Learn how to sweeten your tea with everything from natural sweeteners to sugar crystals, and how to pair your steeps with the sweeteners that accent them the best
White cane sugar is one of the most widely used sweeteners today. You likely have some in your cabinets at this very moment. But it’s by far not the only option when it comes to adding a touch of sweetness to your tea. Over the last several years the choice of available sweeteners has significantly increased, giving us loads of flavour combination options when it comes to pairing them with steeps.
There’s definitely something to be said for the health effects of each of these options, but it’s largely debatable as to which of today’s sweeteners is “the healthiest,” as many of them can have fairly similar effects on the body, and each interacts differently with different body types. We’ll leave the decision to you and your doctor as to which sweetener is the healthiest option for your body. In this article we’re going to be focusing on the taste of various sweeteners, tips on how to use them, and most importantly, the best teas to sweeten with them.
This February, our three monthly selections were curated as little reminders to our subscribers that Life Is Sweet. So we’ll be letting you know here which sweeteners pair best with our blends from this month, to get the sweetest possible experience from your teacup.
Pure Maple Syrup
Staying true to our roots as a Canadian company, in terms of natural sweeteners, first on our list is Pure Maple Syrup!
Pure maple syrup is a great natural sweetener, considering that it goes through a fairly small amount of processing compared to most table sugars.
Adding maple syrup to your tea can give it soft notes of smokiness, and the darker the syrup, the stronger the maple flavour will be.
Maple syrup pairs deliciously with breakfast and nut teas. Just be sure to add a small amount at first then adjust as needed, since it’s rather sweet. It’s also important to make sure that the maple syrup you find is 100% pure, since some syrups are labeled “maple syrup” but are actually just maple flavouring in regular sugar-syrup.
On a slightly more exotic note, Yacon Syrup has recently gained popularity, mainly due to its gut-improving probiotics, high fiber count and low calorie content. Several studies suggest that it may even help with weight loss (which you gotta admit, is a pretty nice perk coming from a sweetener). Because of how Yacon syrup can often affect the digestive system, it’s important to start by testing with small amounts. Taking one or two teaspoons maximum per day should give you a chance to see whether or not this syrup works well with your body and your taste buds.
Even though this syrup is dark in color, it sits light on the tongue, with a flavour somewhere between caramelized sugar and molasses, but with a slightly tangy twist at the end (comparable to the tang of a tamarind).
Yacon syrup is just slightly less sweet than honey, but has a fairly complex flavour profile, so we’d recommend pairing this sweetener with a simple Earl Grey, a lightly flavoured fruit blend, or a strong Ceylon.
Next on our list of natural sweeteners is Honey. This golden nectar is believed to be the very first sweetener that humans added to food and beverage.
One great thing about honey is that it can instantly take away the bitterness of a beverage. So if you enjoy the sour nip of a lemon slice in your tea, then opt for another sweetener, because honey will cancel that right out. There’s an enormous variety of flavour in (especially raw) honey, so here’s a list that may help you when it comes to choosing which flavour you’d most enjoy from your honey.
For tea pairings, we suggest using a fairly light-coloured honey (generally the lighter the colour, the more mild the taste), with green and flower teas, or flowered green teas if you’re receiving our subscription blends . Honey can help to soften the slight bitterness in green tea, and act as a highlight to floral notes.
There is a lot of discussion nowadays about whether or not honey is actually healthier than sugar, considering that honey’s calorie content is higher than sugar. But one thing to keep in mind is that raw honey offers several beneficial nutrients and minerals that sugar doesn’t. The important part here is to find a honey that is raw. The large majority of honey you find in grocery stores has been pasteurized to prevent crystallization, but unfortunately, heating honey kills most of those helpful nutrients. So in order to make sure you’re getting nutrient-packed honey, there are a couple of things you can do. The first is to check the label. If it says 100% raw, then you’re good to go. The second is to take a look at the colour. Pasteurized honey is clear, runny, and has a consistent colour through and through, whereas raw honey has a thicker texture (kind of like a salve), and is rather cloudy.
Berries and Fruit
For those who aren’t big on super sweet flavours, Berries and Fruit could be just the trick.
Crushed strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and even dark cherries can add a good deal of natural sweetness to your cup of tea. If you simply cut up fruit and/or berries and plop them into your tea, you likely won’t get much of their natural sweetness, but crushing them a few minutes ahead of time, like just before you put the kettle on, will help bring out all of their naturally sweet juices.
When it comes to fresh fruit, two selections we find efficient in adding a touch of sweet are crushed mangos and peaches. Dried fruit like papaya, cranberries, banana, and pineapple can also be softly sweet, with subtle notes of added flavour.
When sweetening with dried fruit, it’s a good idea to add the desired amount as soon as you steep your tea. Contrarily, when sweetening with fresh fruit or berries, once you’ve given their juices a minute or two to seep out, it’s best to let your tea cool down slightly before adding them into your tea cup/pot, to insure that you don’t cook out all of their fresh vitamins and nutrients.
Since fruit and berries tend to bring their own savours into your teacup, we’d recommend using them with blends where they’re already present, so that the flavours of the blend are enhanced, rather than diminished. That said, hibiscus blends are generally deliciously enriched by some crushed berries, and one of our founder’s personal pairing favourites is dried pineapple with a simple rooibos.
For our February subscribers, we’d recommend adding crushed, fresh raspberries, strawberries and/or blackberries to our Laughter blend, which has dried whole pieces of these three berries.
Another natural fruit sweetener is Date Syrup. Next to honey, date syrup is also one of the most long-used sweeteners in history. Dates are well known for their highly-energizing capabilities, and are often consumed by athletes or those with plant-based diets who looking for an energy boost.
Date syrup has several virtues, like having antioxidants and vitamins, but one of our favorites is the simplicity of how it’s processed. Since dates don’t hold a lot of their own water, it’s often necessary to add some in order to bring them to a more liquid consistency and finally to a syrup, but that’s all date syrup is- dates, and water.
Thanks to this simple processing, when you taste date syrup, it tastes just like eating a whole date.
Because this syrup can be rather filling, without being overly sweet, we’d recommend adding a lean tablespoon to a cup of whichever morning blends you enjoy when you don’t have time for a full breakfast. This should keep you feeling full and energized, even if you only have time for some tea.
The last on our list of natural sweeteners is Stevia Leaf. Well known for its complete lack of calories, this green leaf packs a lot of sweetness, and can be hundreds of times sweeter than white sugar. The taste of stevia is rather dependent on the taste buds it’s tickling. Although it is undeniably sweet, some people find it to have slightly bitter notes as well.
There is some debate as to whether or not stevia sweeteners are truly a good option, considering the way they’re processed. But to stay on the safe side, we’d recommend simply sticking to dried, whole leaves. You can either crush them into a powder yourself, or simply sprinkle some cut up bits into your cup.
Since this natural leaf has such a light presence in tea, we’d recommend testing micro amounts with white and oolong teas so that you’ll get that touch of sweet, without distracting from the complex and delicate flavours of these steeps.
Coconut Sugar has recently gained a good deal of popularity in the world of white sugar alternatives.
Although coconut sugar has a similar amount of calories and base composition as cane sugar, it contrastingly has several nutrients in it, which keep those calories from being completely empty. Unfortunately, the presence of those nutrients is a bit too feeble in order to reap many benefits, which means that using it sparingly is advisable.
This unrefined sugar has a caramel-like flavour that can significantly darken the flavour of your tea if you add very much. So think of nut teas, black tea with hints of vanilla or caramel, or a creamy matcha blend to pair with moderate doses of this sweetener.
Raw Cane Sugar
Raw Cane Sugar has also grown in popularity in recent years. Perhaps that is because it’s production involves less chemicals than refined white sugar. The beginning of production is the same for both refined and raw cane sugar (removing the molasses), but refined white sugar is processed a level further by being mixed with chemicals that remove the colour and remaining minerals.
One thing to note is that raw and refined sugar don’t dissolve quite the same. Since raw sugar takes a bit longer to dissolve, you may want to use it in teas that steep at higher temperatures, this way you’ll have a chance to enjoy your tea at an optimal temperature once the raw sugar has dissolved.
Although identical in caloric value and nearly identical in flavour to processed sugar, Sugar Crystals have a scarce caramelized flavor and are very pretty to use. Offering these as a sweetener can be a great way to fancy-up your tea parties.
Of course, a discussion of how to sweeten your tea would not be complete without including the ubiquitous White Sugar. The highly-refined, easily-dissolvable, tiny crystals of white sugar make for a convenient way to sweeten tea, and brings a sweetness without adding additional flavours. Used sparingly, white sugar can make a great compliment for oolong or black tea blends, or to balance the bitterness some green tea blends.
Since our black tea blend, Smooches, has a tiny amount of sugar present from the candy heart pieces, we’d recommend adding half a teaspoon to one teaspoon of white sugar to a cup of this steep, to accent its notes of vanilla, and enhance the complexity of the Orange Pekoe.
How Not to Sweeten Your Tea
Some may be surprised to learn that there are right and wrong ways to sweeten your tea. If that’s your case, not to worry, we’ll let you in on the secrets of how to do it the right way. Just keep these notes in mind:
- Adding sweetener before you’ve tasted the tea is something that any tea connoisseur would consider a faux pas. Many tea connoisseurs refuse to ever sweeten their tea, in order to protect the integrity of a tea’s naked flavour. Every blend of tea is unique, and although some may go down easier with a spoon full of sugar* you might be surprised to learn that many of them are just as delicious when savoured in their own simplicity, if not more so. *Did you catch that Marry Poppins reference? Had to fit that in somewhere in this article.
- When sweetening with raw honey, as mentioned above, it’s important not to cook the honey, otherwise all the health-boosting nutrients will be eliminated. So make sure that your tea has appropriately cooled down before adding some of this liquid gold.
- Be careful not to add too much of any sweetener to teas with delicate flavours. Blends to be especially mindful of in this regard would be herbal blends, or green and/or white teas mixed with delicate flowers and/or flower petals. Since steeped flowers and herbs can sometimes have more subtle flavours, adding only a pinch of sweetener (or even none at all) is the best way to assure that you enjoy the full experience of the blend.
Lastly, here are just a couple of tea etiquette rules to practice the next time you find yourself at a tea party.
- The first is to never place the sugar spoon in your teacup saucer, but to take what you need, then place it directly back into the bowl.
- And the second, is to avoid tapping the sides of your teacup when stirring the sweetener.