What is that flavor in flavored coffee?

At its core, this is a GQ question. But I feel certain it’ll end up here anyway, so let’s begin as we intend to go on, shall we? :wink:

What is that flavoring, the one that seems to be in every flavored coffee? When I was a kid, it was called “Irish Cream.” Then in the 90’s (ish) it came in vogue to add even more of it and call the resulting coffee “Hazelnut” flavored. Just now I made myself a cup of Keurig “French Vanilla” which has no resemblance to vanillin whatsoever, it’s just a lighter dose of the old “Irish Cream” flavoring. A few days ago I had the same experience with a cup labeled “German Chocolate Cake.”

So what is this generic flavor that lends itself to so many suggestive references with perfect plasticity? Does anybody know the actual chemical involved?*

*And does it sap or impurify our precious bodily fluids? :stuck_out_tongue:

I gotta admit I don’t know what you’re talking about. There may be a certain component shared by all these flavor additives that is especially predominant to you, but I have no clue how you can think all flavored coffee flavors are actually the same single additive.

I agree that often the actual taste doesn’t really match up with what the label says it is, but that’s common amongst artificial flavorings in general (banana or watermelon candy, anyone?).

Here’s something I found.

I tend to agree btw; the base flavour does seem the same to me too, with subtle variations, which is why I don’t like flavoured coffees.

Food flavorings are a very complex field. The odd thing is that a lot depends on taster expectations; it’s not unusual for a new flavor compound to be used in cherry cola, berry ice cream and plum pie filling. It’s well established that even a neutral tasting - the flavoring in a neutral base - can result in widely varying responses depending on the setup. “Taste #1” generates a different response from “Taste Berry Flavor #1,” and so forth.

So it’s not a matter of having an Irish-Cream-by-god flavor, or Hazelnut, or whatever - it’s a matter of mixing up a combination that passes taste testing and then slapping any of a range of appealing names on it. Bottom line, the OP could be entirely correct.

If it’s really, really expensive coffee, then probably civet or elephant feces.

Yeah, well, no shit. Or… some shit, I guess.

Crazy thing is, one would think that would make it cheaper. . . .

But no, this is a flavoring that seems to me absolutely ubiquitous in cheap flavored coffees, of the sort one finds in American office supply set-ups.

It could be a specific base flavoring, a sort of “umami” for flavored coffees, or it could just be the taste reaction between any flavoring and the coffee flavor. There’s a term for that sort of interstitial “ghost” flavor in food engineering, but I can’t think of it right off hand.

But then, I dislike flavored coffee so much I hate buying beans from a dispenser wall that has flavored varieties in it. The smell is just terrible to me.

Most flavored coffees taste the same to me. I’ve tried everything from Tiramisu, to Strudel Cake, Pumpkin Spice and Eggnog. Eggnog was actually really good but the others didn’t have much of a strong flavor to me. I know now to stay far away from Cinnamon though. It has a very sharp flavor that I don’t like.

Interesting. I ground my coffee for years with about a one-inch piece of cinnamon stick in each batch. It didn’t add a cinnamon taste as much as a sharper coffee flavor overall. (The cinnamon smell while brewing was much stronger than the scent while drinking, or the taste.)

My wife, however, hated the taste from the beginning of our relationship, so I stopped brewing it that way. So it might be a “taster/nontaster” thing.

Or maybe “cinnamon flavored coffee” just goes too heavy on the Cinnamon! flavor.

For me, hazelnut flavor is the devil. I like REAL hazelnuts, but there is something in artificial hazelnut flavoring (and if there are numerous versions of it, all versions share this something) that is immediately and viscerally repulsive to me. It’s almost like the “nutty” component has somehow been made extremely cloying and AMPED THE FUCK UP.

I haven’t tasted this in any other coffee flavorings (or really, anything artificially flavored). It’s ONLY been things that are hazelnut flavored. This I why I found the “flavored coffee is all the exact same flavor” baffling. :slight_smile:

:thinks: Actually, I have the same revulsion for hazelnut scented things, too (like candles). Interesting.

Yeah, anything hazelnut flavored tastes like I’m chewing on hazelnut twigs.

Maybe you are tasting the carrier used to add the flavor compounds. Propylene glycol is used because it can solubilize the flavoring and is generally recognized as safe (GRAS). It is supposed to not have a strong flavor on its own but is faintly sweet and could be the common ingredient.

Back in my barista days, I was taught that the coffees that come already flavored are always sub-par beans that are very old, and the flavoring is added to give them a second life. That’s why, at quality coffee shops, they add flavor in the form of syrups rather than use flavored beans.

I wonder if that is also an element the OP is tasting. Old, inferior beans. Do you taste the same sort of flavor when you get something like a vanilla latte at a shop? If so, then maybe that theory is blown.

Try brewing just regular coffee and putting a couple drops of real vanilla extract in your cup. See if you get anything more pleasant to your taste buds. I’ve found I vastly prefer adding extracts to my cup. Sometimes I’ll add a larger amount to the grounds when brewing, I use almond, vanilla, a whole cinnamon stick (not ground up, that could be bitter by extracting too much), and even a scoop of cocoa powder - but of course those wouldn’t work with a k cup brewer.

I know what you mean, OP - to me it tastes a bit like alcohol - that is, not a taste - more of a burn in the throat and a sensation that the other flavours are being carried by something.

Some flavour extracts are made by dissolving stuff in alcohol, but I’m not sure that commercial coffee syrups still contain the solvent.

To clarify, is OP talking about flavored coffee drinks or flavored pre-ground coffee?

If it’s the former, my experience is that most taste 90% like sugar and oil-based creamer, with the “flavoring” being relatively subtle compared to the sweetness.

For the latter, I don’t know. I find them pretty varied but there’s a common cloying sweetness (I’ll admit to very rarely drinking that stuff).

I keep International Delight creamers in my desk to jazz up the abysmal coffee where I work, and I can very much tell the difference between almond, hazelnut, and toffee.

Plain coffee, I never use sugar or cream or powder or (heavens forfend!) that liquid pseudo-creamer with the flavors in it. These are coffee beans, ground or whole which have been flavored. I’ve experienced it in everything from unground flavored beans to keurig cups.

This flavor is not in home-brewed and flavored coffee like adding cinnamon or vanilla extract. It’s something that the coffee companies add, and then suggest is equivalent to a vast swath of other flavors. (Much the same way Jello used to suggest that ascorbic acid was cherry, or lemon, or lime or orange, before they got caught.)

Moving from IMHO to Cafe Society.

This was neither limited to Jello or particularly underhanded - or particularly unusual in the food/flavorings industry.

I’d wager that no more than 20% of the foods on grocery store shelves are flavored with what they claim to be flavored with - the rest use alternate flavorings that through application and suggestion please buyer palates.

Same thing with me. I love hazelnuts, but hazelnut-flavored coffee irks me. I even notice it when my mother grinds beans in a coffee grinder that has ground hazelnut coffee in it before without being washed. I’m not sure what that flavor is, but it’s pervasive even at tiny doses. I’ve never noticed this flavor with Irish cream or any of the other flavored coffees (although I don’t have a ton of experience with flavored coffees. Still, I’ve only noticed being particularly sensitive to the hazelnut varieties.)