Uses of Sugar Cubes

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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Although the first sugar cubes created by Rad were sold in Vienna, Europe’s great center of coffee culture, they were labled “tea-sugar,” indicating that from the start sugar cubes were intended for use with tea. This may have been due to the old tea habit, especially popular in Russia and Persia, of drinking tea while holding a lump of sugar between one’s teeth and sucking the tea through it (the Russian term is vprikusku). A precisely cut sugar cube served this purpose even better than an irregular lump. The tradition, though gradually disappearing, still exists; Mosen Asadi, author of The Beet Sugar Handbook, mentions it as key to the continuing popularity of hard sugar cubes in modern times: “In most countries, people put a cube of sugar into a cup to sweeten their tea, so they want a cube that dissolves quickly. In some countries, however, people put sugar into their mouth where it slowly dissolves while they drink tea, so they want a hard cube” (2006, p. 455). Sugar cubes were fashionable at aristocratic tea parties, such as English afternoon tea; in the United States they were manufactured in the shapes of playing-card suits—diamonds, hearts, clubs, and spades—to be served at bridge parties.