Honey in Coffee: The Hows and Whys
Are you worried about refined sugar but don’t want to give up sweetening your coffee? Or do you wish there were a few more vitamins and minerals in your morning brew? Or maybe you just want to coax different flavors from your cuppa joe? In all cases, adding honey in coffee could be the answer!
We’ve long enjoyed this natural sweetener on toast or in tea, but how does it fare in coffee? Well, it turns out there are some pros and cons. In this article, we’ll cover the good and the bad when it comes to honey and coffee, so you can decide if you want to try it for yourself.
The History of Honey and Coffee
It should come as no surprise that humans have a long history with honey. It goes back well before the advent of beekeeping. In the early days, people simply foraged honey from the beehives.
So, in this era before sugars, honey was the sweetest thing anyone had ever tasted. Thus, it was considered a gift from the Gods. Most early civilizations had some myth centered on this delicious natural sweetener (1).
When people first added honey to coffee is impossible to determine. However, we know that the Egyptians were likely the first to try sweetening their coffee, sometime in the early 17th century (2). They also created the brewing method in which ground coffee, sugar, and water are brought to a boil, yielding a sweet and syrupy brew. This type of coffee remains popular throughout the Middle East.
Early in coffee history, the naturally sweet and carefully cultivated arabica coffee beans we cherish now weren't as prevalent. Instead, dark roasted robusta blends dominated. These naturally bitter brews, which are still prevalent in many European regions, benefited greatly from sugar, which tempered bitterness. At the time, refined white sugar was a luxury reserved only for the very wealthy, so it seems likely that honey would have been experimented with in this era — especially given the long history of adding honey to the tea.
Today, we have both better quality coffee and many affordable sweeteners. However, modern fears of “processed” sugar have led to honey coming back into fashion.
Honey in Coffee Benefits
Most people considering having honey in coffee are doing so for the health benefits. So let’s take a look at how honey distinguishes itself from other sweeteners. Of course, if you’re really concerned about your sugar or Calorie intake, drinking black coffee is your healthiest option.
When compared with sugar, honey actually has more Calories per unit volume. A teaspoon of honey has 21 Calories while a teaspoon of sugar has 16 Calories (3). But that doesn’t tell the whole story. There are far more important considerations when it comes to health than just Calories. Also, 5 Calories over a day is largely meaningless anyway.
First of all, the sweet molecules in honey are different from the ones in white sugar. The ones in honey actually taste sweeter, so you can get away with adding less honey to your coffee. And they are processed faster in the body, so they're less likely to be stored as fat. Honey also has a lower glycemic index than sugar. So it won't impact your blood sugar as much, and you're less likely to experience the dreaded sugar crash.
In my opinion, the most important reasons to consider honey coffee for your health are its added nutrients. Honey is naturally antibacterial, rich in antioxidants, and contains numerous minerals and vitamins (3). And like all natural products, it conveys benefits we don’t even understand as a result of complex interactions between these healthful nutrients.
The honey and coffee combination is a powerful one.
I'm sure you already know that coffee is rich in antioxidants, so the two combined are HEALTH BOMB.
Is Honey Good in Coffee?
Okay, so we know coffee with honey conveys some potential health benefits. But if you’re a coffee lover, you’re probably just as interested in how it makes your coffee taste. It would hardly be worth ruining your morning brew for a few trace vitamins and minerals.
Compared with white sugar, honey has a much stronger flavor. So it certainly has the potential to clash with the taste and aroma of coffee. That said, according to coffee researcher and author Isabelle Mani SanMax, it also has the potential to blend harmoniously with the flavor of your coffee, maybe even bringing out pleasant notes you didn’t expect (4).
Honey, brown sugar, and other sweeteners, for instance, can add anything from caramel to vegetal notes in the cup.
When it comes right down to it, whether you like honey in you coffee is a matter of personal taste. Fortunately, there are almost as many kinds of honey as there are varietals of coffee. So don’t give up if you don’t love the first coffee and honey combination you try. You can experiment with different roast levels, origins, and varietals of coffee paired with raw or regular honeys from different flowers.
The flavor of honey can vary depending on which flowers the bees visit. Some of the most common are Acacia, Alfalfa, Blackberry, Buckwheat, Clover, Fireweed, and Wildflower.
- Acacia and Clover kinds of honey are very light and clean tasting, making either an obvious first choice for pairing with coffee.
- Alfalfa, Blackberry, and Wildflower honey bring a bit more flavor to the party, with fruits and spice notes.
- Buckwheat and Fireweed honey have much stronger flavors and are more likely to be used on toast or in marinades. But there's no reason not to sample them in your coffee, especially paired with a robust darker roast.
Another good reason to use stronger honey is if you actually want the honey flavor to shine instead of simply the sweetness. For example, try flavorful honey in this recipe for a honey latte:
Want to try something really unique? Consider putting coffee blossom honey in your coffee. It's medium-sweet honey with fruit and caramel flavors.
Many coffee farmers are also beekeepers because bees act as crucial pollinators. Now some of them are starting to collect and sell their honey to increase the profitability of their land (5). Not only does this make producers more resilient to environmental and price fluctuations, but it offers a brand-new taste experience for consumers. Just imagine pairing a single-origin coffee with single-origin honey from the same farm!
How to Add Honey to Coffee
There are two types of honey available. Raw honey is unpasteurized. It essentially comes directly from the hive. It's a bit harder to get your hands on raw honey, but it retains more nutrients and is the healthier option because it is less processed. If you're switching to honey out of fear of refined sugars, look for raw honey.
The alternative is regular honey, which you'll find in every grocery store. Regular honey has been pasteurized to kill any yeast cells, which might cause it to ferment eventually. Pasteurized honey stays liquid longer as a side bonus, which is useful when dissolving it in coffee.
Adding honey to your drip coffee or Americano is as easy as adding sugar. Just stir in a teaspoon or two, depending on your taste. There is some evidence to suggest that super high heat can destroy some of the health benefits of honey, so you may want to let your brew cool a bit first.
When adding honey to coffee has a huge advantage over sugar when dealing with cold drinks, like iced coffee or cold brew. Sugar doesn't dissolve well in cold water, but pasteurized honey that is already liquid makes an ideal choice.
There are other ingredients you can add to coffee, too. See the following:
If you enjoy a little sweetness in your morning brew and you’re trying to steer clear of refined sugars, honey is a great option. Not only does it add sweetness, but you’re getting additional vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants too! Just be sure to pair the right honey with the right coffee for the best flavor.
There are many ways to add extra flavor to your coffee. Some don’t add any calories or sugar at all, like spices and extracts. Others make for a much more indulgent brew, like melted chocolate, alcohol, ice cream, or sweetened condensed milk.
For one easy and classic idea, try our cinnamon coffee recipe.
Yes, honey and coffee is good for your skin. This combination isn’t just healthy when you drink it; pairing ground coffee with honey makes a great face mask too. The coffee grounds exfoliate your skin, the caffeine reduces puffiness, and the honey acts as a moisturizer. Definitely give it a try if you’re a fan of natural products.
Honey doesn't spoil. It’s regularly credited as the only food that can make this claim. However, over time it will crystallize, and raw honey reaches this stage faster than pasteurized honey. You will see it start to thicken and look cloudy, but this doesn’t mean it has gone bad. In fact, many people enjoy the texture of crystallized honey.
- Danovich, T.K. (2013, December 13). The History of Honey. Retrieved from https://food52.com/blog/9010-the-history-of-honey
- (n.d). Serving Milk and Sugar . Retrieved from https://www.coffeereview.com/coffee-reference/from-crop-to-cup/serving/milk-and-sugar/
- Whelan, C. (2018, September 28). Honey vs. Sugar: Which Sweetener Should I Use? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/honey-vs-sugar
- SanMax, I.M. (2021, February 9). Sugar in coffee: Exploring an age-old habit. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2021/02/sugar-in-coffee-exploring-an-age-old-habit/
- Brown, N. (2017, February 15). Coffee Blossom Honey: A Sweet Extension of the Farmer to Importer Relationship. Retrieved from https://dailycoffeenews.com/2017/02/15/coffee-blossom-honey-a-sweet-extension-of-the-farmer-to-importer-relationship/