Forget the usual sugar and cream. Flavoring coffee is gaining popularity among hardcore connoisseurs. There’s nothing more alluring to the avid coffee drinker than the full-bodied taste of a great cup of Joe, but now there’s more to taste than just water, roast and grind.
The customary way to pre-flavor whole coffee beans is to suffuse them with natural plant derivatives, oils and extracts at a ratio of roughly half and ounce for every pound of beans. Warm beans absorb flavors more readily than cool ones, so freshly roasted beans will yield the best results.
Beware of retailers who try to disguise the inferior quality of their beans with false flavors. When in doubt, freshness can easily be gauged by appearance. Newly flavored beans will shine with natural oils; the ones that have been there a while with look dull and dry. Make sure to buy your beans from a highly regarded establishment, preferably one that feature in-house roasting.
If you prefer to flavor your coffee after it’s brewed, syrups are for you. Post-brew flavoring allows for more control over the sweetness and strength of a drink. Understanding the label is the most important step toward making and informed choice about which syrup to use.
The concentration of sugar and flavor in a syrup is called ‘brix. " Syrups of the best quality have a brix of 60 to 70. The higher the number the more concentrated the mix. How much of the concentration is sugar and how much is flavor can’t be determined from the brix, but that information should be clearly stated in the label. Higher concentrated syrup may have a higher price, but it will last longer.
Preservatives and sweeteners are some other things to consider when purchasing syrups. Avoid syrups that are think and sticky. The extra sweeteners may be covering up a bad flavor. Sugar free and preservative-free products are gaining popularity, but sugar free doesn’t necessarily mean all natural and it’s important to remember that preservative-free syrups won’t have the shelf life of those with preservatives. Once again, reading the label will help you be sure what you’re getting.
Connoisseurs know there are pros and cons to both methods. Since syrups are added post brew, they obviously won’t leave residue or aromas behind in grinding equipment and puts more control in the drinker’s hands. Pre-brew flavoring cuts out all but negligible amounts of sugar, making it the preference of those who chose a healthier approach.
Feeling creative? Try flavoring your own coffee at home. Put warm, fresh-roasted beans in an air-tight container with vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, cardamom, mint or any of your favorite extracts and spices, or adding a shot of your favorite liqueur.
Corinne is a regular contributor for The Coffee Site, a comprehensive coffee website. For information and resources on gourmet coffee online and gourmet coffee baskets visit The Coffee Site.