it becomes your preference, you can get coffee with non-dairy milk anywhere. That makes your new coffee order easy to find and dependably delicious.

Photo by Tereza Rubá on Unsplash

Vanilla Extract + Cinnamon

You can choose to use these two ingredients separately as well. But if you’ve ever had Mexican hot chocolate, you know they’re better together.

I imagine they would go best with milk or non-dairy milk; however, both ingredients are often recommended for transitioning to black coffee too.

Simply add a couple shakes of cinnamon and a small splash of vanilla extract to your cup of coffee; this won’t add any sweetness but it will help highlight favorable flavors.

Cacao Powder & Stevia

If you want to make a sugarless mocha, this is a great combo to try. I recommend warming your milk or non-dairy milk first and adding your cacao powder and stevia to the warm milk to fully dissolve, then add your coffee.

While this isn’t likely something you’d want to do everyday, it’s a stellar treat to make when you feel like it. If you’re not a fan of stevia, the sweetness of your milk might be enough. You could also use a small amount of agave (more on that below).

Pumpkin Spice Mix

You can buy premixed pumpkin spices, or you can simply add cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg together at home. We all know how cliche pumpkin spice anything is thanks to fall, Starbucks, and white girls. But don’t let that kill your pumpkin spice fun! If you want a warm, welcoming hot drink that tastes like being at a pumpkin patch as the leaves are falling, give yourself that joy.

If you want a little sweetness, add your warm milk or non-dairy milk. If it’s still not quite right, you can always add stevia. Alternatively, you could use a few drops of agave (but we’ll go over why that’s not the preferred choice when reducing sugar intake below).

Photo by Íris Juana on Unsplash

Natural Alternatives to Sugar: Coffee Sweeteners

Honey, Agave, Maple Syrup

While neither honey, agave, or maple syrup are sourced from sugar cane, the body will digest all of these syrups into the same base components as sugar. However, agave is lower glycemic and doesn't spike blood sugar as much. Which means for some, these syrups will be sufficient as a sugar alternative; but for others, these alternatives aren’t going to fulfill why they're reducing sugar in coffee.

Stevia Extract

For some people, stevia tastes like nothing but a little sweetness. Stevia is a fantastic alternative if you want sweetness without the effects of sugar (or its syrupy cousins). I highly recommend giving stevia a try, especially if you’re finding the transition away from sugar particularly difficult. For some people, this will solve the issue of how to drink coffee without sugar immediately.

But for others, stevia tastes disgusting. Hello, that’s me! Stevia has a distinct taste to me, which means I can immediately tell when it’s being used in something. If you’re like me, stevia just won’t work. If you aren’t sure, give it a try. Stevia is one of, if not the, healthiest alternatives to sugar available.

Other Options:

  • Monk Fruit Extract
  • Coconut Sugar
  • Splenda (artificial)

How to Make Coffee Taste Better (without Sugar)

A large part of transitioning to drinking coffee without sugar is coming to appreciate the other flavors and subtleties in coffee brew. The less cream and sugar you’re using, the more you actually taste your coffee. At which point, you may suddenly realize that you’ve been drinking bitter coffee for years.

The beauty of this is learning how to make a better cup of coffee. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to make some small but significant changes, resulting in much tastier brew.

Use High Quality Beans

Where your coffee beans come from, how they were roasted, and how long ago they were roasted will all greatly impact the flavors in your coffee. Which is why it’s worth trying new coffee companies, different coffee sources, and various flavor profiles.

Regardless of where you get your coffee, choose beans with quality. If you can, find a local coffee shop that roasts their own beans and get them fresh. When you brew coffee beans during their ideal window of time, you’ll be rewarded with smoother, naturally sweet coffee.

If you’re still learning what you like, try something different each time you buy coffee beans and make notes in a journal. That way, you can look back after a few months and see why it is you like certain coffee more than others.

Photo by Yan Khanafi on Unsplash

Try Different Coffee Roasts

For smooth coffee without sugar, a medium or medium-dark roast is your best bet. When you’re trying out different bean qualities, try different roasts too and make notes on your preferences.

If you’re already a tea drinker, I recommend trying lighter roasts; I find light roasts offer more subtle flavors. Light roast coffee also produces less body, which is common with medium and dark roasts.

For some, that lack of body is less desirable. However, light roast coffee offers more palatable flavors, which may be ideal for getting used to the taste of coffee without sugar.

I transitioned from dark roast to medium roast when I stopped adding sugar to my coffee; I found that to be perfect for me because my coffee still has plenty of body but it’s also rather smooth.

Freshly Grind Beans

Grinding your coffee beans fresh each morning is a guaranteed way to improve the overall taste of your coffee—whether you use cream and sugar or not. For less than twenty dollars, you can acquire an electric or manual grinder.

Admittingly, this is something I am not yet doing. I get on just fine with my pre-ground coffee. But I’m certain that grinding my coffee fresh would improve my daily brew, and I plan to make this shift in the future. Overall, the difference isn’t enough to make the transition away from sugar easier.

Keep Your Machine Clean

Whether you’re using a coffee machine or other coffee making device, make sure you’re keeping it clean. Mineral build-up on your coffee-making equipment is the fastest way to end up with sour, bitter coffee and no understanding as to why.

Use equal parts vinegar and water to either run through your machine or soak your tools. Then run another clean water cycle through your machine or rinse your equipment with soap and water—to remove any lingering vinegar taste.

Try A Different Coffee Making Method

How you make your coffee will greatly impact the resulting brew. The Aeropress and Chemex are two popular coffee makers known for smooth coffee that’s not over-extracted. Yet some people prefer the taste of french press coffee, especially without sugar, because of how strong the brew’s flavors are.

If you’ve only ever relied on a drip coffee maker and you’re simply unsatisfied with the sugarless coffee its producing, have fun trying a new method! There are tons of options these days with most non-electric coffee makers being extremely affordable.

Is Coffee without Sugar Healthier?

Undoubtedly, yes. In moderation, sugar is fine. The problem being that sugar is in everything (often hidden), and it’s all too easy to eat and drink too much.

Coffee on its own has many benefits, from being anti-inflammatory to good for the heart. Even so, it’s good to watch your caffeine intake to ensure your coffee intake is treating you well.

The transition to drinking coffee without sugar is worth the journey, especially when you give you taste buds plenty of time to adjust. The less you rely on sugar to make coffee palatable, the more you’ll come to enjoy how delicious it can be.

What is your "why" for drinking coffee with less sugar? What tips do you have for someone making the transition? I'd love to hear 'em!