It’s the time for cold coffees, so I thought it might be fun to introduce syrups for various flavors that are commonly paired with coffee (and some that aren’t).
Syrups are more useful for cold coffee because the sugar is already dissolved and simply needs to be stirred into your favorite blend.
For those who would prefer to have healthier options or to avoid sugar, I will be addressing this in another post later.
I have a simple version where I only used things that could be found around the house for the sake of ease. I also found some specialty ingredients for an improved version, but I only bought what I could during COVID from a major grocery store.
Let’s dive in.
Section 1: Simple Syrup
Super easy to make, it is literally just a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water (1 cup of each, for example). Sometimes I will mention “Rich Simple Syrup”, which is a 2:1 ratio; double the amount of sugar.
Most of the recipes were made in small batches, using ½ or full cups of simple syrup, which is a 1:1.
- 1 cup water (cold, filtered)
- 1 cup sugar (the finer, the better)
- Combine water and sugar in a saucepan.
- Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil.
- (optional) Time 1 for flavor additive (more on this below.)
- Continue to simmer on medium-low until it reduces, which usually takes 20-30 minutes for a really thick sauce. Simmer for less time if you want it more watery.
- (optional) Time 2 for flavor additive. (more on this below.)
If you merely want to make simple syrup to add to your cold coffees, then ignore the optional steps.
Consistency / Viscosity
If you want your syrup to be thick enough to pour on pancakes, simmer for 20-30 minutes on med-low. Remember that it will thicken as it cools, so it can be harder to tell the thickness while it’s still hot.
If you boil the syrup at high temperatures, it will begin to bubble and, eventually, the bubbles will stabilize and solidify.
If this happens, you can try to salvage it by adding some water, which will make the sugar liquify once again, though the syrup will likely never be without random crystals.
Doesn’t change the taste, so it’s still not a waste.
Time 1 vs. Time 2
You can generally add the raw ingredients (vanilla beans, raw turmeric, cinnamon sticks) in Time 1 so that it can simmer with the water and sugar, pulling out the flavor. This means to add it at some point during the time when heat is being applied.
If you want it to be extra flavorful, you can allow it to continue to steep in the syrup for another amount of time, depending how potent you want the flavor to be.
The most potently flavorful syrup will be:
- All ingredients added together and boiled together.
- The ingredients are not removed after boiling; The ingredients remain in the syrup indefinitely.
- For overkill: you also add extracts. This was necessary for my coconut syrup.
Time 2 was primarily used for efficiency of making several different kinds of syrups at once. This period is once the heat has been turned off and it’s been transferred to a second container.
Generally, I added powdered spices, extracts, juices, and essences at this time. My thinking is that the heat might break the additive down or over-extract (in the case of powders). An added benefit is that you can make 10 different syrups in one go.
Bear in mind that the powders will remain grainy and can be annoying to drink, such as cinnamon, so you’ll probably want to use super-fine powders or remove them altogether.
Modifications for Higher Quality
I’ll put this note here: use whatever sugars you want.
I used white granulated sugar because I assume everyone will have it – and accessibility was the point.
If you have other things, like demerara sugar, turbinado sugar, honey, or whatever sugars you want – use them instead. They may give more depth to the flavors.
After a quick search, they seem to all use the same ratios.
Section 2: Flavors
In this section, I’ll simply tell you the amounts I added to what amount of syrup, and you can use that as a basis for making more. For some of the more odd flavors, I also provided some explanation.
- 1 tsp Almond extract (per ½ cup simple syrup)
This one was surprisingly good for how easy it was – and thank god for that. Who wants to make your own almond extract? (Hint: Me. I will definitely end up doing this at some point on the site).
The smell is quite strong, which might be why it is so distinct. Commonly used in Asia for all sorts of desserts.
- 2 slices of fried bacon (per cup simple syrup)
This was a random suggestion almost as a joke, but I thought… Bacon and coffee are both breakfast foods, so why not? The syrup actually turned out pretty well and I would like to explore this more. I am letting it steep for longer to see if it becomes more bacony.
Inspired by Adam Sinus Skawiński
- 2 tea bags (per ½ cup simple syrup)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 cardamom pods
- 5-8 cloves
You could probably use a strong chai tea, preferably loose-leaf. With the tea bags, I felt the flavor would be lacking. I like some bite to my chai tea, so I added the spices. Everything was added at Time 1.
Why Chai? Well, Adam had mentioned using chai spices in his coffee to make something that sounded like bitters to me, and adding it to coffee. I just took the next step in making my own interpretation of the syrup so you can make a “reverse dirty chai” as I’m calling it (a standard dirty chai is usually a chai latte with a shot of espresso).
Cinnamon – Simple
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon (per ½ cup simple syrup)
I left the spice in so that it would steep longer, but it is an unpleasant grainy texture on the throat.
Consider adding near the end of the boiling cycle, somewhere around Time 1.
Adding the spice while the syrup is hot is better because once it cools, it will thicken and be harder to strain out something as fine as cinnamon. With ground cinnamon, it will be quite potent if it is steeped in the syrup the entire time.
Cinnamon – Improved
- 1-2 cinnamon sticks (per ½ cup simple syrup)
- Use brown sugar
Add at Time 1. I left the sticks in the container to steep overnight. The brown sugar adds a layer of complexity that is lacking with the white sugar.
Cocoa / Chocolate
- ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- Slightly under ¼ tsp salt
- 2 tsp vanilla
This took me two shots to arrive at something that tasted like chocolate and had the right texture.
You’ll have to pay more attention when this is boiling, as it can easily become too thick. Add all ingredients gradually at Time 1, gently whisking the dry powders into the liquid as it warms up. Continue whisking until all clumps are broken up, and it is a smooth liquid.
With further tweaking and experimentation, you may come to never buy chocolate syrup again.
- 1 tsp coconut extract (per ½ cup simple syrup)
Added at Time 2. The smell was good, and the flavor was distinct, but it felt like it was lacking something. It was a bit too subtle in coffee, but smelled and tasted great as a syrup.
Coconut – Improved
- 1 ½ cup water
- ¾ cup sweetened coconut
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 tsp coconut extract
This one is more complicated than some of the others because I used sweetened coconut flakes. You don’t need as much sugar because of this, and ½ cup might be too much for some people. The original recipe suggested only 1 tbsp sugar, but that wasn’t enough.
Simmer the coconut for 25 minutes on med-low (Time 1), let it steep afterward, and add the extract at Time 2. The flavor, without the extract, is still more subtle than I’d like in coffee.
Why Coconut? I first discovered coconut lattes in Beijing; they were amazing. I don’t know why this flavor isn’t more widespread.
- 4” knuckle of Ginger (per ½ cup simple syrup)
To get the strong ginger flavor, I had to fit as many thinly sliced segments of ginger as I could submerge in the liquid.
If you added an ounce of ginger juice for each full cup, it would likely be more than potent enough.
Add root at Time 1. Simmer for 25-30 minutes on med-low; the ginger should start curling around the edges. I left the ginger in the jar after letting it cool.
Note: I really like ginger burn, so it wasn’t strong enough for me. The juice would be a good addition.
- 2 jalapeños (per ½ up rich simple syrup (2:1 ratio))
Clean the peppers, remove the stem, chop up the rest of the pepper. Leave all seeds and internal parts together. I removed the inside white parts and kept most of the seeds; it still wasn’t spicy. Perhaps my peppers were not very potent.
Simmer for ~25 min on med-low.
Let sit for 20 min before straining out peppers.
Note: I’ve been told that Ancho Chilis might be better, as they will taste less “green”. (Credit to Dani Yoon, saying that anchos have less pyrazine.)
Why Jalapeño? I have a theory that the flavors that pair well with chocolate should also pair well with coffee. I’ve seen spicy dark chocolate before, so I thought it might also work with coffee. I enjoyed it, personally. (Also, chilis are apparently used in some forms of Kahlua. Who knew? Dani Yoon, that’s who.)
- 2 tbsp lavender flowers (per ½ cup rich simple syrup (2:1))
I picked flowers from the back yard and stripped the florets from the stems, and added that at Time 1.
This recipe was my guide, and nowhere do they mention dye or the color, but mine only turned yellowish and nowhere near as vibrantly purple as theirs. Maybe you’ll get that beautiful color if you steep the flowers for longer, but I’m skeptical.
Why Lavender? Flowers are often used in Asia as flavorings, so I thought it would be worth a shot. It was a refreshing, subtle flavor. Also, it makes your kitchen smell fantastic, if you like lavender.
- 1 tbsp lemon juice (per ½ cup simple syrup)
I used store-bought lemon juice, which ended up tasting good enough. If you want to be more thorough and make it from actual lemons, check out this more advanced recipe here. (It’s similar to what I did with Orange, but the cornstarch might be a good call because it may require too much reduction to be thick enough).
Why Lemon? Some people may wonder why you would use lemon in coffee, and that’s a fair question. Isn’t sour coffee bad? Oh no! Sourness, run!
Honestly, I don’t get the hesitation. Some coffees are sour. Some coffees taste good because of their sour notes, as you may have learned in this post about tasting.
I first came across it in South-East Asia in Chiang Mai here a café offered Lemon Espresso. It was interesting, unique. Worth a shot, for sure.
Or, as the advanced recipe suggests, you could just pour it over gingerbread or a lemon loaf to eat alongside your coffee. Whatever you want.
Mint – Simple
- 1/2 tsp spearmint extract (½ rich simple syrup)
I tried 1 tsp extract at first, and it was crazy potent. It was really easy and tasted decent, but was a tad overpowering.
Full disclosure: I didn’t re-try this with the ½ tsp spearmint. If I did, I’d reduce the extract by half (as listed), and put it in rich simple syrup, instead.
If you can get real mint leaves, it’s the better option. This is just the simpler form, but technically not mint.
Mint – Improved
- 1 cup mint leaves (per 1 cup simple syrup)
Remove leaves from the stem, add at Time 1. Simmer for ~25 minutes on med-low. Allow the leaves to steep after transferring for a more potent flavor.
Note: I removed the leaves after boiling, and the flavor and color were both quite nice, if a bit subtle. If you consider adding mint extract, keep it very light. I was burning my eyes from the fumes of 1 tsp in ½ cup of syrup. The menthol lasted forever (in a bad way).
- ¾ cup fresh orange juice
- 1 large orange-worth of zest
- ¼ cup water
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 tbsp cornstarch (suggested)
I modified this recipe to arrive at what I did here. I bought two large navel oranges, zested the outside of one of them thoroughly (just the very exterior with a zester (nonaffiliate); you don’t want the white stuff).
Toss it all in at Time 1. Strain after you have boiled it down significantly. The flavor is light and refreshing; quite nice in cold brew, and it reminds me of Terry’s chocolate oranges.
However, if you want it to be thicker, like table syrup, you’ll want to boil it down significantly or add the suggested cornstarch, as was suggested in this lemon syrup recipe. I had to reduce it two times to ¼ of the original volume, and it’s still not very thick.
Why Orange? It pairs well with chocolate, so why not coffee?
Pumpkin Spice – Basic
- 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice mix (Spice Supreme brand) (per ½ cup simple syrup)
Add somewhere in the second half of Time 1, then strain out the spice because it will be grainy. The flavor is approximate, but it’s not nearly as good as adding supplementary spices to the mix. See below.
Pumpkin Spice – Improved
- ¼ cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling; Libby’s is recommended)
- 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (I used Spice Supreme)
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ¾ cup water
- 7 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
Add all at Time 1. This recipe was the bones I used. The brown sugar made it far better; the pumpkin puree also added an extra dimension (Libby’s was recommended; not pie filling).
The puree makes it more difficult to strain out, so you’ll want a spoon to help scrape the liquid back and forth in your strainer, dumping the solids as you go.
I was very satisfied with this version, but if you want to go even further, this recipe has some suggestions.
- 3 thin knuckles fresh turmeric, thinly sliced (per ½ cup rich simple syrup (2:1 ratio))
Be very careful when preparing and handling this, and make sure your pot is stainless steel. Turmeric dyes like a mofo. It’s been several days, and I still have orange nails.
I removed the turmeric from the syrup after boiling for 30min, and the flavor was still strong enough.
Why Turmeric? Ever come across golden lattes? They’re steamed milk and turmeric, but it gave me the idea to mix it with coffee. If you want even more health benefits from it, add a dash of black pepper (which makes turmeric 20x more bioavailable).
Vanilla – Simple
- 1 tsp vanilla extract (per ½ cup simple syrup)
I tried adding only ½ a tsp but found the flavor wasn’t present enough. 1 tsp per half-cup worked well.
Vanilla – Improved
- 1 Vanilla bean (per cup of simple syrup)
Normally, you’d need to cut the bean lengthwise and use the paste from inside the bean. I didn’t have this luxury because the beans I had available were rock hard.
(I’d already spent enough on ingredients, so I wanted to try the bean on-hand before spending more on fresh ones. Sue me.)
I tossed the entire bean in at Time 1 and wasn’t expecting much. The bean was too hard to cut, so I snapped it in half. Surprisingly, it was still very good! Far better than the simple form.
New opinion: any café that doesn’t make their own syrups is run by fools. This was one of my favorites, and it was more complex than store-bought syrups.
List of Flavors Lacking Ingredients
Here I’ll list the flavors I wanted to try but lacked the necessary ingredients for.
If you happen to try them and have good results, please let me know what you did and how they worked out!
- 1 ¾ cup rose water
- 2 cup sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2-3 hibiscus or some raw beets (color)
- ½ cup malted milk powder
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ⅔ cup semisweet chocolate chips
Based on how my own experimentation worked out, I would recommend the trying:
- Vanilla – Improved
- Coconut – Improved
It’s super easy to make syrups, and I have concluded that no one should ever buy them.
Just experiment with using 1:1 sugar and water with a flavor you want, boil for 20-30min, and see how it turns out. You can try almost anything with a notable, edible flavor, and you’ll come up with something interesting!
And if you have any recommended flavors to add, please let me know!
What a tremendous amount of work and thank you for doing this experiment! I may try the turmeric. It’s good for the joints.