The Specialty Coffee Association or SCA has been in the process of making a handy, and colorful flavor wheel. We say process because the wheel is altered, changed, added to, and adapted over time.
This wheel details the flavors, hints, notes, aromas, and scents that coffee beans can naturally possess and some which may come out in different roasts or brewings. While the coffee wheel is great and certainly pretty to look at, today we will be checking out some different flavored beans. Flavored coffee beans are beans that have had their flavors added on later artificially. Let’s get a better taste, shall we?
How Are Coffee Beans Flavored?
There are a few different ways of answering that one. The natural flavors coffee beans possess come from the climate, geography, terroir, bean varietal, growing conditions, processing methods, and roasting type. Oh, and how they’re brewed, too!
But with artificially flavored beans, the process is a bit different. Flavoring oils, both natural and synthetic, are added to the beans. The flavoring oils are usually flavor extracts like vanilla extract or cocoa bean extract. There are also artificial flavor agents.
These chemicals are commercially manufactured and to brew up a great flavor and sometimes 80 or so different compounds are required. Flavors are often chosen which can ameliorate coffee’s more bitter, acidic, or harsh flavors or notes while also not meddling with the natural aromatics of the beans. The chemicals are also tested to make sure nothing crazy happens when they interact with other ingredients or even the packaging material.
The flavor oils are added on to the beans after they are roasted. Special attention is paid to the roast type and how the flavors will interact with the newly roasted flavors and aromas. For example, dark roasts are generally not paired with sweeter flavor oils because the heavy dark roast flavor will eclipse that sweeter taste too easily.
The beans are cooled before the flavor oils are added so the heat does not destroy some of the flavor compounds. Ironically, water cooling is sometimes used, which results in the beans having some of the natural flavors washed out! Though, that’s probably why the artificial flavors are needed.
The flavors are added to the roasted beans before grinding and are sprayed on the beans. Once sprayed the beans are shaken about to make sure the coating is even on each bean. There is also the curious case of solid flavor blocks being ground up with the whole beans. These flavor blocks are usually condensed into starch or powder and then thrown into the grinders with the beans. Which is probably far less scary sounding than that last sentence makes it sound!
How to Flavor Your Coffee Beans at Home
The factory methods of flavoring require some serious alchemy. But how can you prepare some delicious flavored coffee at home without a doctorate in potions making from Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry?
Luckily, it’s super easy, super fun and once you give it a spin (and it works), it will be super addictive!
- Add ground spices right in with your prepared grounds. Around the world, especially in Africa and the Middle East, spicy coffee featuring ground pepper and cardamom can be found. Why not give these nuanced flavor experiences a spin?
- You can also mix in some spices with your whole beans. This allows them to absorb some of those keen flavors. Cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, or whatever spices you’d like. And if you store them for longer the stronger the final flavor will be!
- Check your spice shelf for any flavoring oils you might have. Just spritz your beans with some flavoring oils on hand and let ’em sit. The longer they sit and stew in their own flavors, the better they will turn out.
Infusing your Coffee Beans with Whiskey Flavor
Here’s another dual commentary for you! As it just so happens, whiskey flavored coffee beans do exist. The way they attain their whiskey flavor is by being allowed to age a bit in whiskey barrels.
But for those wanting a more hands-on approach and who aren’t satisfied with an Irish coffee we have a treat for you! To give your beans a whiskey infusion, fill a jar with your favorite whiskey. Bourbon is said to do wonders, but we won’t judge you scotch whiskey folks out there (much).
- Try not to drink the whiskey while you fill a jar with the tasty and potent stuff.
- Add your beans and give the whole thing a good stir or two.
- Now, place your jar in the fridge or another area that is cool and devoid of light.
- Wait 24 hours and enjoy your whiskey coffee beans. Though maybe don’t use these for a brew before heading to work!
Flavored Coffee Beans vs Flavored Syrup
The battle of the flavorings! Which one will triumph? It’s important to know exactly what we are dealing with to understand the comparison between these two modes of flavoring.
While coffee beans have been flavored artificially after roasting and before grinding, flavor syrup is added to your coffee after it has been brewed. Oh, and it’s a sugary syrup of course!
Both of these methods of flavoring feature some chemicals, some of which may not be very beneficial to your overall health. Flavor syrup certainly has a ton of sugar and fats that will do a number on your waistline and internal health.
Meanwhile, the fabulously flavored beans are coated with oils made from a multitude of chemicals, some of which are even more harmful to our health. Not only that but they can also make a mess of your grinders and brewing equipment. The flavors on the beans are good in your coffee, but not when you plan on brewing or grinding something else entirely. Imagine a pumpkin spice flavor lingering into every single cup of coffee you make? This may sound delicious but there will be times with certain beans and brewing methods where random lingering flavors will be less optimal. Especially since the flavor oil can leave a residue on the equipment it comes into contact with and making it all sticky. Ewww.
Is Flavored Coffee Safe to Drink?
Perhaps flavored coffee beans have allured you to give some a try, or maybe they haven’t. But regardless of whether you feel inclined to try them or not, it is important to know that flavored coffee is flavored with chemical compounds like propylene glycol, dimethylamine-D1, and formamidine acetate. Which is not as appetizing as they sound, especially propylene glycol, which is a compound also found in antifreeze.
It may also be shocking to learn that at some companies where flavored beans are produced, the employees have to wear hazmat suits. This is because prolonged exposure to the chemicals being used in your coffee can cause them to develop harmful lung and throat diseases. So keep that in mind.
And another reason that may not pose a serious health risk but may discourage you as a consumer, and just generally hurt your soul, is the fact that lots of flavored coffee are made from low quality coffee beans. The idea is that high-quality beans wouldn’t need flavoring and thus only the cheap stuff gets the flavor treatment.
Flavored Coffee Beyond the Flavor Wheel
Flavors abound in the world of flavored coffee beans. And perhaps many of them do match up to the SCA flavor wheel in some way or another. But as always, for those curious about flavored beans, the only way to truly know for sure is to brew up a cup. You might just find a flavor worth brewing for! And even for the folks who have been thoroughly dissuaded after we looked at some of the chemicals in flavored coffee, don’t forget to try preparing your own flavored coffee at home with some herbs, spices, and natural flavor oils. You may just discover the taste you’ve been missing your whole life!
- “3 Shocking Facts About Artificially Flavored Coffee.” Camano Island Coffee, camanoislandcoffee.com/3-shocking-facts-artificially-flavored-coffee/.
- “4 Ways to Add Flavor to Your Coffee before You Brew It.” Death Wish Coffee Company, www.deathwishcoffee.com/blogs/news/flavor-before-brewing.
- Clayton, Liz. “The Dark Side of Flavored Coffee.” Serious Eats, Serious Eats, 9 Aug. 2018, drinks.seriouseats.com/2013/02/the-dark-side-of-flavored-coffee-how-flavored-coffee-is-made.html.
- “Flavored Coffee Bean.” How Products Are Made, www.madehow.com/Volume-3/Flavored-Coffee-Bean.html.
- “Flavoured Coffee Methods: Syrups vs Flavoured Beans.” Aquaspresso, 27 Oct. 2017, www.aquaspresso.co.za/flavoured-coffee-methods-syrups-vs-flavoured-beans/.