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I like my tea sweet, and generally add several cubes of white sugar. Teavana sells rock sugar, which it claims is somehow "better" while being vague on what that means. Is it sweeter? Less sweet? Somehow interacts with the tea leaves differently?

Interesting, you're meant to brew it with the leaves, presumably sweetening the whole pot rather than doing it to taste for individuals, which sounds annoying. Is that just marketing or does that have some benefit?

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I'd assume you have to put it in with the leaves because the crystals are large, so that lets them fully dissolve. –  Jefromi Jan 11 '12 at 18:02
    
@Jefromi Makes sense. Do you know if they'd dissolve in the cup, considering I use a cast-iron teapot so the tea is still quite hot after steeping? –  Yamikuronue Jan 11 '12 at 18:02
    
My mom has always told me that rock sugar is healthier too. I dont think she knows why either. Just something passed from her parents. –  Jay Jan 11 '12 at 18:03
    
Contrary to the advertising, raw sugar would definitely affect the flavor to the tea. –  FuzzyChef Jan 12 '12 at 6:27
    
10 out of 10 5 star reviews. I'm impressed and suspicious. –  Jolenealaska Nov 2 at 21:04

9 Answers 9

up vote 3 down vote accepted

It appears to be brown sugar instead of white sugar. So there will be some flavor difference from less refining (e.g., more molasses remaining)

You could pick up turbinado sugar at the grocery store, which will probably taste just about the same, for much less money.

edit: I should also note that honey makes a good sweetener for tea as well, depending on the type of tea. You could use normal brown sugar as well. Maple sugar (or syrup) goes in some... there are a lot of sweeteners you can use, and most of them you can get fairly cheaply at the grocery store so you can experiment. (Except maple, I suppose, which is just expensive)

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So it's brown/turbinado sugar in a larger crystalline form? Do the crystals change anything? –  Yamikuronue Jan 11 '12 at 20:25
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The larger crystals will be (a) easier to grab with your hands; (b) fit less (by weight) to the tablespoon (c) take longer to dissolve. Flavor-wise (once fully dissolved, which they should be before drinking) that shouldn't matter. –  derobert Jan 11 '12 at 20:28
    
Hmm. I had wondered if the surface area or anything like that made a difference, chemistry-wise. Honestly I'm not particularly picky about sweeteners, I was just curious why it was being touted as "better" than white sugar cubes or white sugar by the spoonful. –  Yamikuronue Jan 11 '12 at 20:36
    
@Yamikuronue: Well, its a different flavor than white sugar (since its less refined). Other it's sugar for $9/lb—I'm sure Teavana's shareholders consider that much, much, better. Someone would have to do a double-blind taste test to be sure, of course. –  derobert Jan 11 '12 at 20:42
    
haha, I'm sure they do. The correct comparison would probably be the rock sugar vs brown sugar, but I'm not in the habit of drinking in my tea so I can't comment on that. –  Yamikuronue Jan 11 '12 at 20:45

In Northern Germany, sugar crystals similar to the style depicted on the linked web page are used for "East Frisian Tea". East Frisian Tea is more a style of tea service than a specific variety of tea, but usually some blend of Indian black teas is used, often Assam and Darjeeling, but some variation from that is possible; the main thing is that it's not an aromatized or fruity tea, but a black tea blend, and tends to be infused with the intention of being slightly bitter.

When serving, rock sugar is placed at the bottom of the cup. Tea is poured over the rock sugar. Then, typically, but not always, a bit of cream is poured on top of that. You don't stir what's in your cup, so you start with a creamy flavor, progress toward a fairly bitter/astringent black tea, and have an increasingly sweet finish. You keep on repeating the process of adding sugar, tea and cream and drinking until you've run out of things to talk about with your friends.

The slow melting process is the main desirable attribute of this type of sugar, not the flavor difference. The brown crystals, with a slight molasses hint, were the most common ones I saw in Germany, but clear ones were not unheard of either. The hint of molasses is the only flavor difference from the brown crystals.

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Aha! That's probably where it came from. Teavana is known for bastardizing tea traditions for Americans –  Yamikuronue Dec 30 '12 at 1:45

I received this rock sugar with a tea gift set, and to my palate it tastes no different from refined sugar. It does take longer to dissolve, so I don't see how you could brew it with the leaves and get the sweetness you desire. I just finished a cup of tea over a period of about 10 minutes, and there are still tiny rocks sitting undissolved in the base of the cup.

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If you let the last bit of your tea sit a bit before drinking, those remaining tiny rocks will dissolve, and make the last sip far sweeter than the rest of the cup. –  Wayfaring Stranger Dec 28 '12 at 14:31

I've used rock sugar quite a bit in the past. It does take a bit longer to dissolve, but in a hot mug of tea it's going to be dissolved before you drink it anyway, so I don't consider it to be an issue. I have never put sugar in with the leaves while the tea is brewing.

The flavor is the same as granulated sugar, although I would describe it as a milder form of sweetening. Overall, I prefer rock sugar to granulated sugar in tea.

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Other answers have mentioned the possibility of different colors of rock sugar, but just to be clear, the question is asking about this brown type of sugar from Teavana:

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There is also clear ("white") rock sugar (sometimes also known as rock candy or crystal sugar), such as this:

enter image description here

As one other answer mentioned, rock sugar is often manufactured from beet sugar, though this has to do more to do with European sources and traditions than any actual manufacturing requirement.

Regarding flavor, I find Teavana's description to be misleading: "These pure, unprocessed sugar crystals are the best way to enhance the natural sweetness of your tea without changing the flavor." As others have noted, the brown version of rock sugar generally has molasses or slight caramel notes, so it is actually more likely to flavor your tea than more processed sugar.

If anything, in the past I've heard such claims of little flavor alteration associated with white rock sugar. There is an argument to be made that larger irregular crystals allowed to grow slowly for white rock sugar could have fewer impurities than smaller crystals in normal granulated sugar with a lot more surface area to collect unwanted stuff during drying and processing. (To know for sure, you'd need to know a lot about the processing at the particular manufacturing plant.) Also, larger crystals with less surface area will be less susceptible to absorbing "off" flavors from humidity, making large-crystal sugar more shelf-stable and less likely to taste "stale" when stored in less optimal conditions.

My guess is that Teavana appropriated the marketing hype for the "purity" of large-crystal white sugar (which might actually be more pure and have fewer unwanted tastes) and combined it with the marketing hype for "natural" raw sugar that doesn't wash away the molasses and other flavors/colorants during processing. But the two are not the same thing at all.

In any case, rock sugar should provide the same amount of sweetness by weight as normal granulated sugar. Other than longer dissolving time, the only difference may be slightly more non-sucrose flavors for the brown types of rock sugar and slightly less for white rock sugar.

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The Teavana German Rock Sugar even tastes different in coffee than regular sugar. I just bought some along with some tea and am still feeling out the fact of whether it is worth the price or not... I will buy it online nextime but my first few tastes (including just popping the rocks in my mouth) I love the stuff. It definately tastes different than other sugars and as long as I can get it cheaper than at Teavana, I will buy more. Teavana uses some pretty tricky marketing techniques as well. The guy even told me it's extracted from the German beet root. I'm not sure this is true though.

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If the sugar is imported from Germany, the part about the beet root is probably true. Virtually all sugar in Germany is beet root based, and while cane sugar is available, it is expensive and not as widely used. But once we start talking about refined (white) sugar, there is no perceptible difference in taste between beet and cane sugar. While other factors (even crystal size) can change your taste experience, the beet root part is not relevant. –  rumtscho Jun 6 '13 at 11:25

I bought the German Rock Sugar at Teavana along with my tea. I do prefer my tea with the German rock sugar. I have put it in with the leaves, and in afterward it brews. No difference. If using boiled water (as you should) it completely dissolves in the 3min I steep the tea. I would buy the german rock sugar again but not at Teavana, because of the price.

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Old post, but still popping up in google. My two cents: I have used Cuban sugar, different types of honey, and rock sugar is still my favorite. While the price is steep, the flavor does make an incredible difference. I am an avid tea drinker and brew tea all day- more than a hobby, it helps me focus, enjoy, and smile more often. I often brew the tea with the rock sugar at the bottom of the infuser, so it actually dissolves as the tea is being made and not when you're about to drink it. Another way I like to use it is to fill up my 32 oz thermos with the sugar at the bottom, let it take its course for a while, then flip the thermos upside down, slowly, so it can sweeten the rest. I use about 4 teaspoons per 32oz, which makes it just right for my taste. I have never tried using the sugar at the bottom of the mug, as I drink little bits at a time (remember, all day).

Like with anything else, there are different types of sweet. Rock sugar, although I buy plenty, I only use for tea, since it's the kind of sweet I enjoy the most on teas. It is cane sugar, just processed differently. If you really want to know the difference, pass by a Teavana and ask them for a small sample (you can order cheaper sugar online). Your mouth will understand. I don't personally oppose tradition, as I enjoy it quite a bit, but I don't mind trying new things and improving older measures. This is our time for us to live, right now, not then or later, so I believe breaking tradition is as important as studying it.

A smaller note: if you use a Teavana tea maker or something to that effect and place the sugar at the bottom with the tea while it brews, and you serve it straight out of it and into the cup, the first cup will be sweet, and the second one will not even be aware there was sugar ever involved. It's only a tiny annoyance that can be quickly fixed.

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Rock sugar is beet sugar (rather than cane sugar). It sweetens tea without overwhelming the natural flavor of the tea. Use it as you would use crystallized sugar, including that you stir the sugar into the tea (to get it to dissolve).

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Why do you think it is beet rather than cane? Rock candy can be made from sugar of either source. By the time they are processed, they are 99.9% sucrose anyway, practically indistinguishable. Update: Unrefined cane rock sugar is readily available. –  SAJ14SAJ Feb 13 '13 at 13:22
    
@SAJ14SAJ: agreed see here: noodle.en.made-in-china.com/product/temJqcfdglkb/… –  talon8 Feb 13 '13 at 14:23

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