Coffee connoisseurs might be horrified at the thought of interfering with the natural richness of a coffee bean, but in the age of Starbucks, flavored coffee is quickly becoming the norm for millennials and Generation Z. Hints of french vanilla, pumpkin spice, or hazelnut can make your morning cup o’Joe much more enjoyable by taking the bitter edge out of traditionally-brewed coffee. But the world of flavored coffee is much more diverse, with companies releasing creative gourmet flavors like Jamaican Rum, Chocolate Raspberry, and other unique blends. Though there are some concerns surrounding the sourcing and distribution of flavored coffee, the best producers on the market guarantee top-notch quality. In this article, we’ll explore these popular brands so that you can experiment with your coffee routine and see which flavors might suit your palette. We’ll also discuss the basics of flavored coffee, and the things you need to know before buying a pack.
What is Flavored Coffee?
Flavored coffee, as the name suggests, is simply coffee that has been treated with a syrupy liquid derived from artificial and natural oils. The natural oils, depending on the flavor, are derived from various plants. On the other hand, an artificial chemical like propylene glycol is sometimes added to help the flavor bind to the coffee.
This way of preparing and consuming the beverage widely divides opinion in the coffee community. Many detest the tampering of coffee with artificial syrups that have commonly been viewed as unhealthy. Others find that flavoring coffee is a great way to produce drinkable coffee from sub-par coffee beans. Several countries that do not experience the ideal weather conditions for coffee growth— high altitudes, volcanic soil, humid climate— are forced to rely on coffee beans that are of low quality. This lends the brew a strong, overwhelmingly harsh taste that can be hard to drink, and adding flavor is a great way to mask this bitterness. Besides, younger generations are constantly looking for new beverages to post about social media, and flavored coffee provides them the opportunity to do so. Companies have capitalized on this by targeting these demographics with innovative flavors and creative packaging.
Things You Need to Know About Flavored Coffee
There are some things you as a consumer need to be wary of before purchasing flavored coffee. The fact that flavors are an effective way to mask the inferiority of particular coffee beans has often been exploited by companies. These brands use beans that have likely suffered some manufacturing defect, are old, and as a result, have undesirable flavors that need masking. This reduces their cost price at your expense.
Some in recent years have contested that this is not necessarily something one needs to worry about since low-quality beans aren’t ‘harmful’ for your health in any way. But if you want the best, stick to brands that use arabica beans instead of Robusta.
A second issue pertaining to the more affordable brands is that if you find flavored coffee with a price that’s too good to be true, it’s likely a result of exploitation. Companies can afford to pay farmers less for their product since they can mask the beans with their flavor. This, in turn, discourages healthy cultivation practices, giving you bad coffee and potentially ruining a farmer’s livelihood. As such, it is important to ensure that it is certified and approved to be of the highest standard. You don’t have to worry about the ones on this list, but if you decide to explore and buy something, not on it, this is a handy tip to consider.
Lastly, health concerns have surrounded flavored coffee since its inception, with many believing that the syrup adds empty calories. The use of propylene glycol, a substance known to be dangerous when ingested in large quantities, has further exacerbated these worries. However, research has shown that when it comes to calories, the syrup doesn’t add any extra sugar to your coffee. As for the propylene glycol, that can be a concern if you multiple cups a day. As long as you restrict your intake to a couple of brews a day, you should be safe from any negative consequences. Alternatively, you can opt for brands that use only natural flavoring in their coffee, some of which are listed in the next section.
The Best Flavored Coffee Brands Out There
Community Flavored Coffee
If you like French vanilla in your coffee, you’ll love Community Coffee’s Ground French Vanilla Coffee. This brand uses 100% Arabica beans in all their productions. The technique that they have been using to make flavored coffee is more than a century old, and this family business has thrived for generations. They have many options to choose from besides French Vanilla, with others including blends with chicory, dark chocolate, caramel, pecan praline, toasted hazelnut, and others. Besides this, you can purchase ground coffee in different roasts, bodies, and brightness as well.
The hallmark of good flavored coffee is that it is assessed for quality at various stages of production, and the beans used are of the highest quality. Community adheres to both of these, subjecting their products to rigorous standards of testing before it reaches your hands. The Speciality Coffee Association has a fairly diverse set of guidelines for coffee producers, and Community claims to abide by them. These include protocols on how to grade coffee beans, evaluating a sample, the necessary equipment required for production, etc.
To ensure the highest quality, their farmers don’t pick the coffee cherries until they are as ripe as they can be. This allows the nutrients within its seeds, which are the coffee beans, to develop and mature in a way that offers the best concentration of natural flavor. But the most vital part of the process of manufacturing flavored coffee is the roasting process. This is when the syrup is added, and where the most monitoring is needed. Community has a dedicated team of experts handling the entire affair, constantly smelling and tasting the coffee to ensure they’re keeping to their standards.
A single 12-ounce pack costs approximately $6.99-7.99 depending on which flavor you choose. Purchasing the coffee means that it will come with certified Frustration-Free packaging, which is made of recyclable materials and is significantly better environmentally.
Lacas Coffee Company
We have Starbucks to thank for making pumpkin spice the cultural phenomenon it has been. Though Lacas Coffee Company’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee is only one of its many flavored offerings, the ubiquity of the flavor means that this product, in particular, has become wildly popular. Pumpkin tends to be treated as a fall flavor, but social media was ripe with posts of people enjoying it over the summer regardless. The coffee was featured on CNN as one of the best ways to get your pumpkin spice fix.
Other flavors that Lacas sells include Hazelnut Crème (regular and decaf), Tiramisu, Swiss Chocolate Almond, Chocolate Raspberry, Cinnamon Hazelnut, and Macadamia nuts, among others. The Hazelnut flavor is one of their bestsellers, making it especially worth trying. They are also selling a limited-edition bourbon caramel flavor that you can snap up for $8.00. While this one is available exclusively on their website, you can find the other flavors on Amazon for approximately $7.00—8.00 depending on the flavor.
Like Community, Lacas Coffee uses only Arabica beans in its production. They source their beans from all over the world, most prominently Central and South America, East Africa, and South East Asia. Some of their coffees have been decaffeinated using a special method called the Swiss Water Process. This technique works without the use of any chemical solvents, relying solely on water and carbon. The aim is to replicate the flavor of the coffee exactly the way it would be with the caffeine, and over time scientists have perfected the method to rid it of past issues.
If you had to choose only one brand on this list, make it this one. Volcanica Coffee produces some of the most creative flavored coffees, which selections including Jamaican Rum, Pina Colada, Amaretto, Island Breeze, Butter Toffee, and many others. These flavored coffees are made using medium roasted beans and the flavoring is produced using only natural ingredients.
Combined with their offerings from other categories such as estate coffee, peaberry coffee, and their blends, Volcanica offers over 120 unique products to its customers. All of these are covered by various certifications, and the coffee beans used are sourced from the best farms in the world that utilize appropriate cultivation techniques to maximize the natural flavor of the coffee.
Many reviewers have commended Volcanica for their stringency and pickiness in selecting the right coffee beans for their products. As the name ‘Volcanica’ suggests, much of their coffees are grown on volcanic soil. This type of nutrient-rich soil is ideal for coffee growth, and is one of the three big factors that ensure rich, densely flavored coffee. Many of their farms are also located on high altitudes that are 3,000—7,000 feet above sea level. This, combined with the fact that they are shade-grown, further contributes to the fuller development of flavors within the coffee beans. Shade-grown coffee is simply plants that have been grown under a canopy. Both these factors slow down the rate of which the beans grow, allowing for more aromatic and flavorful coffee.
Besides this, Volcanica coffee is certified by three major institutions: the US Department of Agriculture, FairTrade International, and the Rainforest Alliance. The first certificate is awarded for refraining from the usage of herbicides and pesticides in the growth of coffee, thus keeping them free from any chemicals. The latter two ones signify Volcanica’s commitment to fair practices in business and dealing with the environment. They treat farmers fairly by paying them competitive prices for their product, and ensure that no harm is done to the ecosystem in which their coffee is grown.
Folgers is perhaps one of the most recognizable coffee brands in recent memory. Their tagline from the hit 1996 commercial “the best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup” has been a reality for its million-plus customers across the US. Last year, Folgers lead ground coffee sales by raking in over a billion dollars. With a history stretching back 170 years, Folgers has managed to stay on top of an industry that can often be volatile and rife with competition. This, despite being one of the few top brands to use Robusta beans instead of Arabica in their traditional ground coffee products.
The use of Robusta should in no way undermine the quality of coffee distributed by Folgers. Their stellar reputation is accompanied by a host of certifications that guarantee top-notch coffee for its consumers. Their flavored coffees are made without any using any artificial ingredients, and some variants also utilize 100% Arabica. Details regarding which particular coffees use which type of beans can be scarce, but what matters is that these beans are grown in the appropriate conditions and processed using approved practices. Their UTZ certification shows a marked commitment towards using environmentally safe techniques, while other initiatives act as quality controls too.
On their website, Folgers offers flavors like Cinnamon, Chocolate Raspberry, French Vanilla, Caramel, Hazelnut, and Chocolate. They also have decaf versions of some flavors, and like Lacas, they use the Swiss Water process to ensure that their coffee doesn’t come in contact with chemicals at any stage. Each flavor is available in 10-ounce packs for $6.00, and if you own a Keurig, you can get sets of 12 or 18 pods for $10.99.
Out of the Grey
If Folgers is an internationally acclaimed brand, Out of the Grey may be the one name on this list you don’t recognize. That’s because OOTG is a small enterprise based in Fairview and Erie, Pennsylvania, but they offer 179 unique coffee creations of their own. Along with some fascinating flavor choices, the brand comes with a long list of certifications that confirm the quality of their coffee beans.
Selections include Blueberry, Bananas Foster, Baklava, Apple Cinnamon Strudel, Butter Rum Cake, French Apple Crumb Cake, and others. You can snap up a 12-ounce bag for $14.99, which is a little more expensive than many items on this list, but there are many reasons why you might want to consider paying the premium.
Their website offers a diverse selection of grinds suitable for Turkish Coffee, French Presses, Drips, etc., or while retaining the option for the whole bean. Their packaging is innovative in that comes with a de-gassing valve and zip lock. They also use Fair Traded coffee, with some products coming with a Rain Forest Alliance certification. OOTG also utilizes beans that have been approved as ‘bird-friendly’, indicating that the farming of coffee isn’t adversely interfering with the biodiversity around it.
Though there isn’t enough information on whether they use Robusta or Arabica beans, these certifications and others we haven’t mentioned ensure that their product is of the best quality.
Cameron’s Coffee is the last entry on this list but by no means the least. They source their beans from the top 10% of Arabica beans grown anywhere in the world through their diverse supply lines and do not use any Robusta in their coffee. Their roasts are cooled down to preserve flavor before being shipped out, ensuring that the coffee remains fresh for longer. They also have a healthy selection of delightful flavors that all sound appetizing and worth sipping.
These flavors include Amaretto, Buttered Rum, Cinnamon Sugar Cookie, Pumpkin Spice, French Toast, White Chocolate Peppermint, and Highlander Grog. The Highlander Grog is a particularly popular product, coming with butterscotch, caramel, and vanilla blended together. Cameron’s Coffee uses some artificial elements in their flavored coffees, so they aren’t as organic as some others on this list. But at the same time, their flavors aren’t overpowering, letting the natural ones shine through as well.
Their decaf variants do not seem to be produced using the Swiss Water technique mentioned above since their website claims that their decaf coffees are only 97% free of caffeine. This is opposed to the 99.9% for its alternative, which isn’t a major difference, but its worth knowing how your coffee is being manufactured.
Flavored coffee, though in theory an old practice, is a trend that is increasingly becoming popular to suit the unique tastes of different types of people. Some experts might take issue with what they consider adulterating the natural flavor of a coffee bean with syrup or some other flavoring. There have also been reports of flavored coffee being unhealthy, but as discussed, the health concerns surrounding this, if any, are fairly exaggerated. As such, many companies have started rolling out their own line of gourmet flavored coffees to cater to a wider, younger audience that is constantly looking for new choices.
Flavored coffee is the way to end this search, and the brands listed above sell some of the best of it out there. They ensure that their coffee is sourced from the best farms that use the most advanced cultivation techniques, and some use flavorings that are sourced entirely from natural ingredients. If you own a Keurig style machine, you can also find pods with flavored coffee that support your device. With this list of six unique brands that offer an astounding range of flavors, you have the perfect tool to dive into a new world of coffee that’s infused with exciting notes and textures that will add some spice to your morning cup o’joe.