How to enjoy a perfectly mixed hot beverage without using a stirrer

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Signora
Think of all the stirrers you'll be saving! (By: Sonny AbesamisCC BY 2.0)

As a former barista, little strikes me as more wasteful than the gigantic piles of coffee straws, stir sticks, and spoons that reliably accompany every warm beverage display. Many coffee and tea drinkers don't realize that by simply rearranging the order in which one mixes a drink, it's possible to never need a stirrer and still enjoy a perfectly mixed cup o' whatever. It's all in the swirl!

Whether adding sugar, flavored syrup, or even honey to your beverage, you only need to put it in the bottom of your cup first, then and add a bit of hot coffee (or water, or espresso, depending on what you're making) with which to swirl it around. Swirling will dissolve granulated sweeteners as well as thicker syrups such as honey or chocolate; bigger granules such as Sugar in the Raw may take a few shakes, but dissolve it will (provided that the liquid you add is hot; tepid coffee/water doesn't work so well, but there's a whole other list of reasons why that would be unappetizing).

After dissolving or dispersing your sweetener, pour cream or milk directly into the cup. Additives are more viscous than the beverage base (e.g. coffee or water) so, if you add it at the top of the coffee, it will sink straight to the bottom and the drink will require stirring. You'll notice by pouring in this order that the additive/s are stirred together and mixed in through the simple motion of pouring coffee or water into the cup so, when you fill it up, you'll have a mixed cup without ever having to use a stirrer.

If you're extremely particular about how well you perceive your drink to be mixed, you can continue filling your cup and swirling to your heart's content. Just keep in mind that, while the first bit of warm liquid helps warm your cup (and therefore helps to keep your beverage warm), too much swirling may make your finished product a bit cooler than you'd like.

The biggest adjustment to this method is learning how much additive/s you like in your beverages, but even that only takes a short while to grow accustomed to. As long as you've got hot liquid to work with, (I feel like this could be headed in many directions but stay with me) this is the easiest way to make a perfectly mixed cup o' whatever!

And the best part is, you don't have to take my word for it. Just watch baristas make your flavored drink the next time you're in a shop and watch what they do. Unless you're one of those individuals who orders a half cup of thick, flavored syrup with a splash of coffee on top, they're probably employing some pretty sweet spoonless skills that you can have, too. Cheers!

  1. I've been doing this for a while now when I make my own hot beverages. But if you absolutely MUST have a stirrer, then use dry long pasta. A coffee shop next to where I work used to have linguini in a cup instead of wood stirrers. I would stir and then just eat the linguini (yeah, I like the crunch…) TADA! no waste πŸ˜‰

    • Damn this pro-gluten establishment!!!

      Kidding (vegan pit of snakes is my favorite whine I have ever seen on the empire).
      Seriously though as someone with food intolerances I really don't want to have to double check that my coffee is gluten free because they opted for pasta stirrers although I will give it credit to being a good idea. I also hate the wood stirrers and fear the splintering and dislike wood flavored coffee.

      I pour my coffee like this any chance I can get.

      • HA! Oh thank you for giving me an excuse to re-read the pit of snakes thread.

        Some lolz with my morning coffee… that didn't need to be stirred at all because I drink it black! (I like my coffee like I like my dogs.)

        Maybe one day we'll live in a world where ALL coffee stirrers are gluten free. πŸ˜‰

  2. My ex-husband used to insist on stirring his Splenda into his coffee. When I would pour his cup, I'd put the Splenda in first, then pour in the coffee. He insisted it needed stirring and would use a spoon and set it on the counter (ugh, stains!). I stopped him from using a spoon once and told him to just taste it without stirring. He admitted it was fine, but liked the habit of stirring. At least he wasn't wasting coffee stirrers I guess.

    • I have to admit – this is totally me. :-/ Although I would never set the coffee-covered spoon on the counter. That shit drives me nuts!

      BUT, I agree that there are a lot worse ways to be wasteful than using a metal spoon to mix my drink whether it needs to be mixed or not.

  3. But if you purchase a coffee or espresso drink at a coffee shop and want to add sugar or milk, the coffee is already in the cup when the barista gives it to you, without the sugar/milk. What else would customers do but stir their drink with a stirrer (or pasta, yum!)? When it's handed across a counter, we don't have the option to add the sugar or milk first . . .

    I will definitely do this at home though, especially when I'm too lazy to wash a spoon!

    • I worked at a specialty coffee house for 9 years and, at least at our place, customers were able to add cream and/or sugar to their coffee order (drip & espresso drinks) at no extra charge. I'm sure if you asked the cashier/barista if they could do that for you, they would oblige:)
      What I normally do is bring my own cup and add my cream & sugar before handing over my cup to the cashier/barista and ask if they can stir it for me. I personally do not like wooden stir sticks because I think they actually change the flavor profile of the coffee…a more "earthy" and WOOD flavor that I can do without! Nevermind the fact that they are wasteful!
      I am a bit of a coffee snob (read: no Charbux for me!) because of my work experience and I am always seeking out new places to try out. I realize that this may not be a viable option if you get coffee at say, a donut shop (my local has some of the best drip coffee I have ever had!), but you don't know until you ask!

      • Asking for the baristas to do the milk and sugar is a good way around it. Makes sense.

        I agree with you about the wood flavor, but it doesn't bother me much.

  4. At home, I use good coffee that doesn't need sugar. In the winter, when I drink hot coffee, I microwave my milk in the mug for 15 seconds to warm it up (otherwise my coffee cools to quickly). In the summer, I place ice in my glass, then pour in coffee, then milk and give it a gentle swirl. The ice clanging around mixes it up well.

    Unfortunately, if I'm at a restaurant or hotel, I generally have no idea how much sugar my coffee will need, and need to add and stir to taste.

  5. I'm confused as to how this "tip" helps eliminate the use of stir sticks? You note the display at coffee shops, yet, typically in this same environment, for example Starbucks, you buy a (filled) cup of coffee and then you add cream/sugar to it. Your suggestion does not address this at all, and I would guess that at least half of the stirring implements are related to this situation.

    • It depends on the set-up, for sure. A lot of places give you the empty cup, and then you fill it from dispensers yourself.

      DD adds cream and sugar for you in my area. And, my true love of fast coffee, is Tim Horton's where you can get coffee to stay in a real mug, and your muffin comes on a real plate.

    • I was with you until I read justanothersciencenerd's comment and realized that this could apply to those very rare times when I'm on a trip and get gas station coffee (or coffee at the auto shop, or bank, etc. – those times are rare though!). No it's probably not going to eliminate a bunch of stir sticks altogether, but it's a good tip I guess. πŸ™‚

    • Katie, this post is about warm beverage displays — not coffee shops. Some examples of this would be complimentary coffee bars at receptions and conferences, serve-yourself stations at cafes and gas stations, cold weather outdoor festivals… not shops where baristas are already employing this method to serve you a mixed drink. As others mentioned, there are some sanitation concerns with having you put your own additives in a barista-served beverage.

  6. Seems like a lot of discussion around not getting sugar/milk first, which implies that people are using paper cups (if they brought their own cups they could do this first)….. which is lot more wasteful than the stir stick. Just seems to be thinking a bit backwards! πŸ™‚

    • Or they're using the shop's non-paper cups. Years of trying and I still can't even remember to bring my own grocery bags, bringing my own cup probably won' t happen πŸ˜› Our local shop has spoons for stirring which I suppose may or may not be more wasteful, since they have to be washed…but the coffee stirrers creep me out, I always think they're going to leave splinters.

    • I didn't realize that the barista or cashier could accept a personal cup *with something in it already* for sanitary reasons (even if that thing is the coffee shop's own sugar/milk/etc). I never would have thought to do that.

  7. Thank you for the tip! Where I live, cafes serve hot beverages with teaspoons, which act as stirrers. Plastic stirrers only exist at beverage dispenders in gas stations or train stations, are not part of our local culture, yet we enjoy well-stirred beverages πŸ˜‰
    This could be an idea for people who have second thoughts about milk/sugar/whatever they want to put in their cup AFTER their beverage is served. Just ask for a spoon at the counter!

    Though, most of the time, the problem arises from cafes not offering reusable crockery and going for wasteful plastic stuff (I get it's an economic choice, but it still angers my inner eco-warrior).

  8. This even works with those sweetener tablets. This is what I do at home all the time, sweetener tablet first, in goes coffee, a swirl then milk. While fantastic at home, around here I seem to have trouble finding places do it this way because that's like an extra 2 seconds to put sugar/sweetener in for you. Even drive through coffee where it is quite a pain to sugar yourself without spilling (yes I am un-co) they don't seem to be willing to add sugar for you.

  9. So glad to see so many people already employing this method! Yes, stirring only works if you have access to the warm beverage as I mentioned in the original post. I've never met a barista who used a stirrer to create a mixed drink, so you don't have much to worry about on that end. Warm beverage displays are typically seen in complimentary coffee bars at receptions and conferences, serve-yourself stations at cafes and gas stations, cold weather outdoor festivals, many privately owned coffee and tea shops and, of course, your own home environment.

    I will say that, while I worked for a large chain coffeehouse and it was against policy for people to hand us cups with ingredients already added, this didn't stop a healthy portion of our customers from doing just that so they could eliminate waste. I think it would be helpful for cafes large and small to revisit their policy and possibly rearrange the condiment bar so that customers could access it on their way up the line (using our ingredients, rather than mystery substances they brought from home). I highly doubt that having it "past" the register really stops people from using supplies without paying and, in fact, having it closer to the points of sale may actually help with that.

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