February 11, 2006

Weekend Reading: Flavored Coffee Is Here to Stay

Topcornerlogo Scott. K. Plail of Black Mountain Gold Coffee sent us in this article on the interesting and growing world of flavored coffees. We love a good flavored K-Cup or coffee pod, and it's nice to get some background on how flavored coffee got it start.

How far back does flavored coffee go? How do you make a great flavored coffee? How big is the market? What can you expect from a good flavored coffee? Sit back - it's the weekend and learn about flavored coffee in all its wonder.

The Real Jolt Behind Java – Flavored Coffees

by Scott K. Plail

For many, “coffee isn’t coffee if you start putting those flavors in”, however, for others, flavored coffee is a real taste experience that provides relief from flavor boredom. In fact, along with specialty coffee, flavored coffee can be credited with adding new life, excitement and sales to an ailing mature coffee category. Today, flavored coffees represent 25-30% of all specialty coffee sales or about 4-6% of all coffee sold in the U.S. Based on sales of flavored whole bean and ground coffee at retail, flavored coffees sales are approximately $750,000,000.

When did this flavored coffee trend really begin? Actually, flavored coffees have been around since the early 1600’s. As far as any one can tell, the Venetians were credited with creating flavored coffees by adding spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg to their coffee, while middle-eastern peoples added coriander, cardamom and cinnamon. Later, other natural spices such as vanilla bean, coconut, orange and lemon peel, chocolate and mint were added. These early additions yielded a far less delicious cup of coffee than what we are accustomed to today. Some renditions of flavored coffees were developed in America during the 1800’s when various whiskeys and liquors were added to coffee. Flavored coffee, as we know it today really began its evolution in the 60’s with the introduction of flavored teas from Europe.

The first real flavored coffee success in the U.S. was General Foods’, International House Flavored Instant Coffee, known today simply as International Coffees. Wanting to capitalize on General Food’s success, some early specialty coffee roasters tried adding powdered cocoa, cinnamon or vanilla beans in the brew basket. During the late 70’s, roasters began adding liquid flavorings onto the beans. These early flavorings came from other food industries and were used for flavoring candy, baked goods or beverages other than coffee. During the 80’s, the first flavorings developed specifically for coffee were introduced. These first half dozen of flavors have grown into more than 150 different coffee flavors ranging from the standard hazelnut crème to pina colada or tiramisu. Today, the only limitation is ones imagination and good taste.

The creation of great flavored coffee isn’t as simple as one might think. The process begins by selecting coffee beans that will provide a balanced coffee base for the flavoring. The base should provide a rich coffee flavor that doesn’t overpower the flavoring that is being added. Next, there are several selections that will affect the outcome of the flavored coffee. The coffee roaster must choose between natural, artificial or natural and artificial flavorings. The flavorings used on whole bean and ground coffee comes in powdered or liquid forms. Some brewed coffees sold at coffee shops or restaurants are flavored with syrups. What makes a good coffee flavor? As senior flavor Chemist, Mike Bloom with Flavor & Fragrance Specialties succinctly puts it, “A good flavor is one that sells.” There are several factors that affect the sell through of flavored coffee. All flavors are not created equal! Although the flavor name on packages may be the same, such as “French Vanilla”, the product inside can be vastly different. This is due to the quality and blend of the base coffee, which flavoring company supplied the flavor, the accuracy in which the flavoring depicts the flavor being replicated, such as Irish Crème tasting like Butterscotch or the amount of flavoring that was used on the coffee. The sense of taste is extremely complicated because it is a combination of the olfaction, smelling various aromas, and taste sensations such as sweet, bitter, salty and acid that is perceived on the tongue. Other outside factors can influence the sense of taste. As an example, many black coffee drinkers dislike flavored coffees. This is because they can’t fully taste the flavor as coffee is very thin and washes the flavor molecules away from the tongue quickly. I have converted many a die-hard black coffee drinker to flavored coffee by a simple taste experiment. We pour them a cup of black flavored coffee and have them taste it, and then they choose to add a small amount of cream or sugar or both. The result is that about 70% of them really enjoy the flavored coffee. This is because the cream and the sugar both improve the mouth feel of the coffee and help those flavor molecules to stay in contact with the tongue. This is a key reason why the General Foods International Coffees mentioned earlier are so successful, if you note the first few ingredients on the label are sweeteners, dehydrated milk products and flavoring and oh yes, there is some instant coffee down the ingredient list. There are some real benefits to indulging in specialty-flavored coffees. The liqueur-flavored coffees such as Irish Crème, Amaretto, Grand Marnier and Butter Rum do not contain any of the liqueurs they are named after. Additionally, flavored coffee by itself has less than one calorie and contains no fat or sodium.

All indications are that the market for flavored coffees will continue to grow at about 12-15% a year over the next several years. This growth is being fueled by the “Twenty-something” group that have been turned on by taking a plain old cup of black coffee and turning it into something magical, interesting and most of all delicious. Additionally, as a result of exposure from large retailers and restaurants of all kinds, flavored coffee is continuing to penetrate deeper into different socio-economic levels of consumers. Still with all this growth, the top selling flavors continue to be hazelnut and vanilla with cinnamon flavors in strong pursuit. There appears to be an increased consumer interest in unique flavors such as Café Mocha, Tiramisu and English Toffee. Look for added growth from new coffee flavors that include caramels, chocolates – Bavarian/German and flavors related to fresh baked goods such as pastries, pies and cookies. Whether you’re a connoisseur of black or a lover of flavored, the fact is flavored coffee is here to stay.

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Posted by Jay Brewer at February 11, 2006 3:04 PM

Recent Comments

Great article. Thanks for posting it, Jay. I'm not a flavored coffee lover myself, but I find Black Mountain's Cinnamon Crumb Cake to be a good cup of coffee for a winter afternoon. And yes, I add milk and sugar to it.


Posted by: Maxine Aaronson at February 12, 2006 8:31 PM
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