I’ll come out and say it, to my eternal shame. I’m a reformed flavored coffee drinker. I drank brews with names like Chocolate Hazelnut, Cookies and Cream and English Toffee. I awaited the winter holidays and the arrival of Eggnog Extravaganza and Peppermint Twist with bated, hazelnut-flavored breath.
Then, one day, I discovered how flavored coffee blends are made. I haven’t touched a flavored bean since, and by doing so, remembered coffee isn’t supposed to have an aftertaste of artificial syrups. It was an easy addiction to break. I didn’t need the help of addiction treatment programs or support groups. All I needed to remember was the manufacturing process.
Start with Bad Beans …
Flavored coffee has a long history. Early into coffee drinking people discovered that certain coffee beans tasted better than others. Robusta beans, for instance, are more bitter than Arabica beans. Those which were too bitter or astringent could still be drunk, as long as people added flavoring to the brew. Cream, sugar, cinnamon and cardamom are all natural flavoring agents people use to alter the taste of their morning coffee.
Today’s coffee manufacturers continue to produce a percentage of low quality beans with each crop. Often these beans are old, having sat in warehouses and lost natural flavor as the months pass by. How to dispose of these beans and still make a profit? You flavor them, of course.
Add Artificial Flavors
Flavoring ingredients are added to the coffee during the roasting process. Unlike coffee you flavor yourself, commercially flavored coffees use artificial flavorings with tasty names like 2, 4-Dimethyl-5-acetylthiazole.
To produce the flavoring they want, the manufacturers may blend up to 80 different artificial flavoring compounds. They’re added to the coffee in highly concentrated amounts — usually equal to 2 to 3 percent of the coffee bean weight. In other words, to flavor 1,000 pounds of coffee you’d need 20 to 30 pounds of flavoring.
The high concentration doesn’t just affect taste. Commercially flavored coffee makers are as interested in smell as they are taste, to further confuse your palate.
Solvent and Shake
Strong solvents are required to chemically attach flavoring compounds to the roasting beans. Water isn’t
a very effective solvent, so flavored coffee manufacturers tend to use more volatile solvents, such as alcohol, fractionated vegetable oil and propylene glycol, a solvent so powerful (and toxic) it’s used to de-ice airplane wings.
The beans are tumbled in drum rotators or candy pan coasters, while a highly pressurized mist of flavor chemicals and solvent coats them. The solvents give the beans a nice, glossy appearance and preserve flavor. The chemicals are also supposed to disperse during the drying process. Still, de-icing compounds? In my coffee?
Sticky, Icky and Hard to Remove
If you use flavored coffee beans, you’ll find they leave a sticky residue in your coffee grinder. This residue is hard to remove, and taints other beans with residual flavors. If, like me, you make the switch from flavored coffee to purer, better quality beans, it can take some time before the coffee grinder stops flavoring your beans for you.
I have nothing against a flavored coffee, mind you, as long as I get to do the flavorings. But when it comes to commercially flavored beans, I’ve had my illusions shattered.