January 3, 2012

Review: Van Houtte JavaNation Vanilla Cupcake K-Cups

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Today we review a new concept on the Canadian K-Cup scene that Van Houtte have decided to test out recently… creating a “brand within a brand” and passing it off as something which is completely unrelated to its parent company. When we first heard of JavaNation, we thought this was a new brand acquired by Van Houtte. We dug further and discovered that this was rather a new brand created by Van Houtte in order to introduce some rather unconventional K-Cup flavors. Case in point? Their JavaNation Vanilla Cupcake K-Cups.

Brewing these K-Cups result in strong notes of caramel (wait… what?). Yes, you read that correctly. A caramel scent during brewing which slowly morphs into a vanilla cake scent with sweet tinges of sugary white frosting lingering in the background once the coffee is sitting in the cup. The whole “aromatic musical chairs” bit was rather strange, but hey, the final scent was more or less spot-on. The only reason for point loss here is that we kept thinking this was a caramel coffee instead of vanilla at first. Not too good when the coffee initially doesn’t smell anything like its namesake. It’s almost like brewing a blueberry coffee and having it smell like bananas for the first 5 minutes.

Billed as a light roast, flavor was unfortunately not as strong as the aroma (Ah yes, the Achilles heel of flavored coffees rears its ugly head yet again). We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again… if there’s one thing we hate about flavored coffee, it’s when the flavor fails to match the intensity of the aroma. To Van Houtte’s credit, there IS actually some vanilla flavoring here which serves to represent the cake base of the namesake flavor, however, it’s all but washed away by the sour notes of the strong acidity which was present during every sip and to be honest, it annoyed us to no end.


Body was light brown & amber in color with shades of red when held to a light source. Speaking of acidity, wow… was it ever present here. Major points are lost for this one since the acidic punch washed away what could have been a sweeter vanilla flavor. Mouth feel was smooth yet was bordering on the watery side. We detected very faint oily notes in the bitter finish.

  • Aroma – 7 – A bizarre morphing scent of caramel which transforms to vanilla & a hint of sweet frosting once the coffee has settled in the cup. Not exactly what we were expecting.
  • Acidity – 1 – Sorry, but when the acidity is so strong that it impedes the final flavor, we can’t help but sack it in the points department. A major revision is required here.
  • Body – 8 – Light brown & amber with red notes when held to a light source.
  • Flavor – 2 – While there IS some vanilla flavoring present here, it doesn’t come near to tasting like the namesake flavor on the packaging. This is due to the overbearing acidity which washes most of the flavoring away.
  • Mouth Feel – 6 – Smooth yet bordering on the watery side of things. Faint oily notes on the bitter finish.
  • Coffee Drinker – This one’s best suited for the adventurous types who don’t mind diving headfirst into a new flavor without caring too much about having a full box left-over afterwards. Not exactly to our liking, so “try before you buy” with a smaller size box if possible.

Overall Rating: 74 – Poor

While we have to give credit to Van Houtte for at least putting some effort into creating a new & unique flavor which has never previously been introduced in K-Cup format, we’d have to say they rather missed the mark and an opportunity to refine the flavor/acidity balance. We’re sure a toned-down acidic profile and a bit more vanilla flavoring could have worked wonders here if given the chance. Still, as was discovered recently, you can sample this K-Cup in Canada without busting the proverbial bank. Instead of opting for a full 24-pack, various Canadian grocery store chains have started selling 12-pack boxes for almost half the price. As it stands, we’d suggest going that route vs. committing to a full box just yet.

Van Houtte JavaNation Vanilla Cupcake K-Cups will work in all Keurig models and are available in 24-pack boxes for $15.45 USD at VanHoutte.com and $17.45 CAD at VanHoutte.ca (12-pack boxes are avail. at various Canadian grocery stores for $8.99 CAD).

A special thanks to SH for providing this Single Serve Coffee staff review. We would also like to note we purchased these K-Cups to review ourselves.

Read how we review and rate single-serve coffee and other single-serve coffee beverages here.

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Posted by Jay Brewer at January 3, 2012 7:43 AM
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