Like many sleep-deprived Canadians, I begin my morning routine with a rejuvenating cup of coffee. Whenever I’m too disorganized to make one at home, I’ll order one from Tim Hortons (for my non-Canadian readers, Tim Hortons coffee is basically as popular in Canada as water is to fish). Lately, I’ve been trying to cut down on the amount of sugar that I take with my daily cup of Joe. I’ve historically taken my medium-sized java with one serving of sugar. Then one day, I cut it out entirely, and life became really awful. So, I now order my coffee with a half-serving of sugar as a compromise between health and happiness. I know I’m not the only one on the planet who orders half-sugar, because there’s a dedicated “half-sugar” button built in to the Tim Hortons computerized register. However, the manner in which this half-sugar is served got me thinking: since the Tim Hortons workers push a button on the automated sugar dispenser corresponding to the size of the cup, how would they account for a half-serving? Do they simply dispense sugar that’s meant for the size below instead? Two sizes below? Just what’s going on back there?
After some investigative work, including a source from the inside (i.e. a relative of mine currently works at Tim Hortons), there is no hard-and-fast rule for half-sugar orders. Some workers may press the size below, or two sizes below – it just depends on the person. So, if that’s the case, is half-sugar really ever half?
Here’s what I’ve been able to uncover using Tim Hortons’ own Nutrition Calculator. Below is a chart of coffee cup sizes, the number of grams in a full serving of sugar for each cup (this would be relatively consistent as it is dispensed by a machine), the amount of coffee per cup size (of course, this will vary depending on the actual pour), and a ratio of sugar-to-coffee (the greater the number, the sweeter the drink):
Before we even talk about the half-sugar serving issue, notice that a small cup of coffee is, theoretically, about 15% sweeter than the other coffee sizes. A 6g serving of sugar for a small cup would actually make it more in line with the other drinks (the sugar-to-coffee ratio would be 0.210 g/mL). Just thought I’d point that out.
Okay, back to the half-sugar. Let’s assume that I get my typical medium-sized coffee. If the Tims server accommodates my half-sugar request by dispensing a small coffee’s worth of sugar, I’m not actually getting half at all (7g vs. 9g of sugar). It’s really more like three-quarters sugar (78% actually). As a guy trying to limit my sugar intake, this is simply outrageous! When I, a math guy, say half-sugar, I’m expecting half. Period. Unfortunately, I’m unable to comment on the results if an extra-small coffee’s worth of sugar is dispensed, since Tim Hortons no longer serves nor provides nutritional information on extra-small coffee (nonetheless, the button on the sugar dispenser for extra-small is still present). If we were to look at a large or extra-large coffee cup, however, not only does the size below not meet the half-sugar requirement, the sugar for a cup two sizes below is still not half either! Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that an extra-small sugar for a medium coffee also wouldn’t work. Regardless of the half-sugar dispensing technique (one vs. two sizes below), half is never half! If this is not a scandal of epic proportions (pun intended), I don’t know what is.
Do you take half-sugar with your coffee? Are you as outraged as I am? Now that I’ve brought your attention to Sugar-gate, help me raise awareness of this coffee calamity by emailing Tim Hortons and voicing your utter disgust with this mathematical misinformation! Send them the link to this blog post and let them see for themselves the sugary scandal that they’ve created. Tweet them with the hashtag #HalfMeansHalf and let them know that you won’t stand for this any longer! I’m so angry right now! THIS IS SPARTA!!!