Putting honey in tea has long been an established tradition. It especially goes nicely with lemon-based teas, or other fruity or herbal teas. And, of course, there’s nothing quite like hot water with lemon and honey for soothing a sore throat.
But when did honey in coffee become a thing?
While putting honey in tea is perfectly common, putting it in coffee is just plain weird. Or is it?
Honey is a sweetener just like traditional white sugar, so why shouldn’t it be used to sweeten coffee? There are a lot of reasons many are turning toward honey to serve as a sweetener, as we’ll get into below.
What’s the Deal with Putting Honey in Coffee?
Okay, so honey is sweet. Does that really put it on par with sugar as a sweetener? Especially with, of all things, coffee?
Sugar has long been on the decline for many as a preferred sweetener. While white sugar seamlessly sweetens and actually isn’t super high in calories compared to other sweeteners, it’s difficult for the body to process and is often stored as fat, leading to weight gains and other health problems.
Many have turned to artificial sweeteners. While these sweeteners have no calories, however, they also have no nutritional value whatsoever.
Others have turned to agave and maple syrup as sweeteners. Sugar, though, still reigns supreme as the ultimate sweetener. It’s in almost all baked goods, candies, and other foods. It also dominates our coffee.
While few have turned to using agave and maple in their coffee, honey in coffee has slowly gained a steady and expanding following. We’ll detail below just why you should kick sugar to the curb in favor of this sticky alternative.
Honey vs Sugar
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to comparing honey to the most traditional sweetener, white sugar. Below, we’ve compiled all you need to know when comparing the two sweet substances so you can make a decision yourself about which to use.
To start out our comparison right, it seems only natural that we begin by comparing the nutritional value of sugar and honey.
Honey actually contains more calories per serving than sugar does. One teaspoon of honey typically contains 21 calories, while a teaspoon of white sugar has only 16. Calories aren’t everything, however. What’s more important is what these substances are made up of and the ways they are processed.
Honey is made primarily of glucose and fructose, simple sugars that are easy for the body to break down and use, and therefore easy to burn.
White sugar, on the other hand, is largely made up of disaccharides. Disaccharides are complex sugars that take longer to break down. While these disaccharides will eventually be broken down into glucose and fructose, this extra step makes the process take much longer. This makes the likelihood of white sugar components being stored as fat much higher.
So, while honey may have more calories per serving than sugar, it’s actually much easier to burn off than the calories from white sugar in the long run.
Honey also contains a great deal of nutritional benefits that white sugar does not. Honey contains antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and antibacterial properties—all of which white sugar doesn’t possess.
When it comes to pure nutritional value, traditional white sugar doesn’t stand a chance.
The strength of the sweetness of honey also outpaces the strength of white sugar. So, a little bit of honey will sweeten your coffee more than a greater portion of sugar. This essentially evens out the calorie discrepancy.
Where white sugar does gain a bit of an edge is with taste. Honey definitely has a distinct flavor to it, while sugar is essentially pure sweetness that can blend into anything. Sugar is so present in common food products that we’re used to it and sometimes barely detect its presence.
Sugar’s adaptability and versatility make it perfect for sweetening beverages, especially drinks like coffee that have a very strong flavor of their own. There will rarely be a complaint when sugar is the sweetener used with coffee.
While honey is typically thought to have a pleasant flavor on its own, many feel that it has too strong a flavor to blend seamlessly with the distinct flavor of coffee. This is solely up to individual discretion, however. Many more love the combination of these flavors, once they’ve given it a chance.
Just go in with an open mind, not expecting your coffee to taste exactly as it would with sugar, and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Which Wins Out?
So, when it comes to the big sugar versus honey debate, who comes out on top as the ultimate sweetener?
Sugar has fewer calories per serving, and its natural sweetness blends seamlessly with the taste of coffee. It’s also more difficult for the body to break down, which can lead to more of it being stored as fat—eventually leading to weight gain and the development of other health problems.
Honey, on the other hand, makes up for its extra calories by being easier to process by our bodies and offering a variety of important nutrients. Its superior strength also means that less of it is required, making up for the calorie discrepancy. While it has a strong flavor that many feel conflicts with the distinct coffee flavor, still more are pleased with this non-traditional pairing of flavors.
So really, there’s no competition. The pros of honey far outweigh the cons, making it the superior sweetener to traditional white sugar.
Finding the Right Honey-Coffee Combo
Sometimes rather than dismissing the honey in coffee altogether, it’s a matter of finding the right honey-coffee combo that works best for you.
Some coffee types that are already flavored may lend themselves better to the blending of traditional off-the-shelf honey, as the flavor of the coffee is already somewhat altered. So, maybe try a nice hazelnut roast or other blend and mix it with your honey and see how you feel.
You can switch out more than just the coffee. There are actually quite a lot of different types of honey, depending on what plants the pollen to make are mainly extracted from. Alfalfa honey is one of the more traditional flavors of honey, though other common varieties include clover, golden, eucalyptus, buckwheat, and wildflower honey, among many more.
If you don’t like the traditional honey you find in mass production at your typical grocery store, switch it up by trying one of these other types of honey with their own distinct flavors.
Finding the right combination of coffee-type and honey can be a little tricky, but the end result is well worth the testing.
Does Honey Quality Matter?
We’ve talked about honey compared to sugar and the other types of honey out there, but what about the differences between different qualities of honey?
There are two main groupings of honey: raw honey and “filtered” honey.
This filtered honey is pasteurized—boiled to kill bacteria as well as create a more fluid consistency. While this process kills bad bacteria, however, it also kills beneficial bacteria as well as enzymes and render it void of vitamins. While there may be some benefits of the honey left still intact, it’s nothing compared to the honey in its unrefined form.
That’s why the push for raw honey has grown in recent years. Raw honey doesn’t go through the pasteurization process, so it still retains everything that’s good about it. It may not be quite as smooth as pasteurized honey, but that’s a small price to pay for all the other benefits.
So, when it comes to putting honey in your coffee, we highly recommend it—so long as you’re using raw honey rather than the nutritionally-void refined variety.
A Few Tricks to Make the Perfect Honey Coffee
We’ve already discussed finding the best honey-coffee combination that’s right for you, but what about just a good honey coffee drink that anyone can enjoy?
In case we haven’t already convinced you of why you should try putting honey in coffee, or if you aren’t feeling up to the task of finding your perfect flavor combination quite yet, there’s a simple honey coffee recipe that’s sure to make you fall in love with the flavor combination in an instant.
This special honey coffee recipe combines dark or French roast with milk, honey, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla extract.
This veritable latte drink will prove to you just how effective honey can be as a sweetener, especially when paired with other flavorings. Not a fan of any of these ingredients? Try switching them out with your choice of spices and milk preference—just leave the honey.
All in all, honey in coffee is a great way to go. Not only does it have a variety of health benefits, it can also be pretty tasty, too. If you’re already on the honey wagon, congratulations! You’ve made an excellent choice. The rest of you out there: hop on!