Unless you’re a die-hard black coffee drinker, you most likely add milk and/or sugar to your coffee. And if you’re like me, you drink iced coffee year round. But have you ever noticed that after you add sugar to your iced coffee, it just collects at the bottom of your cup? Of course you have, because no one could miss drinking a mouthful of sugar on the first or second sip. I couldn’t help noticing, however, that the actual coffee doesn’t taste any sweeter after adding the sugar. So are we just adding calories? Basically.

It all comes down to science

iced coffee

Photo by Libby Perold

I barely scraped by Chemistry with a B, but I remembering learning about the solubility of sugar and all those funky graphs. Basically, sugar has a higher solubility (dissolves better) in higher temperatures than in lower temperatures. Hot water (or coffee) has faster-moving molecules, which are spread further apart, allowing the sugar to mix more easily. Sugar is actually very soluble, just not at colder temperatures.

When you add table sugar to iced coffee, the sugar will likely fall to the bottom of the cup without mixing in or sweetening your drink, and then you’ll just end up drinking those extra calories for no added benefit.

So how do you sweeten your iced coffee?

iced coffee

Photo by Gabby Phi

I know I’m not about to switch to hot coffee anytime soon, so how do we make it sweet? There are a number of other sweeteners you could add, such as vanilla extract, honey, cinnamon, or agave. Splenda, an artificial sweetener, is another option because it has a higher solubility than sugar in cold temperatures (although you’ll still need to stir a lot), but has questionable health concerns.

You could also use a flavored simple syrup (which is what Starbucks uses) or a flavored creamer, many of which have sugar-free options. But if you’re set on using your preferred kind of sugar, you can always make your own simple syrup at home (with any added flavors you want), which you can then add to your coffee.

Who would have thought something we learned in middle school could actually be applied in real life?