New England

An Ode to Coffee Milk, New England's Sweetest Sip

We tested 4 coffee syrup brands and found our new favorite squeeze.

March  2, 2021
Photo by Bobbi Lin

I wasn’t born in New England, but I did grow up here, and still call it home. I distinctly remember the first time I came across coffee milk. I was maybe 10 or so, in the school cafeteria, reaching for a carton of what I thought was chocolate milk. I sat down with my friends, excited to dig in (well, as excited as you could be to eat a school lunch in the ’90s). The first sip was startling, and I’m sure I reacted with all the grace and dignity you might expect from a 10-year-old.

Closer inspection of the carton revealed that it wasn’t chocolate milk at all—the label was a lighter shade of brown, for one, and sure enough, it said “coffee milk.” Huh. I’d lived in Chicago, Miami, and Cancún before moving to Maine, and I’d never heard of it. Chocolate milk, strawberry milk, sure. But this was new to me, a young transplant.

Something about it seemed forbidden. At 10, I wasn’t allowed to drink coffee, but I always loved how it smelled. I took another, more informed sip. Suddenly it made sense—no wonder the adults around me loved coffee so much! I finished the carton in a couple of gulps, and an exciting new craving was born.

I generalize a bit, calling this a New England beverage. In truth, it has its roots deeply planted in Rhode Island, where the drink was created in the early 1900s. Coffee milk became so popular in Rhode Island that their legislature declared it the official state drink in 1993.

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Top Comment:
“We had a TV show called Buckskin Bill that came on twice a day and part of his morning show was him talking about something to do with Coffee Milk. As far as I know he did that from the first to the last show. My oldest son watched as I did so I well remember him still talking about it. In Louisiana we are all pretty big coffee drinkers so this was like the article writer the kids version of coffee. This brought back some great memories I enjoyed reading it. ”
— Ann H.
Comment

Despite its regional popularity, there are only a few producers of coffee syrup. My partner and I decided to do a blind taste test of four of them with a couple of friends. To keep things fair, we used 1 tablespoon of syrup per 4 ounces of whole milk for each. Here’s how they did:

1. Autocrat Coffee Syrup

Arguably the most ubiquitous of the four, most of the grocery stores near me carry this brand. After tasting, we couldn’t help but wonder how the original Autocrat from the 1930s tasted. The modern stuff is, honestly, unimpressive. We all agreed that the milk was super-sweet with barely a hint of coffee flavor.

2. Eclipse Coffee Syrup

The second mass-producer of coffee syrup, this company was actually acquired by Autocrat in the early ’90s, which was then acquired by a corporate entity in 2014. None of us could distinguish this from the Autocrat syrup.

3. Dave’s Coffee Syrup

Founded in 2009, Dave’s Coffee is primarily a coffee roaster. Inspired by the popularity of coffee milk, owner Dave Lanning wanted to make a coffee syrup that he’d personally enjoy drinking. After months of experimenting, he and his team landed on using cold-brewed Brazilian coffee simmered with cane sugar to create their syrup. Their iconic amber bottles are stylish and eye-catching, but serve a practical purpose: The hot-bottling process they use makes for a shelf-stable product without any preservatives and requires a bottle that can withstand high temperatures. This is my personal favorite, and tied for overall favorite. It’s sweet, nutty, and mellow, with a very distinct coffee flavor. I use this syrup in cooking and baking, and it makes for a dynamite whipped cream to pair with chocolate desserts.

4. Morning Glory Coffee Syrup

Founded in 2001 by David and Mary Sylvia, the family recipe for this syrup dates back to the early 1900s. After years of making coffee syrup to give to family and friends as gifts, they were encouraged to bring their syrup to the market. Happily, Morning Glory is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. They seem to be the only company that makes a decaf coffee syrup, perfect for those with caffeine sensitivities. This was my partner’s favorite of the four, and tied for overall favorite. I was surprised to learn they use a medium roast coffee for this, as it has a much darker flavor profile, with chocolatey notes, though still very coffee-forward. I plan on using this in cooking and baking, too—warmed up, it makes a sublime topping for vanilla ice cream.

Have you ever tried coffee syrup or milk? How would you use a bottle of coffee syrup? Let us know in the comments.


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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Jarrett Melendez

Written by: Jarrett Melendez

25 Comments

mhowrigan May 24, 2021
Very easy to make the syrup. Just brew your coffee- hazelnut is nice. For each cup of brewed coffee you add 1/2 of sugar. Cook it down in a saucepan until the syrup is the consistency you like. Add to cold milk. Delish!
 
Ann H. May 24, 2021
I grew up in Baton Rouge Louisiana in the 1950 and we had Coffee Milk also. We had a TV show called Buckskin Bill that came on twice a day and part of his morning show was him talking about something to do with Coffee Milk. As far as I know he did that from the first to the last show. My oldest son watched as I did so I well remember him still talking about it. In Louisiana we are all pretty big coffee drinkers so this was like the article writer the kids version of coffee. This brought back some great memories I enjoyed reading it.
 
jctodd13 May 24, 2021
I purchase concentrated coffee from Jot, it is perfect in many recipes and you can add sugar to turn into syrup. It makes delicious coffee milk.
 
Jules March 10, 2021
I love coffee,never had coffee syrup have always wanted to try it. Any sugar free for diabetics? On another note Coca Cola has come out with a coffee coke, personally I have been drinking coffee coke since 2011 making my own,pour a coke zero then put couple table spoons instant coffee into it. I love it so have been inquisitive about coffee milk for bout that long too
 
Jane S. March 9, 2021
My mother's side of the family is Cajun, and the children all grew up drinking coffee milk. However, it was just coffee, sugar and a lot of milk, wasn't made from syrup. I think it was a way to make the kids feel grown up and to gradually accustom them to develop a flavor for stronger adult coffee.
 
dmc March 7, 2021
From, NY, I lived and worked in Rhode Island for a summer when I was 17. I had my first (and only) coffee milk ever there and of course, loved it. I was so happy to read this article, I will now be on a quest to bring some coffee milk into my home. Just the sort of "lockdown" pick-me-up I could use. Thanks for the taste test breakdown.
 
Bob T. March 7, 2021
I grew up in RI and savored Eclipse coffee syrup, which was its own company then, and who made the absolute best coffee syrup compared to Autocrat, which was a bitter blend. It was a tragedy when Autocrat bought out Eclipse. The recipe for Eclipse has been changed, and it is no longer the same great taste. I moved to Washington state when I was in the military, and found that coffee syrup had not yet been discovered past the Mississippi River. My parents would send me Eclipse while I was stationed there. Later, I took a job in Australia, and yes, my parents thought it would be a treat to receive a few bottles of Eclipse, which at the time came in glass bottles. You probably guessed that the package didn't survive the trip, and my postmaster was left with a sticky mess. Needless to say, he was very upset and warned me to tell my parents to not do that again.
 
Liz March 5, 2021
Try crescent ridge's coffee milk if you can get it. It's pretty great
 
Author Comment
Jarrett M. March 5, 2021
I have! It’s so good - love mixing it with their dark chocolate milk. 😍
 
Marlene G. March 3, 2021
I grew up in Massachusetts in the 1950's and was crazy about coffee milk. My mom bought a syrup which was called, 'Koffee Time," I think.
 
Author Comment
Jarrett M. March 5, 2021
I read about that! Wish I could try some.
 
Donamaya March 7, 2021
I grew up in upstate NY drinking Coffee Time Syrup for my coffee milk. I hadn’t seen it for many years( and now prefer unsweetened coffee) but as manager of Kalustyan’s in NYC I tracked it down and we offer it in the shop. The same distributor sells the Eclipse and the Autocrat but I went for my childhood favorite. I hear familiar stories from customers who remember it from their childhood. Was that brand more of a NY thing?
 
Donamaya March 7, 2021
Send me your address and I will send you a bottle!
[email protected]
 
LYN March 7, 2021
I want one too, please.
 
Hannah March 8, 2021
I grew up and still live in Massachusetts, and in the 90s there was a syrup called “coffee time” still in the supermarkets, in a tan squeeze bottle, with a
brown and white label. Is this possibly what you remember?

I enjoyed mixing it into Ovaltine drinks. It was good poured over toasted almond ice cream, too.
 
Donamaya March 8, 2021
That’s the one! Never tried it on ice cream but that sounds great!
 
Author Comment
Jarrett M. March 16, 2021
That's so cool! I couldn't find Coffee Time in time for our test, but I'd love to try it out sometime.
 
Rita C. March 3, 2021
34 years ago, my picky young son would only drink “cold coffee” for breakfast. Coffee with a bit of sugar and cold milk on top! And it was good!
 
Author Comment
Jarrett M. March 16, 2021
Love this! Personally, I'm with your son, even now. I prefer iced coffee to hot, generally. But I do love a hot cup of pour-over a couple times a week.
 
Rachelm March 3, 2021
Heck yeah, I love and loved coffee milk before moving west. I wish we had it here. When Trader Joe's still sold coffee syrup I stocked up.
This probably also explains why coffee yogurt is hard to come by on the west coast! I am usually the only person who ever gets it at my Safeway...
 
Author Comment
Jarrett M. March 5, 2021
I gifted someone a bottle of Dave’s and she used it on yogurt. Totally mad at myself for not thinking of it!
 
Robin D. April 11, 2021
I LOVED Dannon coffee yogurt growing up in NYC and prune whip. Neither is around and I'm living in northern CA
 
judy March 3, 2021
Seems that one could make their own, much like simple syrup, but use their favorite coffee brew instead of the water. I think I'll give it a whirl, as I like the idea. Or perhaps youse a cold brew coffee instead of the water in my favorite simple syrup recipe. surprised I never thought of it before. I generally use expresso powder when I want coffee flavor in something I bake, but this could be an alternative.
 
Bonniesue March 6, 2021
I grew up on the East Coast. My grandma, and my friend’s grandmas gave us coffee milk when we wanted to have coffee like the grownups. Actually, it was a glass of sweetened milk with a dash of coffee. The coffee always went in first so sort of it looked like it was made like the grownups. No syrup involved.
 
Pamela C. March 3, 2021
Classic use would be for a coffee cab, cabinet- frappe or milkshake. Using up leftover coffee gave us coffee jello too. That and Indian Pudding used to favorite desserts at the home I worked in.