Is that chocolate notes in your coffee or chocolate flavored coffee? For coffee newbies, those just new to coffee descriptions, and those new to flavored coffee, this can be a critical question. (And rightly so!) Thankfully, there are some key words and phrases that will help you sort out the difference. Before jumping into the key words, we are just going to recap the primary difference between coffee flavors and flavored coffee.
Coffee flavors versus flavored coffee
Coffee flavors: coffee is a marvelously complex, highly aromatic fruit (yes, it’s a fruit!) with the potential to develop over 800 natural aroma compounds and over 100 identifiable flavor notes. Once roasted, brewed, and in your cup, this staggering abundance of flavor is generally concentrated into a maximum of 5-10 aromatics and flavor notes, often described as base notes (rich, deep notes that sit lower on the mouth) and upper notes (bright, crisp, often fruity / citrus notes that hit higher on the mouth and tongue). All of these notes, tones, and aromas are naturally occurring in the coffee bean — similar to way flavors and aromatics naturally develop in grapes, apples, and any other fruit.
Flavored coffee is coffee that has had additional flavor added to it, either via absorption (placing dried herbs and spices, such as cinnamon, into unbrewed coffee and allowing the beans / grounds to absorb the flavor) or flavoring oils. These add-on flavors are not native to the bean and may either enhance a bean’s natural flavor notes or wholly overpower them. For more on flavored coffee, click here.
While many flavored coffees build on a coffee’s natural flavors, which can create confusion when reading a coffee description, there are some key words that will help you distinguish between non-flavored coffee and flavored coffee.
Base and upper, opening and closing notes overwhelmingly signify natural coffee flavors and aromatics. Flavored coffees are rarely described with this terminology as they lack the ability to develop in the mouth. With a flavored coffee, a coffee’s taste remains constant from first sip to swallow. With non-flavored coffee, flavor notes appear, deepen, and disappear as the coffee travels through your mouth.
Bright and / or crisp refer to a coffee’s acidity and are a sure sign you are dealing with a non-flavored coffee.
Florals, citrus, fruity, nutty, and other broad descriptives tell you the coffee is a non-flavored coffee. These specifically vague categories are used by cuppers to breakdown coffee into like-categories. A flavored coffee, on the other hand, is described with very specific words, such as apple crisp, blueberry, white chocolate, etc.
Suggestions to drink your coffee with milk and / or sugar are clear indicators of a flavored coffee. Most often, flavored coffee is designed to be drunk with milk and / or sugar to accentuate the oil flavorings.
Bonus tip: super shiny beans (pictured above) are often flavored coffee. Non-flavored dark roasted beans (and some dark-medium roasted beans) develop a buffed shiny glow from the natural oils emitted during roasting; oil flavored coffee will have a shiny oily glow from the flavoring oils.
For more on coffee flavors and flavored coffees, check out the following blog entries:
Decoding coffee flavor descriptions
No judgment here but I stick to varietals, which vary enough to keep me happy. Plus, as a roaster for small company in the Midwest, I had to apply flavoring to the cheaper beans we used for that process- and I always broke out in a rash afterwards!
Eke, that sounds like there was a chemical flavoring! Our main focus is single origin and varietal roasting but we have had natural flavors since the 80s and they are still a hit! We only use arabica beans so, not sure if that makes it easier with natural flavors… Hope you are all doing well in the Midwest!
Before reading your blog I didn’t realize the difference between both of them. Thanks for telling us! Love to read more about coffee.
Hi Johnny, Thanks for the feedback! it is motivating to learn these blogs are helping coffee lovers navigate the surprisingly crazy world of coffee :).