Best Flavored Coffee: What is flavored coffee and is it safe to drink?
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about coffee over the years, it’s this: the best coffees are entirely subjective. If it weren’t, we’d have long since found the one perfect brew and distributed it worldwide.
Coffee is still something of an acquired taste, though, especially for people who aren’t fond of bitter flavors. That’s where flavored ground coffee comes into the picture, but is that really a good choice? Let’s look a little deeper into this topic.
What Is Flavored Coffee?
While all coffee is technically flavored, this term refers specifically to coffee beans sprayed in oils and (usually) synthetic flavorings then processed inside a rotating drum to thoroughly coat the beans. The result is usually an artificial flavor that can be almost anything, from toasted marshmallow to banana.
Flavored coffee beans usually use propylene glycol as a base for absorbing the synthetic flavors. This chemical is functionally odorless, tasteless, and colorless, making it an ideal choice for carrying flavors without modifying them. It also has many industrial uses, but the Food and Drug Administration recognizes propylene glycol as generally safe in food.
However, the biggest problem with flavored coffee beans doesn’t have as much to do with the flavorings as some people think, though synthetic flavorings can have issues. Rather, the concern is the roasted coffee beans themselves, which can be anywhere from months to years old.
Roasting And Quality
Coffee isn’t static after roasting. Instead, it goes through a process known as resting, during which it releases carbon dioxide and aromatics. Most coffee beans have peak freshness between four and fourteen days after roasting, although this varies slightly based on the type of bean and the preparation method you want to use.
Science can limit resting to some extent. Using closed roasting systems, filling bags with nitrogen, and using one-way carbon dioxide release valves on bags can significantly extend the freshness period of roasted arabica beans.
Most manufacturers don’t do this too often, though, since preparing bags this way significantly increases the cost to consumers. By one month after roasting, most coffee beans have lost most of their coffee flavors and carbon dioxide.
The issue with flavored coffee is that most companies make it with beans that are far past their optimal freshness period, masking the dull and lifeless taste of the beans with sugars to reuse the beans and limit waste.
In short, most flavored coffee beans are just old, stale beans covered in flavors and sugar, then resold. That doesn’t make for a great drink, even if you like the basic flavor. It’s hard for professionals to call these drinks coffee because they’re missing so much of the natural flavor and potency of fresh coffee.
Using Flavored Coffee Beans Sooner
You might be able to get by on the third day after roasting, but you should always wait at least that long. The buildup of carbon dioxide in the coffee beans immediately after roasting makes it challenging to get a great cup until the gas has had time to escape. Note that dark roasts release gases faster than lighter roasts.
What About Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans
Coated beans aren’t the same thing as flavored coffee. A coated bean is something like chocolate covered coffee beans, which you’re supposed to eat directly rather than brewing into a cup. These usually include a sweet shell to balance out the bean’s coffee flavors inside, and frankly, these are delicious treats. We love them.
The Pricing Secret
If you go to the store, you’ll probably see that flavored coffees are among the most affordable options on the shelves. Companies can price them so low because they’re just trying to sell old beans that would otherwise go to waste, and a smaller profit is better than no profit at all.
The coffee world is one where you get what you pay for. Truly fantastic arabica beans like the famed Blue Mountain beans from Jamaica can cost $58 per pound or more. Meanwhile, flavored coffees can sell for $5/pound or less. If you are drinking flavored coffee for less than $10 per bag, you are drinking old beans.
The same holds true with many coffee pods, which can feature lower-quality ground coffee packed with flavor additives to mask the poor taste. Some pods can be good, especially if they’re made with fresh beans and intended for use soon after manufacturing, but these are rare and not as popular as certain well-known brands that value speed and low prices.
Are All Flavored Coffee Beans Bad?
No. Flavored coffee can be good if you prepare it correctly, which means using high-quality, natural ingredients and fresh beans. Some people even create coffee at home by adding ingredients like chocolate or cinnamon just before brewing. That’s flavored coffee, too, though the process for making it differs from what you’ll find in stores.
However, high-quality flavored coffee is rare. Fresh beans are delicious on their own and don’t need added flavors in the beans themselves. Professional roasting companies scour the world to find farmers who offer the best beans, and store-bought flavored coffees largely waste the original qualities that made those arabica beans desirable.
All of this is why we don’t recommend drinking flavored coffee unless you’re mixing the flavors yourself using freshly roasted beans. However, while flavored ground coffee is usually bad, there are some alternatives worth considering, and that’s what we’re going to look at now.
Best Flavored Coffee Beans
Flavored coffee tends to be done with some of the cheapest coffee options out there as we have already mentioned thrice. Aside from cost, there are some reasons why coffee roasters use a specific varietal when flavoring their beans. Getting the best flavored coffees is not only about the flavor, but it is also about the overall balance of the coffee. Since most people prefer a well-balanced cup of coffee when it comes to body and acidity, a coffee origin like Colombian coffee is typically the go-to standard.
Deciding How To Modify Your Coffee
The main reason that people look at products like flavored coffee beans is simple: they want to modify the basic flavor of coffee to make it more appealing to them. While we love fresh coffee as-is, we know that plenty of people enjoy mixing in other flavors, and that’s fine.
The important thing to consider here is how you want to modify your coffee. Once you know that, finding a better way to adjust your brew gets simpler. In most cases, this is easier than you might think. So, you may not need the flavored coffee after all...
Issue: The Coffee Is Bitter
Did you know that most coffee isn’t too bitter? If you think it is, chances are you’ve been drinking older, low-quality coffee or preparing the coffee beans wrong. While a little bitterness is present in all coffee, high-quality drinks should have a natural sweetness mixed with a light, refreshing acidity.
If you just want to avoid bitterness, you may not need additives at all. Fixing this is as simple as using fresher, higher-quality beans with the correct roasting method. This is particularly true if you’re drinking Arabica coffee, which most people consider the best type of bean in the world. It certainly sells more than any of the other varieties.
Issue: You Want Sweetness
This is far more personal and why many people feel as though they need flavored coffee. Great coffee has some natural sweetness, but some people simply prefer sweet drinks, and that’s all there is to it. The easiest way to address this is by adding a sweetener, and we’ll talk more about those options below.
Issue: You Want A Different Flavor
Like sweetness, this is mainly a matter of personal taste. Some people enjoy fruity or seasonal flavors in their drinks and want to enjoy that, but without losing the practical benefits of caffeine or completely switching to another drink like tea. While flavored coffee does solve this dilemma, we still suggest adding a flavor of your own with the use of some of our ingredients below.
Issue: You Want it Keto Friendly
While most people enjoy their coffee with sugars and milk-based creamers added to it, some people do not. In fact, there seems to be a popular coffee trend known as keto coffee that has taken the coffee world by storm. While on a ketogenic diet, one must ensure that they are getting more fat and less carbs when it comes to their daily macros.
Picking A Method
While there may be other reasons for modifying a cup of coffee, these are the three most common reasons people have. Each of them can be addressed in different ways, and we know which options work thanks to food science and extensive testing in the kitchen. So, if you are after the best flavored coffee beans, how about giving some alternatives a try instead!
Coffee creamer is a liquid or powder that you can add to drinks like coffee and black tea instead of a direct dairy product (usually cream or half-and-half). Many coffee creamers are dairy-free mixes of sugar, oils, and thickeners, making them convenient for lactose-intolerant people.
Coffee creamers work exceptionally well with black coffee, whose moderately bitter flavor can be a bit hard to drink unless you’re used to it. The real secret, of course, is that coffee creamers are outstanding ways to carry flavor into your drinks. That makes them one of the top options for creating the best-flavored coffee.
Creamers are widely available in most grocery stores, although you may have to search specialty shops or buy online to find rarer flavors. In most cases, powdered creamers last longer and are easier to store, so they’re a reliable option. Liquid creamers work incredibly well in iced coffee but may not be quite as good in some types of hot brews.
The best coffee creamers tend to have minimal ingredients aside from their flavoring components, so check between brands for those.
You can also use flavored coffee creamer for some mixed coffee drinks, like cappuccinos and lattes. You can usually steam or froth liquid creamer, so this is a good way to get these drinks without further modifying the temperature or the consistency.
Syrups are the primary alternative to coffee creamers, and they fulfill a similar role in modifying the sweetness and flavor of the coffee. The main difference between them is that syrups are mostly sugar with a bit of flavoring, whereas coffee creamer has thickeners that make it more like milk.
To put it another way, coffee syrups are a lot like sugar cubes, but with flavor. This makes them much better for drinks that you don’t want to make especially milk-like.
Even better, coffee syrups are available in a jaw-dropping variety of flavors. For example, Torani is one of the largest manufacturers in the country and offers over a hundred flavors. They also offer specialty lines like their Puremade Syrups, which have no artificial colors or preservatives and are relatively healthier. With Torani, you can have different flavored coffees all day long.
If you’re trying to watch your weight, manufacturers even offer many sugar-free syrups. We’re not explicitly recommending Torani or any other brand here, so please look around if you’re interested in getting coffee syrup flavors for your drinks. Finding the best coffee syrup is mainly a matter of personal taste and balancing ingredients, not sticking to one brand.
The critical thing to understand right now is that there are countless flavors on the market, so you can get practically any flavor you want from one manufacturer or another.
More importantly, you can also control exactly how much syrup or creamer you put in your drinks. This means you can adjust your coffee to the perfect flavor and sweetness. That’s something you can’t do with pre-flavored beans alone.
Together, all of these details are why you often see coffee syrups behind the counter at local shops. These provide great flavor without sacrificing the qualities that make freshly roasted beans so good, and if the professionals use them, there’s got to be something good about them.
As if all of that wasn’t good enough, coffee syrups are also affordable and come in large bottles so you can get many drinks out of them. Many people buy several different flavors at once to mix and match them and create unique drinks.
Creamers and syrups are the most popular ways of changing the flavor of coffee, but they’re not the only ways. Here are some other ways to modify the flavor of your coffee.
Putting honey in coffee is a way of using one of nature’s best natural sweeteners. Honey’s distinctive flavor mixes well with most coffee beans, and it readily dissolves if you stir it into a hot drink. This is about as natural as you can get, though we recommend using local honey whenever possible.
Cinnamon is another great choice for adding to your coffee, adding a distinctively nutty and faintly sweet flavor to drinks. However, the real trick here is that cinnamon tends to reduce bitterness without overly sweetening a drink. This makes it an easy ingredient to add if you want to avoid bitterness but don’t want to add extra sugar to your diet.
If you’re looking for more of a mocha flavor, mixing chocolate chips with a little half-and-half can produce an outstanding latte. However, check the labels carefully when you go shopping. Lower-quality chocolate chips have a lot of oils and extra ingredients to reduce the price. Higher-quality chocolate chips or chunks work out much better here.
If in doubt, use dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate or, worse, white chocolate. High-quality dark chocolate tends to mix with the natural flavors of coffee much better, though you should add it immediately after brewing to ensure it melts properly.
Now widely available in stores, almond milk is a non-dairy beverage that works similarly to milk in most drinks. It also contains a lot of calcium with a mild amount of sweetness, which makes it a great way to improve the nutritional value of your coffee without changing the flavors too much.
Cocoa powder is the unsweetened version of adding chocolate chips. Like cinnamon, cocoa naturally tends to moderate bitterness and therefore remove one of the main reasons people are looking for sweeteners in the first place. This is also a great way to create mocha-style drinks.
The coconut is an insanely versatile fruit, with potential products ranging from milk to flour, butter, and yes, sugar. Like most coconut products, it has a faint but distinctive flavor, which tends to either convince you or turn you away from it. Coconut sugar has a low glycemic index, but a similar fructose content to regular sugar, so it’s quite good overall.
Now here’s a sweetener that most people don’t try too often. Date paste is easy to make at home, although it takes a little while to soak the dates. These offer a strong, sweet flavor that’s perfect if you want to change the flavor of your coffee a lot, but more importantly, it also adds an outstanding blend of vitamins and minerals.
We haven’t gone mad, we swear. While dropping ice cream in drinks usually reminds people of root beer floats, the simple truth is that ice cream is essentially dairy, flavorings, and sugar. That’s what most people want when they’re changing the flavor of their coffee, so it works out.
The other reason to consider ice cream is that it’s significantly colder than the other options on this list. We like hot coffee the most, but if you prefer something more room temperature or even want to chill a drink quickly, ice cream can get the job done.
Sadly, it’s hard to take small bits of ice cream to work, so this only helps make the best flavored coffee if you’re at home.
Molasses is a by-product of creating sugar, and it’s quite sweet in its own right. However, while it adds a pleasant earthy flavor that matches most coffee beans well, the main reason to consider it is that it doesn’t have as many calories as regular white sugar. This makes it a healthier alternative to its popular cousin.
Like honey, maple syrup is a high-quality sweetener which will shine as a coffee flavor. It also tends to have more minerals in it, so it’s a little healthier than sugar as well. That said, maple syrup is expensive, so it’s hard to recommend this to everyone. Instead, consider creating maple coffee as an occasional treat rather than a daily cup of joe.
Like chocolate chips, though, maple syrup comes in many qualities. Look for genuine syrup without additives. Some products on the market are merely maple-flavored syrups. While we can’t say adding a flavored sweetener is wrong for what we’re doing, these imitation products are usually less healthy than the real thing.
If you love vanilla, it’s hard to beat the quality of pure vanilla extract. A few drops are enough to change the scent of any cup of coffee, and without adding too much sugar to your drink.
Like maple syrup, it’s hard to recommend using vanilla extract because it’s a relatively expensive add-on. However, the good news is that you only need a few drops at a time, so even a small bottle can go a long way. Expect a pleasant aroma and a more elegant taste if you go this way, or combine vanilla extract with dark chocolate for a truly luxurious drink.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to get the best flavored coffee without using cheap, low-quality beans. These options are available in various flavors and price points, and you can even mix them to create a unique drink.
Don’t be afraid to experiment, either. Some of the best coffee flavor combinations came about entirely by accident. The more you test your ingredients, the easier it will be to figure out what makes the best-flavored coffee for your palate.