Hazelnut, French vanilla, pecan—they’re all flavors we love to indulge in with our coffee at one point or another, but they also don’t find their way into a coffee bean on their own.
It’s true that it takes a little work and a lot of experimentation with flavors. To boot, that process can look very different depending on whether you’re purchasing flavored coffee or making it yourself.
Flavored Coffee Grounds: How Are They Made?
How flavored coffee beans attain their treat-like aromas is a careful process: Arabica beans, which are low in acidity and bitterness, are usually coated with synthetic chemical additives after the roasting process. Solvents are added that then adhere the chemicals to the beans, resulting in a glossy finish. These chemicals are concentrated flavoring that are very good at infiltrating the makeup of the coffee bean; typically, about three pounds of flavoring oil is added for every 100 pounds of coffee beans. Beans are gently tumbled in a mixer before being evenly sprayed with oils and quickly packaged. This is done in lieu of more natural means of flavoring coffee beans because it is, of course, cheaper to mass produce and less time-consuming.
Sometimes, natural oils extracted from popular spices like vanilla, cocoa, and nuts are used instead.
If you’re unsure about what’s used to flavor your packaged coffee, consider how complicated the advertised flavor is. If it’s a toffee or toasted marshmallow, it is unlikely that natural oils were extracted from a marshmallow to accomplish that flavor.
Does flavored coffee have sugar?
That’s a resounding no: Because these are extracts, you’re always getting the flavor and not the sugar. Flavored coffee only contains sugar if a syrup or milk has been added after brewing.
How to Make Flavored Coffee
Much like the process of cooking in the kitchen, sometimes the base ingredient just isn’t enough and a little experimentation with spices is warranted. Coffee, hazelnut, cinnamon, cardamom—these are a few common spices to play with when craving a little extra something with your coffee, but certainly not the only options. (See: Ginger, if you’re wanting to gamble with flavor a bit, or even cocoa powder.)
How to flavor coffee beans:
To start, you’ll ultimately want to consider how the coffee bean you’re working with may interact with other flavors. Pay attention to tasting notes. If you’re aiming to grind a dark roast with dark chocolate and berry notes, you might want to add a bit of cocoa or round the flavors out with a hazelnut aroma. It’s a matter of preference, yes, but if you’re working with, say, a light roast with natural citrus flavors, cardamom and cinnamon may not be your best options.
As for the process of how to infuse your coffee and create flavored coffee grounds, unless you’re roasting beans yourself (you’re probably not) the easiest at-home way is to incorporate flavors while brewing. And that process is beautifully straightforward: mix your spices of choice, and then mix them with your coffee grounds. The flavors of the spices will seep into the coffee as it’s brewed. For optimal results with nuts like almonds, try grinding them with your coffee. There are also coffee flavoring powders available for purchase, typically of a vanilla variety.
Just be careful with flavorings like cocoa; depending on what machine that’s in use, it can clog a filter.
It’s also worth noting that adding spices to your coffee is an easy way to get the most out of old beans that may have otherwise lost their most desirable flavors.
One of the best parts of being a coffee lover is trying new flavors of coffee and expanding your palate. Understanding how coffee is flavored and the way certain beans, grounds, and flavors pair together is part of the fun and only increases your appreciation of a good cup of Joe.