Many a coffee aficionado would turn up their nose at the thought of adding flavorings to their beloved black beverage. But, if you're not an aficionado, and you didn't pay exorbitant amounts of money for single-estate specialty coffee beans, then why not indulge in trying some of the fine coffee flavoring syrups, or flavored coffee beans available today? To help you make the most of coffee flavorings, here is a summary of the things you should know before buying.
**Coffee Flavoring Syrups**
Generally sweet, and always indulgent, coffee flavorings such as vanilla, hazelnut or amoretto can be found bottled in the form of coffee syrups. Added after the coffee is brewed, the advantage of using these syrups over using pre-flavored coffee beans is that your grinding and brewing equipment does not become tainted by flavor extracts on the beans.
About the only rule when using syrups to make flavored coffee is "don't overdo it". Remember, the flavor should complement your favorite drink, rather than overwhelm it.
Here are some general guidelines to help you buy only the best coffee syrups:
- Brix - the word 'brix' is used to describe the solids content of a syrup. The higher the brix, the higher the concentration of sugar and flavoring in the liquid. Many high-quality coffee syrups have a brix between 60 and 70 - that is, 60-70% solids. Higher concentration syrups will cost more initially, but you use less so they will last longer.
- Flavor vs. Sugar - even though a brix of 62 indicates a high quality syrup, you can't be sure of how much of the solids content is sugar and how much is flavor without checking the label and/or taste-testing the syrup. Some manufacturers promote their syrups as adding 'flavor without sweetness'. Your personal preference will dictate whether you prefer the sweetness. If you normally take sugar, you might find you do not need to add sugar if the syrup is quite sweet. Be aware of very thick, sticky syrups - these may be disguising a poor flavor extract with an overdose of sugar.
- Sweetener - you will find most syrups are flavored with cane-sugar. Other popular sweeteners include fruit-juice and corn sugar. Syrups that use other than cane-sugar are generally not as sweet - something you may or may not prefer. In any case, look for the "all-natural" statement on the label if you want to avoid artificial sweeteners.
- Preservatives - some syrups are preservative-free. The flavor may benefit from this - just remember that the shelf-life of these syrups will be shorter than those with added preservatives.
Sugar Free or Low Carb - due to consumer demand, some companies are producing sugar-free coffee syrups. To be an informed consumer, you should check the label to determine whether these are unsweetened or artificially-sweetened and purchase according to your personal preference.
- Purpose - most syrups are general purpose, but some syrups will be labelled as baking, dessert or drink flavorings. They will vary in thickness, sweetness and flavoring depending on their purpose.
Once you get your syrup home, why not try:
- Combining syrups to create unique flavors
- Using syrups as dessert toppings
- Adding syrups to smoothies
- Adding syrups to soda water
- Using syrups as a glaze for meat or vegetables (fruit-flavored syrups are nice for this)
- Adding syrups to a salad dressing or vinaigrette
** Flavored Coffee Beans **
From caramel, to pumpkin pie, gingerbread, cinnamon or butterscotch, there are an abundance of pre-flavored coffee beans to sample and enjoy. Beans are generally flavored using essential oils, plant derivatives and other aromatic flavorings. The flavors are mixed with warm beans straight out of the roaster to ensure as much flavor as possible is absorbed by the bean. Most flavoring is 3% w/w (weight to weight) which is 1/2oz of flavoring to 1lb of coffee.
Here are some tips to help you buy only the best flavored coffee beans:
- You can tell the freshness of flavored beans by their appearance. Freshly flavored beans will appear glossy - very oily and wet.
- Be sure you are buying from a reputable coffee roaster to ensure your beans and flavorings are of a high quality. Some roasters may be adding flavor to low-quality beans thinking that their low-quality will be disguised by the flavoring. (This is usually not very successful - a bit like trying to cover up bad dessert with sugary syrup.)
Here are some reasons why you might prefer to try pre flavored coffee beans over coffee syrups:
- Aroma - the combination of the aromatic flavoring and the aroma of the bean itself can be quite exquisite. About 76 percent of taste is experienced through the nose, so the aroma makes for much of the flavored coffee experience. Consider it a kind of coffee aromatherapy.
- Sugar-Free / Low-Carb - most pre flavored coffee beans are flavored without using sugar. Even so, if sugar is contained in the flavoring, the amount of sugar in the final product is negligible. Being sugar-free also gives you the freedom to use sweetener of your choice.
** Making Your Own Flavored Coffee **
An inexpensive and more body-friendly (i.e. no sugar, no preservatives, no artificial anythings) way of adding natural flavor to your beans is to fill an airtight container with freshly roasted, whole beans. To the container, try adding any one or more of the following:
- Whole vanilla bean(s)
- Cinnamon Stick(s)
- Cloves and Nutmeg (use sparingly)
- Citrus Peel (lemon or orange)
- Mint Leaves
- Alternatively, a simple sprinkle of cinnamon, or a dash of liqueur (Amaretto, Irish Creme) after your coffee is brewed can add the hint of flavor you've been craving.
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