What Is Creamer?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

A cup of coffee and a jug of coffee cream
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Creamer is a store-bought powder or liquid that's commonly added to coffee or black tea in place of a milk product like half-and-half or cream. Most coffee creamer is dairy-free, instead made of sugar or sugar substitute, oil, and thickeners. It has a longer shelf life than milk products, especially when in powder form. It's most commonly found in the U.S. and comes in a wide variety of flavors, including seasonal options.

Fast Facts

  • Varieties: Liquid, powdered, sugar-free, fat-free, flavored
  • Shelf Life: 2 weeks after opening for liquid, up to 6 months for powdered
  • Substitutes: Half-and-half, whole milk, cream

Creamer vs. Half-and-Half

Creamer and half-and-half are both common additions to coffee. The two milky liquids have a similar mouthfeel and blend perfectly with bitter black coffee or black tea. Half-and-half is made of equal parts whole milk and cream, giving the dairy product a thickness and richness right in between the two. It is sometimes used in making desserts or creamy savory dishes, too. Coffee creamer is typically dairy-free and does not contain any milk products at all. It has a similar thickness to half-and-half but tends to contain a considerable amount of sugar (sugar-free options are available). It's exclusively used as an addition to drinks.

Varieties

Coffee creamer is sold in two main forms: powdered or liquid. Liquid creamer is often sold in the dairy section and is available in a wide range of flavors, from hazelnut to vanilla to cookie-flavored. You'll commonly find low-fat and sugar-free options as well. Small, single-serving cups of creamer are a common sight at diners.

Powdered creamer is also available in different flavors, although the most common is plain (sweetened milk flavor). It is sold in scoopable containers as well as individual packets, which are often available at coffee stations.

How to Use Creamer

Coffee creamer is sold ready to use, whether in powder or liquid form. Simply add it to your coffee and stir before drinking. Some creamers are sweeter than others, so start with a little and add more to taste. If you're adding powdered creamer to your iced coffee, you may need to do some extra stirring for it to dissolve. Liquid creamer works best in iced coffee.

What Does It Taste Like?

Creamer has a similar flavor and texture to half-and-half or whole milk. It is frequently sweetened and flavored. Popular creamer flavors include vanilla, almond, hazelnut, chocolate, caramel, and pumpkin spice. Creamer is not meant to be enjoyed on its own, but rather is an embellishment to coffee and tea drinks—especially powdered creamer, which must be mixed in liquid (like coffee or tea) before consuming.

Creamer Substitute

Half-and-half, whole milk, heavy cream, or nondairy milk can all be used as substitutions for coffee creamer. Evaporated milk is also a good shelf-stable option. If you like sweetened creamer, add sugar to taste. For a pre-sweetened, very sweet option, try sweetened condensed milk. Milk powder can be used in place of powdered creamer, but it won't have the same creaminess and sweetness.

Creamer Recipes

Creamer is used to lighten and sweeten black coffee, espresso, or tea, whether served hot or cold. You can make your own dairy-based version or, since most creamers are dairy-free, use it as a vegan alternative when mixing up coffee drinks.

Where to Buy Creamer

Coffee creamer is widely available in American grocery stores, convenient stores, supermarkets, and is commonly offered in casual restaurants with coffee service. Liquid coffee creamer can typically be found in eight, 16, or 32-ounce plastic or glass bottles in the refrigerated dairy section, while powdered creamer is found in paper boxes or plastic bins in a variety of sizes next to the coffee beans. Both options can be found in big box stores in bulk packaging. Look for a creamer that suits your tastes and dietary requirements, taking into account the flavor, ingredients, fat content, and sugar content.

Storage

Liquid creamer should be stored in the fridge in its original packaging. It will keep for a month or longer unopened and up to two weeks after opening. Powdered cream should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Unopened, it will last for up to two years. An opened container of powdered creamer will last six months. Freezing is not recommended for liquid or powdered creamer.