Know Your Ingredients: Brown Sugar Milk

A closeup of a brown sugar milk drink.

Cafés are picking up on this addictively sweet beverage trend for coffee-dessert lovers.


Photos courtesy of Lisanto for Unsplash

As we continue to embrace popular ingredients from other countries on our own café menus, we’re seeing a lot of influence from the boba world. Yes, bubble tea shops were the first to take matcha out of the ceremonial context, and they’ve made taro a necessity for any new business serving pearls. And so, we are witnessing another boba mainstay entering the world of coffee—brown sugar milk.

Brown sugar milk is taking over the boba world, and finding its way into the coffee world too.

What Is Brown Sugar Milk?

To put it quite literally, brown sugar milk is milk with a syrupy brown sugar liquid, reminiscent of the syrup that boba pearls are cooked in before getting tossed into beverages. Another common name for it is Tiger Milk, thanks to the aesthetically appealing stripes of the sugar that graze the sides of the cup. It is also the namesake for the cult-favorite boba shop Tiger Sugar, which popularized the beverage when they opened in 2017.

Many will recognize Tiger Milk on the menu as a tea beverage, but the tea just happens to be a common pairing with the substance. That being said, brown sugar milk drinks are great for kids and those sensitive to caffeine because they can be served without tea or coffee.

Although the most popular form of brown sugar milk at the moment is in “stripe form,” many places have twisted the concept for their own renditions of the drink. Some shops will simply pour the syrup in with pearls at the bottom of the cup, then top it with milk tea and flip the entire cup upside down, an equally aesthetic treat that mimics billowing swirls of syrup in the cup. (This is possible thanks to the sealed plastic lid on most boba drinks.) Other cafés take the sweetness of the drink even further by topping it with cheese foam.

Where Does It Come From?

As boba originated from Taiwan, brown sugar milk is also one of the first drinks to have come out of the first bubble tea shop menus there. When Tiger Sugar launched with their version of the drink, the idea was to remind consumers of Taiwanese desserts like brown sugar steamed cake and grass jelly desserts.

How Do I Make Brown Sugar Milk?

A small step goes a long way in preparing brown sugar milk for beverages. This is a little more unique than brown sugar simple syrup; because the syrup has a caramelized consistency, combine brown or muscovado sugar with water and boil over high heat. Unlike with simple syrup, however, keep boiling this until you’ve reached that extra-syrupy consistency, rather than the shorter time duration needed to dissolve the brown sugar in the water.

How Do I Use It at My Café?

If you want to honor the common presentation of brown sugar milk by making it a tea beverage, simply add a concentrated black tea to the milk before adding sugar. Boba Guys offers customers the chance to have it with hojicha tea, so a green tea is definitely an option too.

If you’re serving it hot, you probably won’t be able to replicate those tiger stripes. However, customers will definitely recognize and appreciate a smoky, creamy sweetness in their drinks.

Starbucks has recently caught onto the trend too, personalizing their version of the brown sugar milk beverage by shaking espresso shots with cinnamon and brown sugar and topping it off with oat milk.

If you decide to place brown sugar milk in a coffee context, you can’t go wrong. Simply swap the tea concentrate for a shot of espresso in your drink. The concept truly is quite simple and easy to prepare, so there are endless ways to customize it to your menu to keep people coming back.

About Katrina Yentch 221 Articles
Katrina Yentch (she/her) is a freelance writer and Barista Magazine's Online Editor. When she's not writing, you can find her napping, cooking, and drinking whatever's on drip.