A coffee drink with no additives- no sugar no cream or no milk is called "black coffee". Can it be also called "plain coffee?"

If yes, then can these callings be carried over to tea? That is to say, can we call "just the tea" without milk/ sweetner as plain tea or black tea?

But, as far as tea is concerned, what I hear is that unlike the case of coffee, black tea is a far cry from (plain) tea; it is a special brew.

Clarification will be very helpful indeed.

  • "Black coffee" is correct, but it's usually used as a predicative adjunct: I like my coffee black.
    – alphabet
    Mar 23 at 15:27
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    I drink what I call 'black coffee', (without milk), but I do take sugar in it. If you asked for a cup of 'black tea' most people would understand that you didn't want milk in it. However, 'black tea' also describes tea leaves that have been oxidised after picking, as distinct from 'green tea'. Mar 23 at 15:33
  • 1
    No doubt it would, but 'it's not how we say it'. Mar 23 at 15:44
  • 1
    Anyway, black (as opposed to green) tea is the ordinary kind, at least in the UK - not a 'special brew'. Mar 23 at 16:56
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    As an American (from the midwest if it matters), "Plain coffee; no milk or sugar." sounds to me like a very natural way to further emphasize the point of "No milk or sugar", but saying just "Plain coffee." would be less idiomatic and clear than "Coffee; no milk or sugar." or "Coffee; black.". Mar 23 at 17:30

2 Answers 2


A few points:

  • Black tea can be sweetened or not.
  • Black tea means tea made from black leaves, not tea with no milk.
  • Sweet tea means something different than tea with sugar.
  • Unsweetened tea means something different than tea without sugar.

I caused undue confusion in my youth asking for a plain coffee before I learned to simply say:

  • Coffee, no milk or sugar.
  • [Some type of] tea, no milk or sugar.
  • What does sweet tea mean to you, then? And what is undo confusion? Mar 23 at 15:46
  • Too many years programming and the undo that rolls off my fingers isn't always the intended one. Now I'll spend the week double-checking every there/their/they're. Sweet Tea is sometimes a menu item separate from a simple tea with sugar. One widespread example I can point to is McDonalds, where ordering a "Sweet Tea" would be a special version of two black teas mixed with sugar, etc. This is not what you would get if you ordered a "tea with sugar".
    – jimm101
    Mar 23 at 17:12
  • Here's a recipe for what some people call sweet tea. They insist it's nothing like iced tea, although I can't tell the difference.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 23 at 21:30
  • Don't forget "unsweet tea," a neologism rapidly becoming more popular in AmE.
    – alphabet
    Mar 24 at 0:41
  • You learn something new every day! I have never heard of 'sweet tea' in that sense, and it doesn't appear to be on the menu of McDonalds UK. Mar 24 at 9:20

can it be ALSO called "PLAIN COFEE?"

No. To me that would mean an "ordinary" coffee, i.e. one without any unusual additives*, a phrase that is not helpful.

If yes

The answer is "No", so there is no need to address this part.

*usual additives are milk and sugar.

  • Milk- usual additive?? I don't agree . A can of plain soda is just preserved carbonated water with no more special additives. Extending the same argument, plain tea is just boiled tea water with no more additives Mar 24 at 0:10
  • @Selfiegroupie I don't agree Fortunately it does not matter whether you agree or not: a single objection does not counter a generality. It is a fact that the main additives to coffee are milk and sugar. A can of plain soda (i) you are using an American use of soda (ii) in British English, "soda" is carbonated water and nothing else - the word "plain" is otiose.
    – Greybeard
    Mar 24 at 13:01

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