Flavored Coffees : Coffee Tradition and Modern Chemistry

Thus, coffee tradition had already established the compatibility of certain flavors with coffee long before the advent of flavored whole-bean coffees. The difference, of course, is that the traditional drinks added flavoring during or after brewing the coffee, whereas the contemporary versions are flavored well before brewing.

This difference means that coffee flavorings added to the whole bean need to be considerably stronger than those added after the coffee is brewed. The whole-bean flavors need to carry through the brewing process; assert themselves in the context of the already powerful coffee flavor; give the sensation of sweetness without sugar, the sensation of creaminess without cream, the sensation of whiskey or liqueur with only a tiny addition of alcohol; and maintain their freshness in a product that is largely handled in bulk and exposed to air and oxidation for weeks.

Such impressive versatility and durability can be achieved only through the wonders of modern chemistry. To my knowledge, no flavoring used in whole-bean coffees is entirely natural, and many are, in the technical sense, entirely artificial. The natural flavors used in many sophisticated soft drinks and ice creams, for example, would not have the staying power to remain with the coffee during its long odyssey from roasting plant to cup.

The people who create and market flavors for the specialty-coffee trade usually provide flavors and fragrances for a variety of purposes, and draw from a growing body of technical and aesthetic knowledge that includes aspects of physiology, chemistry, botany, and the long cultural traditions of flavor- and fragrance-making. Thus, the flavors added to whole-bean coffees are suggested by tradition, created by chemistry, and ultimately chosen by the roaster, who may further suggest new flavors or request custom modification of the old. Consequently, one roaster may carry a creamier version of hazelnut and another a nuttier or less assertive version, even though both purchase their flavors from the same vendor. Some roasters work closely with the flavor chemists, building a common vocabulary of reference. So even in this relatively artificially defined arena, specialty coffees still exhibit an individualism absent in most commercial products.