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Buckle your seatbelts and get ready to tackle one of the more controversial facets of the coffee industry: flavored coffee. Some people completely denounce it while others swear by it. But we are here to help you figure out if there is a best flavored coffee or if you should be skipping it altogether.
Why Add Flavor?
The practice of flavoring coffee became popular in the 1960s. As coffee prices skyrocketed, it became unsustainable for companies to purchase high-quality coffee beans. Instead they used lower quality beans and flavored them with oils to hide the bitterness of the brew.
Since then, the coffee industry has stabilized somewhat and most coffee fans prefer to get their flavors from natural cupping notes. However, flavored coffee has remained a part of many brand’s line-ups.
While this is definitely not our top recommendation for coffee by any stretch of the imagination, we understand that some people like to indulge their cravings for this type of processed product. For that reason, we’ve compiled a list of a few of the better brands you can buy from and included their offerings and our top picks.
Best Flavored Coffee
Instead of giving you a couple of bags of randomly picked flavors, we are going to go through a couple of our favorite brands with impressive flavored coffee selections.
Volcanica Coffee Company
If you’ve been browsing our site, chances are you’ve come across mention of Volcanica Coffee. This is a gourmet coffee brand that offers a wide variety of origins and blends to choose from, but they also offer a large variety of flavored coffees.
Their flavored coffees are made using their popular medium roast level. The flavors are made using all atural ingredients and have no sugar, no calories, and no allergens. Even their holiday options are available year-round! Plus, we really appreciate that they offer both whole bean and pre-ground options.
Our favorite of their regular flavors is the Creme Brûlée, it combines the classic French Vanilla flavor that is so popular in creamers and flavored coffees alike with notes of burnt sugar and caramel for a rich, lavish brew.
As for their holiday offerings, we’re suckers for their eggnog flavor. We found it to be a pretty unique choice compared to other lines. Plus, the nutmeg and cream works so well with the traditional coffee flavors you’ll just want to snuggle up next to a fire.
Those flavors don’t sound like they’d float your boat, check out the rest of Volcanica’s line:
Their regular flavors include Amaretto , Butter Scotch Toffee , Caramel Apple, Caramel Crunch , Chocolate Caramel , Chocolate Creme Brûlée , Chocolate Raspberry , Cinnalicious , Chocolua , French Vanilla , Hazelnut , Irish Cream , Island Breeze , Jamaican Rum , Mocha Mint , Piña Colada , Pumpkin Spice , Toasted Almond , Toasted Marshmallow, and White Russian .
Volcanica also offers several other holiday flavors and a holiday flavors are Flavored Coffee Gift Box that includes the Amaretto, Butter Scotch Toffee, CocoLua, and Hazelnut flavors.
Moving on to our first K-cup selection, let’s take a look at Maud’s coffee. In addition to their 14 regular blends (including 4 fair, trade organic blends and 10 gourmet blends), they have 8+ flavored coffees to choose from.
Like Volcanica, they use an 100% Arabica “level-5” medium roast for their flavored coffee. Their packaging is recyclable too, which is a nice change of pace from many other K-Cup brands. All of their flavors except their seasonal pumpkin spice are available in decaf as well.
Their flavors aren’t really anything we haven’t seen before, but they do make up for that with their fun naming system. Seriously, who is going to pick plain ol’ Vanilla Almond over Hottie Biscotti Vanilla Almond?
Speaking of Hottie Biscotti, this flavor is actually one of our favorites from Maud’s. The smooth vanilla cream and rich toasted almond notes are just interesting enough to keep from getting boring, but they are still chill enough to keep from getting old after two cups. So be on the lookout for the bright pink packaging on this one, you won’t want to miss it.
The other Maud’s flavored coffees are Maud’s Sister Hazel(nut), Dreamy Creamy Salted Caramel, Gone Banana’s Fosters!, Hottie Biscotti Vanilla Almond, Jamaican Rum Yum, French Toast Roast, Raspberry Choco-Latté, Cinnamon Roll With it, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Mrs. Brown.
Also, Maud’s does offer a Flavored Coffeevariety pack and a sampler pack . They do also include a couple of their flavored coffees in their regular variety pack .
You can read about these and the rest of the Maud’s Coffee lineup at this link.
Meet Cameron’s Coffee. Their beans are sustainably sourced and roasted in small batched to reduce water consumption. They pull from the top 10% of Arabica beans, and don’t have any Robusta beans in their blends.
In addition to being a low water waste facility, their roasterie also goes the extra mile by cooling the beans immediately upon reaching their desired roast level to avoid over-roasting.
As for their flavored coffees, you can look forward to a great variety of flavor, infused with their distinct, light roast beans
For Cameron’s Coffee, our top pick is the Highlander Grog. This Scottish themed coffee has spicy notes of rum mixed with smooth, sweet butterscotch, caramel, and vanilla. It is also a light roast which is an interesting change of pace from the medium roasts in the flavored coffee lineup.
The other available flavors are amaretto , buttered rum , caramel cream , Caribbean hazelnut , chocolate caramel brownie , chocolate covered cherry , cinnamon sugar cookie , crème brûlée latte, highlander grog (decaf), vanilla hazelnut (decaf), French toast , French vanilla , hazelnut, Jamaican me crazy , pumpkin spice , sea salt caramel , s’mores , toasted southern pecan (decaf) , and white chocolate peppermint.
Our second single-serve pod brand with a killer flavored coffee lineup is Crazy Cups. These cups are compatible with Keurig and K-Cup machines and contain an above average 13 g of coffee per pod.
Their cups are recyclable and the flavoring is sugar and calorie free. The grounds are artisan roasted, gluten free, lactose free, vegan, Kosher, and Pareve. Many of their flavors are also offered as decaf.
With so many flavors to choose from, it was pretty hard to pick a favorite. We went with the Banana’s Foster Flambé. This particularly flavor isn’t entirely unheard of, however the slight booziness of the dark rum adds depth to the vanilla ice cream, bananas, brown sugar and cinnamon.
Death by Chocolate (decaf), Frosted Oatmeal Cookie (decaf), Chocolate Coconut Dream (decaf), Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich, Caramel Truffle Sundae, Salted Caramel, Chocolate Raspberry Truffle(decaf), Cinnamon Churro, Peppermint Chocolate Mocha, Apple Pie A La Mode, Caramel Pecan Cluster, Pumpkin Vanilla Créme (decaf), Blackberry Bliss, White Christmas, Crazy Jamaican Java, Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup, Spiced Gingerbread, Italian Chocolate Cheesecake (decaf), Butterscotch, Snickerdoodle, Belgium Chocolate Truffle, Blueberry Blast, Mocha Turtle, and Coconut Caramel-icious.
They also offer a variety of special coffees created in conjunction with other brands such as Guy Fieri, Cake Boss, Barnie’s Coffee Kitchen, Torani, and more.
How Is It “Flavored”?
The primary method for adding flavor to coffee is adding a combination of spices and oils or a concentrated flavor syrup to the coffee beans as they are roasting. While higher quality roasters will generally use more natural oils to flavor their coffee, most in the United States still rely on Propylene Glycol. This oils binds the flavorings to the beans.
Flavored Coffee vs Coffee Syrups
One common misconception is that flavored coffee and coffee syrups are the same thing. While it is true that both of there are means by which the natural flavor of coffee is obscured by added flavoring, they are pretty different other respects.
Flavored coffee generally doesn’t bump the calorie count on your coffee and is generally sugar free. You also are not likely to come across it in your local coffee shop. One the other hand, flavored syrups or coffee syrups are pretty popular, even in the more pretentious, indie coffee shops.
Also, unlike flavored coffee, coffee syrups do add a significant amount of extra sugar and calories into your drink. They typical have corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup as their primary ingredient alongside a smorgasbord of preservatives such as potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate.
Additionally, the processes for adding these flavorings are very different. Flavored coffee gets its extras during roasting, while coffee syrups are added after brewing.
Is Flavored Coffee Bad for You?
We mentioned earlier that one ingredient you will find in just about every flavored coffee is Propylene Glycol. Even the “good” stuff will generally have this, especially if it is an American roastarie (Europe has restricted its use).
Propylene Glycol is a solvent used to increase the effectiveness of adding flavoring into coffee. However, it has been shown to be toxic if consumed in large amounts. In fact, most companies that are even remotely socially responsible or ethical require their employees to wear hazmat (hazardous materials (hazardous materials) suits when working with or around the substance.
The small amount in coffee is unlikely to cause any really harm, but if you are a heavy coffee drinker, we would advise you against using these types of coffee as your only go-to.
Why You Should You Avoid Flavored Coffee?
Just like the charred tones of a French Roast are often used to hide the flavor of poor quality beans, flavored coffees often serve the same purpose. Companies can take beans that are either close to expiration, of an undesirable variety, or have other defects that would adversely affect flavor, and by over-roasting them or adding in synthetic flavoring, they can make them more “marketable.”
Unfortunately, that means that you, the consumer, are getting a worse product. Also, low quality beans are generally cheap beans, bought from the unsustainable and exploitative supply chains we discuss below. So it’s a lose-lose situation for everyone except the middle-men.
You may notice that many flavored coffees out these are priced surprisingly low. While this might initially seem exciting for you as a consumer, it actually isn’t a good sign for anyone.
Extremely low coffee prices are a problem for everyone asa it generally means that farmers are not earning enough money from their crops. This not only results in poverty-related issues within the farming communities such as lack of education and healthcare, but it also means that there is no chance to get a better product.
In a white paper called Hunger in the Coffeelands the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) explains that, each year, 63% of coffee-growing households in Central America experience food insecurity and malnourishment. That statistic has a lot to do with the low price of coffee.
When it comes to coffee, higher prices tend to come with harder to grow but higher quality coffee plants as well as better growing conditions and more sustainable practices. A farm can’t get fair trade certified without money to pay for the certification.
Basically, flavored coffee can hide the flavor of low-quality beans enough to keep selling them to consumers, and practices that perpetuate the exploitative side of the coffee industry probably are the best ones to invest your money into.
How to Pick a “Good” Flavored Coffee
If you are looking to scope out what company you want to buy from to maintain a sense of social responsibility, there are a few things you can do:
Look for higher (but fair) prices.
While you definitely shouldn’t’t be spending $50 on a 1 lb. bag of flavored coffee, $20 is a much better price point than $5. And paying a little extra is usually worth it both in terms of quality and sustainability.
Seek out Arabica.
This goes hand in hand with the price point. Arabica plants are significantly more delicate than their Robusta counterparts, but their beans produce a significantly better flavor. So looking for an 100% Arabica blend is a great way to ensure that you are buying higher quality beans for your brew,
Scope out quality check procedures.
Generally, higher quality coffees will have several stages of quality checking procedures and many publish at least some information about this online. These checks stretch from the beginning to end of the coffee production process and include anything from checking beans for physical defects to checking roast consistency and formal cupping
Flavored vs Flavorful
So there you have it. There are ways to get some flavored coffee without compromising quality or morality– you just have to do a little more to get there. If you are simply here because you want a coffee with a strong flavor profile, but aren’t interested in all of the fine print associated with flavored coffee check out different regional profiles.
Either way, we hope this buying guide helped you on your search.
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