There are thirteen different types of maples of which 4
(sometimes 5) different types are generally used for producing
maple syrup. These include the Sugar Maple, Black Maple, Red
Maple, and Silver Maple. Occasionally, the Boxelder is used
when no other Maple is available. The Sugar and Black Maples
are the most common and preferred Maple trees due to their
higher level of sugar content.
There are several ways to identify a Sugar Maple. The Sugar
Maple leaf has 5 lobes whereas the Red Maple has the 3 lobes.
The maple is more common for its long slender leaves. Younger
Maples tend to have smooth grey bark whereas the bark of a
mature Sugar Maple is generally brown and farrowed with
vertical plates that curl outward from the tree.
Tapping is the process in which a hole is drilled into the tree and
a tap, called a spile, is inserted to assist with the flow of the sugar
water. Tapping occurs in the late winter (pupoon) to early spring
(seeqan). The season is determined by geographic location. In
Connecticut, the season generally begins the end of February
when temperature rise about 40°F followed by evening
temperatures below 32°F.
Fluctuating temperatures are responsible for the sap flow. As
temperatures warm, the sap is pushed upwards to the tree tops
to nourish the buds. When the tree is pierced during tapping the
sap flows outwards. Sap or sugar water is the clear fluid that
comes from the tree after it has been tapped. It takes roughly
(40) gallons of the sap/sugar water to produce (1) gallon of maple
Tree health is one of the most important things when sugaring. To
reduce any unnecessary stress to the trees, the general rule is that
the Maple tree should be at least 10” in diameter. Trees 10 inches to
17 inches in diameter should only have 1 tap while trees greater than
18 inches can have 2 taps. 5/16” drill bits and a spile, are preferred
although some people use 7/16”.
When tapping a tree, you drill at a slight angle and drill no more than
1-½” deep. There are several sap collection methods. This can
include buckets, storage containers, jugs, and even waterproof
baskets. It is important to keep sap clean and free of any debris as
the sap picks up all flavors and can alter the taste of your finished
After the sap is collected, it is transferred into the evaporator. The
evaporator cooks the sap until it reaches a temperature of about
219°F when it converts to maple syrup (this can vary depending on
atmospheric pressure). As the sugar water is cooked the color begins
to change and the maple flavor becomes more predominant.
At this point the maple syrup is transferred to a finishing pan. A
small sample is taken again and tested using a tool called a
hydrometer. The hydrometer measures the temperature and the
brix (sugar content) of the maple syrup.
Once the maple syrup is finished it goes through a series of filters to
remove any impurities. Upon the completion of filtration it is then
bottled. Maple syrup must be bottled at a temperature above 180°F.
Note: The finished product depends a great deal on how fast the sap
has been processed. The sooner you cook the sap the lighter the
coloring will be.