Espresso Coffee: with or without Sugar?

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Espresso Coffee: with or without Sugar?

caffè espresso bruciato o sporco

The question is a “burdensome” one, a serious issue that can generate real feuds: Espresso Coffee, with or without Sugar?

Sometimes the question becomes even more twisted in its variable: “Better the Sugar or the Sweetener?”
It would be a bit like asking a sommelier: “Is it better to add lemonade or cedrata in red wine?”

Let’s joke about it, a smile always helps to improve the day!

Joke aside, let’s try to approach it from a technical point of view.

Which effects does Sugar have in Coffee?

It has to be clear that altering the original flavour of the espresso can’t be considered as a taste or an evaluation of the quality of the coffee. Therefore, as a purist, espresso should definitely be tasted without sugar if you want to have a professional taste of coffee.

Some customers, however, prefer it sweet, so it is good to wonder how sugar alters the taste of coffee, because, it should be pointed out, the reaction is not the same for any type of coffee.

Sugar over the “cream”
Let’s immediately dispel the myth of sugar “floating above the cream”.
Rumour has it that pouring sugar over coffee, the longer the sugar itself remains suspended, the “better” (quality) the espresso is.

The foam of the espresso is given by the oils emulsified with carbon dioxide, enhanced by the espresso machine. It follows that the more carbon dioxide is present, the more foam we get.

The factors that characterize the quantity of CO2 in the espresso are 4:

  • the robusta one contains more than the arabica
  • darker roasting has more than light roasting
  • the freshest coffee has more than the least fresh
  • a higher extraction temperature creates more than the lower temperature

Those listed are all technical characteristics and not qualitative. Among other things, generally, the high content of robusta provides a lower variety of positive aromas than the more noble arabica.

Sugar and Bitterness of Espresso
Sugar is the antidote to bitterness, i.e. it directly affects it by lowering its perception: the bitter the espresso, the more sugar we will add.

Sugar and Acidity of Espresso
The effect that sugar has on acidity is different: it can make it sweet or even cloying.

Let’s take 3 specific examples:

  • Very Bitter Espresso
    In a very bitter espresso we will add 3-4 gr of sugar, no more. In this way we will lower the annoying and opaque perception of bitterness, enhancing the flavours present in the coffee.
  • Sour Espresso
    In an espresso that tends to be acidulous we will add a maximum of 2 grams of sugar to attenuate the distorting effect of the acidity, making it more pleasant and at the same time facilitating the perception of the flavours.
  • Low bitterness and low acidity espresso
    In an espresso with little or no bitterness, with low or pleasant (tolerable?) acidity, adding sugar would mean unbalancing it and therefore ruining it.

>> By the way, are you interested in learning how to recognize flaws of espresso coffee during tasting? <<

Brown Sugars and White Sugars

The significant differences between brown and white sugars are:

  • the sweetening capacity, greater in white sugars
  • the aftertaste that adds to the espresso, which tends to be more caramelised for the former, but more chemical for the latter and very chemical for the sweeteners

How much Sugar should be put in the Espresso Coffee?

I give you a piece of advice: if you are used to adding sugar in espresso, I suggest you start using the above mentioned quantities.
It is important to know that sugar packets in coffee bars often contain 6, 8 or even 10 grams of sugar.

Therefore, if you don’t impulsively spill the entire content in your espresso, you will be able to enjoy a pleasantly sweetened espresso and not “a coffee-flavoured sugar”!

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