Maple Syrup Grades Explained

Light, Medium and Dark Amber: Which is the Best?

Maple syrup is one of the most universally loved natural food products ever discovered. Long before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Colony in 1620 at Plymouth, Massachusetts, Native Americans were producing maple syrup from the land.

The standard grading system rules for maple syrup officially changed in 2015 with slightly different names announced by the USDA. The grading system describes how syrup’s flavor and color spectrum ranges from light to dark with several variations along the way. There are 5 different grades, however we will discuss the three most popular today.

Traditionally known as “Grade A Light Amber”, the new description for this syrup is “Grade A Golden Color, Light Taste”. This light, golden syrup is produced very early in the season when the sap flow first begins. As any maple tapper knows, the first sap flow of the year is eagerly anticipated as we come out of winter’s deep freeze. The early sap flow is easy to miss if you’re not paying close attention to the weather patterns in your region. 

Grade A Golden Color, Light Taste

This early sap flow that produces golden color syrup is very short, approximately the first two weeks or so of the season. This light, golden syrup is one of my favorites for several reasons. First, its delicate and subtle flavor is unmatched by the darker grades produced as the season progresses. It has a floral quality to it with wildflower notes and a very mild finish of caramelized sugar. Secondly, this golden color syrup is usually harder to find and produced in smaller quantities due to the nature of the season. The early sap flow required to make it is short, so it’s rare in that sense.

Golden color, light tasting syrup pairs well with blueberry waffles, Camembert cheese, or drizzled on top of your favorite organic fruit dish. Try using it in tea as a replacement for your usual sweetener.

As the maple season progresses, the syrup produced darkens slightly into the classic “Grade A Medium Amber” now called “Grade A Amber Color, Rich Taste” under the new USDA grading system guidelines. 

Grade A Amber Color, Rich Taste

This rich tasting amber syrup is the most classic flavor of maple that most people will think of when looking for maple syrup products. Its flavor is much stronger than the light grade, with a beautiful color of aged Scotch. This grade will be produced throughout the bulk of the harvest season and is most commonly found throughout the Spring and Summer until syrup producers sell out. Pair with anything and everything!

If you’re looking to give a gift of maple syrup, the amber color rich taste is the classic bottle to go with; it will be enjoyed by everyone.

Finally, as the maple sugaring season draws to an end late in the Spring, the syrup produced steadily darkens. Changes in the weather and the trees’ internal chemistry cause the sap to develop this way. The syrup produced during this time traditionally known as “Grade A Dark Amber” is now called “Grade A Dark Color, Robust Taste.”

Grade A Dark Color, Robust Taste

This late-season grade has wonderful toasted caramel and brown sugar notes. The initial flavor on your palette is like melted browned butter, which is a joy to experience. The stronger flavors are perfect for holiday baking and use in all of your recipes, as the flavor comes through better after cooking than the lighter grades. Pairs well with robust Vermont and English Cheddar cheese or cooked down with Fall squash, sprouts, and pumpkin.

No matter which grade of maple syrup you prefer, there is no right or wrong choice! There is no best or worst rating system. Just like selecting wine, there is a syrup choice and pairing that’s right for each person and each culinary purpose. If you can’t decide, a tasting sampler is the best way to experience several grades with a fun little maple syrup tasting. Tasters usually come with three or four small bottles of syrup ranging from light to dark, an affordable way to try them all.

From left to right: Golden, Medium, Dark

As a note, there are also two more grades not photographed in this article: “Grade A Very Dark Color, Strong Taste” and “Commercial Grade” or “Processing Grade” which is used in commercial food production.

Maple Tree Tapping Supplies

Where to buy Maple Tree Tapping Kits

So you want to tap your maple trees for the first time? Maybe you’re thinking of upgrading your current supplies? Well, you’ve found the right place! Kaito Ridge maple tree tapping kits include 5/16” blue food-grade tubing that blocks the sun’s powerful ultraviolet rays to prevent bacteria growth in the tubing all season long. 

The drop line tubing is specially formulated for sap collection, and is the same tubing used by professional maple sugaring operations around the country. The blue color also helps provide visibility in the woods, so you can see exactly where you’ve placed taps for fresh sap collection. This added benefit is always welcome after an early Spring snow storm!

You’ll also receive 5/16” tree saver spouts that are so sturdy, they’re practically indestructible. This diameter spout is the industry standard in sap collection; it allows sufficient sap flow for collection while allowing the tree tap hole to heal within the same year. Other suppliers may provide larger spouts that can be damaging to the overall health of the tree. We only provide 5/16” tree saver spouts as preservation of nature and long-term sustainability are our core values.

Tree Tapping Kit

Each tree tapping kit includes a maple sap filter which can be used both as a pre-filter for raw sap straight from the tree and as a hot maple syrup filter after your sap boil. Filtering syrup after boiling down your sap helps reduce the amount of natural sugar sand that’s often present in your final syrup product. The filters can be rinsed and reused.

As always, each kit includes a complete tree tapping instruction quick guide and our top-rated customer support for all of your maple sugaring needs and questions. For further reading and frequently asked questions, see some of our recent posts below:

When Does Maple Sugaring Season Start?

How Many Taps per Maple Tree?

How Do I Tap My Trees?

Our tree tapping supplies are now available on Amazon here, with fast and free 2-Day nationwide shipping.

When Does Maple Sugaring Season Start?

The start of maple sugaring season varies each year depending upon two important variables: weather and location.

The season typically runs from January to April, and sap can run for several periods during these four months. In the 2017 season, warmer weather here in Connecticut started the season off early in January and ran through March. We had above average temps by the third week of February which resulted in a crazy sap flow – more than we could keep up with!

By mid-March the weather warmed up so quickly that the buds on the maple trees started to sprout, and that marked the end of the sap collection for us. Even though temperatures dropped again for a few weeks in April causing sap flow, it was not collectable because the buds had already sprouted.

Once the buds sprout, the tree begins to produce nutrients that spur leaf growth – yet it can be tasted in the sap and is not pleasant. It’s nature’s way of letting us know the season is over. We refer to that as the sap tasting “buddy”.

It’s pretty common in recent years here in Connecticut to have an early start to the season, so we have been tapping in mid-January due to warm weather patterns. However, January 2018 started out with historically cold temperatures below zero, and the thaw did not come until later towards the end of the month. Timing when to tap your trees is a balance of looking at your current week of temperatures, while looking closely at the 10-day forecast in your area.

If you’re located further North such as up state New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine or in the Midwest such as Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota or Iowa  where weather and temperatures are typically colder, your tapping may not begin until February. The season lasts well into April up north in states like Vermont and New Hampshire as it stays colder much later into April.

States located farther South such as Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland, New Jersey and Kentucky may find that their season starts earlier and ends earlier than those of us located in New England. It would not be uncommon for people tapping in those states to end their season in mid to late March as the weather warms up and stays warm.

To read more on when to tap your maple trees, see our other posts here.

Have a specific question about when to tap maple trees in your area? You can always send us a message on Facebook and Instagram!

 

How Many Taps per Maple Tree?

Ah yes, the age old question of how many taps per maple tree is upon us once more. At this point in your maple sugaring adventure you have your maple tapping kit ready to go, and you’re looking at the best trees on your property to tap. You wonder, “exactly how many spouts can I put into my big sugar maple out back – and how many in the small tree next to it?”

how-many-taps-per-tree

Tree diameter determines the number of spouts

Older, large diameter trees can support more spouts than younger, smaller diameter trees. While most trees will be fine with just one spout, sometimes you may want to put in two spouts to maximize your sap production from a very large tree. Generally speaking I would not recommend installing more than two spouts in even the largest trees. As stewards of the land, sustainability and tree health must be our priority.

maple-sap-spout

Measuring a tree’s circumference and calculating the diameter

You’ll need a measuring tape and piece of string to measure the circumference of the tree.

  1. First, wrap the string around the the trunk at breast height – about 4.5 feet high and mark the string with a pen.
  2. Lay out the string and measure it’s length to determine the tree’s circumference.
  3. Divide the circumference number by 3.14 to calculate the diameter.

Let’s say, for example, the tree’s circumference is 38 inches around. Divide that number by 3.14 to get the actual diameter. In this case, 38 / 3.14 = 12.10 inch diameter. We can put only one spout in this sized tree.

Trees at least 12” in Diameter

Trees should have a diameter of at least 12” to be tapped. Some guides allow for 9-10 inch diameter trees to be tapped, but it is best if you leave those younger trees with more time to grow.

Trees from 18” to 24” in Diameter

Trees with a diameter from 18” to 24” should receive no more than two spouts or taps. While it may be tempting to add a third spout to these giants, don’t. Future generations of sugar makers will thank you!

Need more tree tapping information? Curious about how deep to drill maple taps? See our FAQ here for a comprehensive list of most frequently asked tree tapping questions.

Shop our maple tree tapping kits and equipment here.

 

 

How do I Tap My Trees?

How do I tap my trees? That’s a great question, and today on the blog we’ll show you exactly how to get started.  The first thing you’ll need to do is identify what types of trees you have for tapping. Fall is the perfect time to identify the trees in your yard because the leaves have not completely fallen off of the trees yet. Next, you’ll need to pick up a maple tree tapping kit, available here with free two day shipping.

Step One – Identify Your Trees

Identify the trees in your yard and mark them with a ribbon so that you know which ones you’ll be tapping during the sugaring season. The shape and color of the leaves will help you identify what type of trees you have. See our maple tree identification guide here.

Step Two – Purchase Tree Tapping Supplies

Maple sugaring equipment can be purchased directly from our store on Amazon here. You’ll need a basic maple tapping kit which includes instructions, taps and food grade drop lines. It’s essential to purchase food grade equipment here so that your sap is not contaminated with any chemicals or other unwanted contamination.

Step Three – Tap My Trees

Once the sugaring season rolls around between January and March you can tap your trees! Figure out exactly when to tap your trees by reading our timing guide located here. You’ll need to drill a 5/16” tap hole in each tree, where you’ll insert your plastic tap into. Collect your sap into a food grade container such as a spring water jug with cap. Be sure to check the container twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

Still have more questions about sugaring? Check out our FAQ page here full of frequently asked questions about making maple syrup at home.

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions About Tapping Maple Trees

We hear a lot of questions about how to tap trees, collect maple sap and make maple syrup. Today we will talk about some of the most frequently asked questions we see and answer them below. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, ask us in the comments below or connect with us over on Facebook!

What is the smallest tree I can tap?

The smallest tree you would want to tap would have a diameter of 10” or ten inches. Trees smaller than that should not be tapped.

Can I install more than one tap or spout in my maple tree?

Trees with a diameter of 10”to 17” can support one tap. Trees with a diameter of at least 18” can support two taps.

How much sap will I get from each maple tree?

Each tree should produce around ten to twenty gallons of sap each season. This varies depending upon the maple season and the health of the individual tree. For example, two identical trees located right next to each other can produce very different levels of sap.

How deep should I drill into the tree?

Drill into the tree approximately 1.5” past the bark and into the white wood. Total depth is approximately 2.5”.

Does maple tapping hurt or damage the tree?

Tapping does not hurt or damage the tree. Following proper care when tapping will avoid any damage to the tree. Only drill one tap hole with one spout for small trees to reduce stress on the tree. The maple is the only species that is self-healing, and the tap hole will heal and close up during the year.

When I’m done collecting sap, should I put anything into the tap hole to stop the flow of sap?

No. The maple tree will heal and close up the tap hole on its own. Never put any foreign objects or plugs into the maple tree.

What is in maple sap?

Maple sap is a complex natural blend of water, sugar, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.

Is it safe to drink sap straight from the tree?

Generally speaking, sap is sterile before it leaves the maple tree. However, bacteria can enter the sap once it leaves the tree and is exposed to the environment or your collection container. It is similar to consuming raw cow’s milk; there are both risks and benefits to consuming raw vs. pasteurized beverages. To be safe, boil your maple sap first before drinking it.

How much sap does it take to make a gallon of finished maple syrup?

Sugar maples have the highest concentration of sugar in their sap, so they work best for making syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of sap boiled down to make one gallon of finished syrup.

Where can I buy a maple tree tapping kit and supplies?

Buy a complete tree tapping kit complete with guide sheet and instructions here on Amazon.

How do I tap a maple tree?

Watch our video guide on how to make maple syrup here!

How do I identify what kind of maple trees I have?

See our complete guide on identifying maple trees here.

 

How to Make Maple Syrup

Learn how to tap your maple tree, collect the sap and boil it down into syrup! We just tapped our trees a few days ago here in Connecticut, and have already collected several gallons of fresh, nutrient-rich organic maple sap. We boiled down the sap with a propane gas burner until the sap reached a wonderful golden amber color and stored it in a sterilized mason jar.

This buttery, light amber syrup pictured above is characteristic of the syrup produced very early in the sugaring season. As the season progresses, the syrup produced will become slightly darker in a medium amber color, eventually getting very dark and robust in flavor as we near the end of the season.

Get your maple tree tapping kit here on Amazon. Need some more help? Chat with us here on Instagram.