What You’re Really Getting When You Order Coffee With Cream

I’m not a coffee purist, but I do believe that anything you add to your java should enhance, not degrade it. If you prefer to add cream or “half-and-half” (either at home or your favourite Tim Hortons or Starbucks), you’ve been disrespecting your cup of joe.

cup of coffee

I am one of the millions of Canadians who drink coffee every day. Like many, I enjoy a little caffeine in the morning, but I also love coffee for its taste, ritual, and warmth. I used to add both milk and sugar until I became a student who valued her sleep more than the time it took to get out a clean stirring spoon. These days I still add milk or cream to my favourite hot beverage, but when I buy coffee out somewhere I stick with milk. Why? Because most coffee shops serve “cream” that isn’t cream at all.

Close-up of bubbles on the surface of freshly brewed coffee

Freshly brewed hot coffee. Photo by Mike D.

Coffee, on its own, is real food: it’s minimally processed (ground and extracted through water) in my own kitchen. It’s fresh. And when it’s the locally roasted fair-trade organic variety…well, there really isn’t any other way to start the day.

Since we use whole milk at my house, that’s what I usually use to top up my coffee cup. On special occasions, or for company, or when we know we’re going to be drinking enough coffee to not waste any, I like to spring for cream.

“Spring” for cream?

Yes, because when it’s real cream it’s more expensive. When you pick up a carton of “cream” or “half and half” at the store or order your coffee “regular” or “double-double”, what you’re getting is actually a mixture of milk and cream cut with modified milk ingredients and thickeners designed to fool you into thinking you’re drinking the real, thick, satisfying thing. But you’re not. You’re drinking disodium phosphate, carrageenan, and guar gum.

This approach is cheaper for food companies (and for you) because real cream – which comes from expensive cows – costs more than processed plant-derived ingredients. Whether you’re a coffee connoisseur or not, real cream just tastes better. And it’s more satisfying.

Unfortunately, because folks are often concerned with counting calories (which I believe isn’t necessary if you’re eating real food), these adulterated creams can sometimes appear “healthier” – check out the calorie difference between the Sealtest and Organic Meadow labels below. But that’s because the cheaper products actually contain less food and more non-nutritive fillers. In my experience, eating real food sends your body the message to be satisfied.

Ingredients in Sealtest 10% half and half cream

Sealtest 10% Half and Half Cream: Milk, cream, modified milk ingredients, maltodextrin, disodium phosphate, sodium citrate, guar gum, carageenan.


Ingredients in Organic Meadow 10% cream

Organic Meadow 10% cream ingredients: Organic cream.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find real cream, especially at grocery stores or coffee shops that tend to carry discount or lower priced merchandise. Real cream is roughly double the price of the other stuff because it contains more dairy and because most of the brands that make and sell it are also organic. Because I don’t buy cream regularly, the cost isn’t an issue for me. If you find you can’t justify it, do what I usually do and stick to whole milk for your morning cuppa.

Here are the some brands you can find in Ontario that make real cream. Now do your coffee proud!

Have you found other companies that offer real cream? Let others know in the comments below.



  1. I am in the states and have been really paying close attention to the labels here lately. What they’re putting in foods with the typical western diet I believe is one of the major causes of cancer.
    I made another discovered today, and it was a Hershey chocolate bar that help your PGPR, apparently it is a man-made cocoa butter, because cocoa butter is very expensive for chocolate produces, and without it they cannot produced the chocolate candies.
    Thank you for the article on the half-and-half, cream, whole milk. I think I’ll be switching to whole milk for my morning coffee routine

  2. I drink coffee every morning and usually add cream. But I recently started paying attention to the ingredients used in my food when I came across a video about sodium nitrate/nitrite that’s used in food and how it leads to colon cancer. So the other day at the grocery store I looked at the ingredients written on the box of cream that I just picked up and saw Sodium Citrate. When I got home, I did some research and found a study claiming a link between Sodium Citrate in food and bladder cancer. I’ve switched to black coffee since then. Thanks for the article.

  3. Used to buy cheaper brand Dairyland 18%coffee over their half and half for the fact in ingredients list was the not showing sodium nitrate. Now I see the half and half is the better choice showing only milk and cream as the ingredients while the former now includes sodium nitrate


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