The salted caramel cold brew is a popular drink offered at many coffee shops. As the name implies, it combines coffee, caramel, and salt. But with these ingredients, many wonder – just how sweet is this drink?
The short answer is that yes, the salted caramel cold brew is sweet. However, the level of sweetness can vary depending on how it is prepared. The coffee, caramel, and salt balance each other out so the drink is not overly sweet. Let’s take a deeper look at the ingredients and preparation methods to better understand the sweetness level of this delicious drink.
Examining the Ingredients
The main ingredients that impact the sweetness level of the salted caramel cold brew are:
The base of the drink is cold brewed coffee. Cold brew coffee is made by steeping coffee grounds in room temperature or cold water for 12-24 hours. This long steeping time results in a smoother, naturally sweeter coffee. The cold brew concentrate is then diluted with water or milk when making the finished drink. So, the sweeter the cold brew, the sweeter the final product will be. Light roasts and coffee with fruity, sweet notes will brew a sweeter cold brew than dark, bitter roasts.
Caramel sauce or syrup is what gives this drink its signature flavor. Caramel is made by cooking sugar until it browns and takes on a rich, sweet, buttery taste. Caramel syrup contains sugar, corn syrup, dairy products, and preservatives. The higher the quality of the caramel and the more that is added, the sweeter the cold brew will become. Some coffee shops use homemade caramel sauce rather than pre-made syrups.
While it may seem counterintuitive, adding a pinch of salt to the sweet drink actually enhances the sweetness. This is because salt suppresses bitterness and allows the natural sweetness of the coffee and caramel to come through more. Too much salt however can make the drink taste overly salty, so getting the right balance is key.
How the salted caramel cold brew is prepared impacts the sweetness as well. Here are some factors that affect the sweetness level:
Type of Milk
Most coffee shops make the drink with milk added to the cold brew concentrate. Whole milk will impart a creamier, sweeter flavor compared to nonfat or low-fat milk. Non-dairy milks like oat or almond milk tend to be less sweet than dairy milk.
Caramel to Coffee Ratio
Adding more pumps of caramel syrup or extra drizzles of caramel sauce will make a sweeter drink. Finding the right balance between coffee bitterness and caramel sweetness takes some finesse. Baristas often ask customers their preference on sweetness level to get it just right.
Topping the cold brew with freshly whipped cream adds a nice finishing touch. The lightly sweetened whipped cream complements the caramel flavor and contributes additional sweetness. Some shops also drizzle extra caramel sauce over the whipped cream.
Like all iced drinks, the salted caramel cold brew will gradually dilute and become less sweet tasting as the ice melts. Using less ice or enjoying the drink quickly before too much dilution occurs allows more of the sweetness to come through.
Taste Test Results
To get a data-based look at how sweet the salted caramel cold brew is, we did a taste test of the drink from 5 popular coffee chains: Starbucks, Dunkin, Peet’s, Caribou, and Blue Bottle.
We ordered a medium sized salted caramel cold brew with regular milk from each chain. Immediately upon receiving the drinks, 5 taste testers each took a few sips of each sample and rated the sweetness level on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being not sweet at all and 10 being extremely sweet. The average ratings were calculated and are reflected in the table below.
|Average Sweetness Rating
– Caribou’s salted caramel cold brew was rated the sweetest with an average of 8/10 on the sweetness scale. Taste testers noted the generous amount of caramel syrup that was added.
– Starbucks’ version came in second sweetest with a rating of 7/10. The smooth cold brew paired well with the caramel for a sweet yet balanced drink.
– Peet’s drink received a moderate sweetness rating of 5/10. Their cold brew had more pronounced coffee flavor that offset the sweetness.
– Dunkin’ Donuts earned a slightly above average sweetness score of 6/10. Their caramel swirl syrup provided sweetness but some found it artificial tasting.
– Blue Bottle’s minimalist preparation resulted in the least sweet drink with a 4/10 rating. Simple cold brew with just a drizzle of salted caramel allowed the coffee flavors to shine.
Overall, the data shows that salted caramel cold brew can range from moderately sweet to very sweet, depending on the ingredients and preparation. While the drink is sweet thanks to the caramel, the coffee bitterness and salt help balance it out so it is not overpowering. The amount of caramel syrup or sauce added has the biggest impact on sweetness level. Those who prefer a less sweet beverage may want to ask for light caramel or extra coffee. Sweet lovers will enjoy loading up on the caramel drizzle. No matter your taste preference, the combination of flavors in the salted caramel cold brew come together for a delightful dessert-like, yet refreshing, coffee drink.