Lots of people like to drink flavored coffee. Whenever I get flavored coffee at the local coffee shop or someone’s house, it never seems to taste very good. Have you ever noticed how bitter and bland the brew usually tastes? It’s like a mixture of instant coffee with Irish cream flavoring. Not very appealing.
It’s important to note that I’m referring to pre-flavored beans… coffee beans that have flavoring added to them as soon as they’re out of the roaster and the beans are still warm to provide the best possible atmosphere for absorption of the flavoring. The truth is, the coffee bean, which encapsulates all of the oils that make up the unique flavors of the bean, can be compromised by adding flavoring this way.
The flavoring can be natural or, more likely, and a little creepy, chemicals that are engineered to taste like “hazelnut” or “vanilla”. For the flavoring to be applied evenly to warm, just roasted coffee beans, the flavored concentrate is diluted in solvents such as vegetable oil, water or even alcohol. After the application, water is then sprayed on the still warm beans to cool them off and lock in the flavors. This quenching process using water instead of cold air has negative effects on the coffee beans as it allows some of the bean’s natural flavors to escape and the water can be damaging to the bean. A roasted coffee bean itself has over 1,000 chemicals and compounds which make up each bean’s unique flavor. Adding flavoring to roasted beans can mute some of the natural flavors that makes an origin coffee, such as a Sumatra, taste like a “Sumatra”. Unfortunately, this muting of origin flavors is what some roasters like.
Why some roasters like flavored coffee
Some roasters add flavoring to just roasted coffee to extend the shelf life. Fresh roasted coffee starts going stale after about 21 days but when flavoring is added to coffee beans, the stale flavors resulting from oxidation and aging of the beans can be diminished by the added flavoring, making it difficult for consumers to notice the bitter flavor from using old, stale beans. Some roasters also take advantage of the flavoring process by using low quality coffee beans (low grade or even robusta) as they believe the flavoring they’re adding will hide the taste of using inferior coffee beans.
Now, don’t get me wrong, many roasters do it right. They use high quality coffee beans, they use natural flavoring and quench hot beans with cold air rather than water. But for the most part, flavoring beans just out of the roaster, done ethically or not, does more harm than good.
What then can you do to flavor your coffee while maintaining quality?
Fresh roasted coffee provides more natural flavor and unique tastes than old, stale coffee… but for those who still want to add flavoring, I always recommend flavoring coffee once it has been brewed and is in your cup. This is the best way to maintain quality as the coffee beans haven’t been compromised by a roaster adding the flavoring themselves. You can taste the quality of the coffee and then add flavoring to your cup by using flavored creamer or natural flavored syrups to add the kinds of tastes you’re looking for.
Another plus for adding flavoring to your cup after you brew your coffee instead of using pre-flavored coffee beans is that you’ll have less maintenance on your coffee grinder. Flavored coffee leaves flavor extracts on grinders which can cause a lot of damage and require repairs. This is one of the reasons why many local coffee shops, who gladly grind coffee for their customers, will not grind pre-flavored coffee (and if they do, they have a special grinder they’ve set aside just for flavored coffee).
Enhance the taste
Use like or complementary flavorings to enhance and balance out the flavor of your coffee. Many packages of coffee will indicate the natural, origin flavors that the roaster detects (for example, one coffee may have a sweet chocolate note while another may have a hazelnut or vanilla taste to it). You may detect the flavors yourself. If your coffee has a natural hazelnut taste, bring it out further by using hazelnut creamer. Or if the coffee has a chocolate taste, you could use hazelnut flavoring to complement the chocolate.
Another idea, somewhere in between using pre-flavored coffee beans and adding syrups to your cup after it’s brewed, is to keep fresh roasted coffee in an airtight container along with mint leaves, cinnamon sticks, or anything else that gives off an aroma that you’d like to taste in your coffee. This works well because coffee is porous, so it naturally absorbs the flavors around it.
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