Tim Hortons and proportions: When half-sugar isn’t really half at all

TimsLike 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):

Tims Sugar
Source: Tim Hortons Nutrition Calculator

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!!!

9 thoughts on “Tim Hortons and proportions: When half-sugar isn’t really half at all

  1. Jay. I once wrote a complaint to Nestle’s because the labeled weight on their Halloween chocolates box (100 assorted mini chocolate bars) indicated that they must have known that they were not giving me equal numbers of each type of chocolate… guess which ones they were short changing me on? The heavier and most delicious KitKat! Outrageous! There were something like nine KitKats out of the entire 100… where there should have been 20! Those bastardo’s then proceeded to buy me off with free chocolate… and it worked..

  2. Lol this has got to be the best post ever. I always get two milk half sugar and yet I always am surprised at the difference in taste depending on where I go. Some timmies just put a full one serving and I guess others put none at all

    1. This IS the best post ever. I came to google for answers, and have found exactly what I wanted (and more!). I have the same order as you (2 milk, half sugar) and I always make a point to say “half of A sugar”, in the hopes that they understand this as half of a packet, although now I am thoroughly convinced that this does not always happen haha

  3. There is a button on their machines that dispenses sugar that is for half the ammount. So you press your cup size and then the half sugar button and it dispenses accordingly. I wondered the same thing, but our university has put the equiment in a little self serve station, so I can confirm that this button actually exists. I too order my tea with a half sugar.

  4. Interesting and helpful data sheet. However, your anger is not proportional to the situation and I suggest that you find a hobby

  5. I have the same issue with another burger chain that offers free coffee’s after 7 purchases, which is decent competition to the faithful Tims. I have often wondered if there is a button that signifies 1/2 anything or do they just do the next size down? I always order a large coffee with a small cream. Oh the confusion when there is no small cream option other than just 1/2, 1 or more cream and the only person who knows I want a small cream in my coffee is the person who took the order, and not the actual person making it.

    Going by the 1 size down option for 1/2 anything and I order a small coffee with 1/2 cream, do I just get a black coffee?

    I know I could get everything on the side and do it myself, but why?

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