Heavy Whipping Cream Belongs In Your Coffee

Last Updated on August 2, 2023

Heavy whipping cream is great in a cup of coffee, but you shouldn’t use it exactly as you use milk.

Heavy cream consists mostly of the dairy fat that rises to the top of milk during processing. (When you buy skim milk, the fat has been skimmed off to make cream.) Because heavy cream has much more fat content than milk, it has become a popular choice for coffee enthusiasts on ketogenic diets which prioritize fat over carbohydrates.

Hand pours heavy whipping cream into an espresso

Folks behind the counter at coffee shops will usually accommodate you if you ask them to add a little heavy whipping cream to your black coffee. If you do it yourself at home, you only need a tablespoon or two to give your morning coffee some extra body and a nice, creamy mouthfeel.

I particularly like it in iced coffee—one of several coffee drinks with heavy cream that I’ll cover later in this post.

Why Use Heavy Whipping Cream in Your Coffee

For me, the texture and taste that heavy whipping cream lends to coffee are the main reasons to add it, but texture is first on the list.

Texture

By texture I’m talking about the physical characteristics of your coffee. Heavy cream can add body to coffee, making it a bit heavier and thicker. The fat in the cream gently coats your tastebuds and stomach as it goes down, with a different feel than regular coffee. Some might call it silky or velvety. Think of it like sitting in a padded chair instead of a hard seat.

Taste

Woman tasting coffee with heavy whipping cream

In terms of taste, heavy cream gives a hint of sweetness to your coffee—not because it adds a lot of sugar, but because the fat dulls the acidity that you would normally taste in your coffee.

Heavy cream can also help balance the bitterness that you taste in over-extracted or over-roasted coffee. 

If you ever get stuck with a batch of coffee beans that makes you want to mask the coffee taste a bit, heavy cream can help you out with that.

Heat

Adding heavy cream to coffee is better for heat retention than adding milk, for the simple reason that you don’t need to add nearly as much of it. The more refrigerated liquid you add to your coffee, the quicker it loses its heat. Your coffee stays hot longer when you add just a small amount of heavy whipping cream.

Nutritional Considerations

Let’s take a look at the nutritional content of heavy whipping cream, in comparison with some other types of cream you might put in your coffee cup.

Potential Health Benefits

Heavy cream can provide some health benefits when used properly and in moderation.

For starters it contains important fat-soluble vitamins: Vitamins A, D, E and K in particular.

It can also help with weight loss, as we’ll see when we discuss the keto diet below.

Fat

Heavy whipping cream contains a lot of fat. Most of it is saturated fat, with smaller amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

When we rank fats from best to worst in terms of nutrition, it goes like this:

  1. unsaturated fats (best)
  2. saturated fats
  3. trans fats (worst)

So you’ve got a few really good fats, and a few OK fats. You don’t need to worry about the health concerns presented by nasty trans fats when you use heavy whipping cream.

The following table shows the typical fat percentage of heavy cream compared with a few other dairy products:

ProductFat percentage
Heavy cream>= 36%
Whipping cream30-36%
Half-and-half10.5-18%
Whole milk3.5%

Calories

If you’re watching your calorie intake, know that heavy cream has more calories per tablespoon than most other options for your coffee. But that doesn’t necessarily mean extra calories for you, because you’ll be using less of it.

Here are the calories per ounce for various dairy products:

ProductCalories per oz.
Heavy cream103
Whipping cream98
Half-and-half38
Whole milk18

Carbohydrates

Interestingly, despite the relatively high calories, heavy whipping cream offers relatively few carbohydrates per ounce:

ProductCarbohydrates per oz.
Heavy cream0.8 g
Whipping cream0.75 g
Half-and-half1.3 g
Whole milk1.4 g

Lactose

Lactose is the main sugar found in milk. It is broken down in our gut by an enzyme called lactase. For those of us who don’t carry much lactase, lactose can be a problem. These people are sometimes known as “lactose-intolerant.”

Basically, because their bodies can’t break it down, the lactose remains in their stomachs for a relatively long time until bacteria come along and consume it. The bacteria convert the lactose to gases which cause a lot of discomfort.

The good news is, lactose comes from the watery part of milk. Heavy whipping cream comes from the fatty part. In other words, the cream has already been separated from the milk that carries a lot of lactose, so it’s much less bothersome for people who are lactose-intolerant.

In fact, heavy cream has about half as much lactose as the same amount of milk.

Keto diets

Ketogenic diets, which were all the rage about five years ago, are high in fat and protein but low in carbohydrates. Many people still swear by them, and they can work.

The theory behind a keto diet is that you starve your body of the carbohydrates on which it usually depends for energy. It starts to look for other sources of energy, and finds fat. So that’s what it burns.

You can feed your body plenty of fat when you’re on a keto diet, because that’s what you’ve trained it to burn.

Heavy cream, with all that fat and very few carbs, fits right in.

Coffees That Benefit From Heavy Cream

Let’s turn our attention to the type of coffee and coffee drinks that work best with heavy cream.

If you’re going to add it to regular coffee, I recommend brewing with dark roasts. There’s something about the warm, smoky flavors of dark-roasted coffee that pairs beautifully with the comforting creaminess of heavy cream.

Coffee mug on its side with dark roast coffee beans spilling out amid a plume of smoke
Heavy whipping cream pairs best with dark roasts.

Light or medium roasts are intended to highlight the character of the bean, so you should drink them straight rather than smothering the coffee flavor with that creamy blanket.

Heavy cream also pairs nicely with espresso, or any concentrated, strong coffee brewed with your AeroPress or moka pot. If you ever want a really good wakeup call from Starbucks, try ordering a short blackeye with heavy cream. That’s a regular cup of coffee with two shots of espresso and heavy cream added. It should satisfy your coffee craving for the rest of the day.

Coffee Drink Recipes That May Use Heavy Cream

  • Frappé: Starbucks calls this a Frappuccino, but you can make one at home by blending a cup of cold coffee with a cup of ice, a quarter cup of heavy cream, and sugar syrup to taste.
  • Café mocha: Mix a couple of teaspoons of hot chocolate powder or chocolate syrup with just enough hot coffee to make a paste, then warm up some heavy cream and stir it in to thin the mixture out. Top up with the rest of your hot coffee.
  • Dalgona coffee: Dalgona coffee involves whipping together instant coffee, hot water and sugar to form a creamy coffee topping that you dollop onto a cup of milk. But you can give it really rich flavors by plopping that topping down on a mix of heavy cream and coffee.
  • Cold brew coffee: Don’t overlook cold brew coffee as a pairing for heavy whipping cream. Because cold brew is usually quite a bit more concentrated than regular coffee, the cream evens things out nicely.
  • Iced coffee: In our article on making iced coffee with hot coffee, we explained how the melting ice cubes can water down your drink a bit. The addition of heavy whipping cream can replenish some of that body and flavor.
  • Irish coffee: Gotta include a boozy drink, right? Irish coffee is Irish whiskey, hot coffee and sugar mixed together and then topped with heavy cream. To get the cream to float, just whip it slightly to thicken it—not so thick that it won’t drop off a spoon, though.
Heavy cream being poured into a cup of cold brew coffee
Don’t overlook heavy cream in your cold brew—a great combination due to cold brew’s high concentration.

How to Add Heavy Cream to Coffee

You don’t need to overthink this. Just pour the heavy cream in like you would with milk. Just remember that you’re not likely to need more than one or two tablespoons.

Some people wonder whether the cream or the coffee should go in the cup first. I like starting with the cream, because then it get stirred automatically when you top it up with coffee.

Heavy cream being poured into a cup of coffee
You can pour the cream last, but if you start with the cream it will blend when you add the coffee.

And of course, you can also try whipping it and laying it on the surface. If you don’t want a big mound of it, just whip it a little bit and you should be able to layer it on top quite easily.

Alternatives to Heavy Cream in Coffee

Half and Half

Half and half is a creamy dairy product that’s basically an equal mixture of heavy cream and whole milk. It’s quite a bit thinner than heavy cream. It will give you half the fat and just over one-third the calories that you get from the same amount of heavy cream, but probably twice as many carbs once you account for the fact that you need to add more of it.

Coffee Creamer

Coffee creamer isn’t cream at all. It’s a non-dairy product made mainly from water and oil, usually with some added sugar, corn syrup or artificial sweeteners, and thickened with carrageenan or other gums.

Some creamers include extra flavor like vanilla or hazelnut.

You can get them in powdered form as well.

Whole Milk

Whole milk is a heavy milk, and I quite like it as an addition to coffee. It’s very different from heavy cream, but at 3.25 per cent fat, it might just be enough for you.

Sweetened Condensed Milk

An interesting way to make your coffee sweeter is by adding sweetened condensed milk.

You can find sweetened condensed milk in cans at the supermarket, and you probably have if you’ve ever made a pumpkin pie from scratch. It’s a key ingredient.

Can of sweetened condensed milk

An espresso with sweetened condensed milk added is known as a café bombon. I believe it got its start in Spain’s Canary Islands, although you can find versions of it that use either espresso or regular coffee in Latin America and Vietnam as well.

Cans of condensed milk are quite small, and it keeps well in the fridge for a few days. Worth a try if you haven’t had one yet.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much heavy cream should you put in coffee?

You can put as much heavy cream into your coffee as you like, but one or two tablespoons will be enough to get the creamy texture and silky mouthfeel you’re looking for without having to consume silly amounts of fat with your daily coffee.

Is There a Difference Between Heavy Cream and Whipping Cream?

Heavy cream is sometimes known as heavy whipping cream, but it’s not the same as whipping cream. Heavy cream has more fat, always with 36 per cent or more. Whipping cream is generally between 30 and 36 per cent fat. (Whipping cream is also easier to find!)

Lightly whipped cream in a glass bowl
Very lightly whipped cream will float nicely atop a coffee and you can still sip it.

Do You Add the Cream Before or After The Coffee?

You can add heavy cream before or after you coffee goes into the cup. Adding the cream first saves you the trouble of having to stir, because pouring in the coffee takes care of that. It might also help prevent curdling. The advantage of adding cream after is that it’s easier to gauge how much you need and adjust.

What if the Cream Curdles?

Sometimes when you add cream to your coffee, it forms little chunks or strands. That’s curdling.

Don’t worry, you can still drink it if you don’t mind a few solids in your beverage. It won’t hurt you.

Curdling is caused by an overabundance of acid that causes proteins in the cream—mainly caseins—to lump together. The older your cream is, the more bacteria have been at it. These bacteria produce acid as they consume the cream. When this acid meets your already acidic coffee amid hot temperatures, that’s just too much heat and acid—a recipe for curdling.

You can combat this by using fresher cream, a darker roast (less acidic), letting the coffee cool before you add cream, and/or adding the cream first.

If you’ve seen special “barista-style” creams in the supermarket, they invented those for coffee enthusiasts. They have extra calcium in them that brings the acidity down and prevents curdling.

And of course, you can always take your coffee black.

How Long Does Coffee With Cream Last in the Fridge?

Coffee with cream will last in your refrigerator for about 48 hours before it becomes potentially unsafe to consume. If it isn’t refrigerated, you only have about two hours to drink it.