The creation of flavored coffee is not simple at all.
There are mainly three factors that influence the production of the best flavored coffee. Two are the basic ingredients, the third one is the production method:
- ingredient no. 1: the selection of coffee
- ingredient no. 2: the quality of flavors
- the procedure used to process the above ingredients
1. INGREDIENT NO.1: COFFEE
A first key difference to highlight is about the coffee beans. The type of bean used to make flavored coffee greatly impacts the taste of the finished product. It is estimated that coffee beans contain over 800 different compounds, which contribute to their flavor, including sugars and other
carbohydrates, mineral salts, organic acids, aromatic oils, and methylxanthines, a chemical class which includes caffeine.
Arabica beans are most frequently used for creating the best flavored coffee, due to their low levels of acidity and bitterness. These top quality beans are milder and more flavorful than the harsher Robusta beans, which are used in many commercial and instant coffees.
The most experienced coffee roasters create their best flavored coffee from a blend of beans from various regions, putting in the coffee selection the same care that they reserve to the 'classic' coffees.
2. INGREDIENT NO.2: FLAVORINGS
The second key difference is given by the flavorings. The coffee roaster must choose between natural and artificial or 'Nature Identical' flavorings.
Best flavored coffee is flavored with 100% natural flavours, while commercial coffee is flavoured with artificial flavorings.
Natural oils used in flavored coffees are extracted from a variety of sources, such as vanilla beans, cocoa beans, and various nuts and berries. Synthetic flavor agents are chemicals which are manufactured on a commercial basis.
When food scientists want to make an imitation of a flavor, they extract its aromatic component from its place in nature, and use a spectograph to identify the molecular structure of the flavor.
As a result, those flavors are so-called 'Nature Identical'. This means that they are comprised of exactly the same chemical structure as the natural flavors, but they are synthesized artificially.
Given the different sources, although the flavor name on the coffee package may be the same ('French Vanilla'), the product inside can be vastly different. The natural ingredients are much more intense and persistent: try to flavor the same quantity of coffee with the same amount of flavorings, one sample natural another synthetic, and you will see the difference.
The natural flavors are sold in a liquid form. The not-natural are usually dust.
3. THE PRODUCTION PROCESS
The appropriate amount of flavoring to be used must be determined before flavor oils can be added to the roasted beans. The amount of flavoring required depends primarily on the type of flavor and its intensity, as well as the type of bean used and its roast level.
The quantity of flavours to be applied to the beans is established by experimental trial and error, in which test batches of beans are flavored with small quantities of oil until the desired characteristics are obtained.
Cost constraints also may play a role in determining how much flavor to apply to the coffee, because flavors are relatively expensive, or even very expensive (USD 3,000+ per unit) in case of 100% natural ingredients.
The flavors are usually introduced via a pressurized spray mechanism which breaks the oils into tiny droplets which allows for better mixing. Oils must be added to the beans very gradually to guard against areas of highly concentrated flavor called hot spots. The beans are agitated for a set amount of time to ensure the flavor is evenly spread.
The perfect roast color for flavored coffee is medium to brown.
According to some roasters, after the beans are roasted they must be quickly cooled before flavorings can be added. Flavoring the beans while they are still at high temperatures could destroy some of the flavor compounds. Vice-versa, another 'school' says that flavored coffee should be sprayed immediately after roasting, for the best absorption of flavor. Who is right? Every roaster has his own good reasons, experience, lies, and secrets. Nobody will ever share where he finds his mushrooms, right?
Even if the final flavoured coffee must be ground, best flavoured coffees require that flavouring is done before grinding.
And by the way, flavored coffee should never be ground in the same grinder as the not-flavored coffee.
Finally, flavored beans must be stored in a cool, dark place if they are to be used within three or four weeks.
As we have seen, the production of the best flavored coffee is a complex matter. Roaster must give the same care not only to his traditional practice, the roasting, but also to the selection of highest-quality flavoring ingredients. Furthermore, he must be very careful in the recipe of the two ingredients (coffee beans and flavor), and have the flexibility to consider the flavored coffee
not a 'barbarian' hybrid, but a brand new weapon to address a different market segment that he would never reach through his classic coffee blends.