How to Make Your Own Flavored Coffees
A Better Way to Indulge in Variety.
Flavored coffee: just the aroma wafting through the house tells me it's going to be a great day. Unfortunately, I don't care for the same flavor every darned day. I like variety -- and with variety comes clutter... the dreaded coffee clutter. Considering my love of flavored black tea as well, the pantry already overflows with tea boxes. Who has room for a dozen bags of flavored coffee?
Now factor in the freshness issue -- we all know coffee loses freshness as soon as it is ground, and you can almost see the staleness creeping in when you open those expensive bags or cans. It's an uphill battle to enjoy a good, interesting, fresh cup of flavored joe.
I did mention expensive, right? Just sticking a flavor label on the coffee is going to raise the price tag. Even if you buy the house brand offered by discount chains (Target offers a terrific selection of flavored coffees under its Archer Farms brand), you'll pay more than you would for a pound of Folger's or MJB custom-flavored at home.
Yes -- at home. (Am I the only one sick of seeing the "give up your daily Starbuck's" budget advice? Even if I were a Starbuck's fan, I'm not going to make the 24-mile round trip from the ranch to the nearest location when I need a good cuppa. If I want to save some money, I have to look in other directions.) But if you do depend on that Starbuck's because they have the flavors you enjoy, and you'd like a much less expensive alternative, give these suggestions a try.
Heck, if you love the great regional beans and must have Sumatran, Costa Rican, Tanzanian or Transylvanian or whichever bean is your favorite, you can still add flavors. You don't have to settle -- adding your own spices or extracts just gives you more options.
If you don't like fully-leaded fuel in the morning, mix your custom blend of decaf and regular, then use that as a base. Of course, you can buy "half-caff" blends pre-made. I like that flavoring my own coffees allows me to determine how much caffeine content I want for the circumstances, without giving up my favorite flavors.
Don't even get me started on "pod" systems. If they're a good fit for you, and you don't mind the extremely high price-per-cup you're paying and the environmentally outrageous over-packaging, stick with them. They're convenient. But if a back-to-basics and sustainable lifestyle is more your style, give these suggestions a go.
Sweet Enough? Skip the Syrup.
Sure, there are dozens of varieties of gooey, icky-sweet flavored syrups available to make your own flavored confection. You can even buy odd-tasting powders that combine a vaguely dairy flavor with fruity-scented strangeness. That's not for me. I don't want sweet flavored coffee. I want real coffee that isn't hidden behind layers of goo. I certainly don't want those indescribable powdered additives. When I want milk chocolate, I have milk chocolate -- but coffee? Let it be coffee.
If you're cutting down on sugary beverages, think about the coffee confections you enjoy. Perhaps a less-sweet alternative will help you fight the sugar battle. Just taking control of how much sugar you add, rather than having it served pre-sweetened, is a step in the right direction.
Here's the basic idea: you buy the plain "base" coffee you prefer, and add spices, extracts, and other flavor additives to the grounds before brewing. You may not have to buy the most expensive grounds -- try the less expensive options and work your way up. Just for comparison's sake, look at the price of a 3-lb. can of Folger's -- you can get three pounds for about $14 right now. Now compare it to three pounds of premium flavored coffee. Here's the difference: you can get Godiva's wonderful Hazelnut Creme coffee in a 12 ounce package for about $9. Three pounds of Godiva's? That's going to cost you about $36 -- a $22 difference, which works out to over $7.33 per pound! Flavor your own and save about $20 depending on what spices or extracts you use.
The suggested measurements I provide below are only that -- suggestions. There are so many variables to coffee. If you favor dark coffees (such as French Roast) or you tend to measure your coffee grounds by the bucket rather than the tablespoon, your coffee will easily overpower the spices and you'll need to compensate. On the other hand, if you enjoy a delicate light brew, and you aren't crazy about heavy flavoring, be conservative. Where I believed guidance is necessary, I gave recommendations on amount -- but for the most part you'll be using your own judgment.
Now for the best part: the flavors. I love spices. I enjoy extracts and essential oils, too. I tend to accumulate vast amounts of both. They often make their way out of my kitchen and into my homemade skin products and bath salts. I'd rather allot the space a dozen bags of coffee would take up to a variety of interesting spices and flavors.
If your spice rack runneth over, or your baking shelf has an enviable assortment of extracts, you're ready to go. If not, perhaps the flavor combinations below will inspire you to spice things up a bit. Be creative!
Spice Up the Daily Grind.
- Carob. This cocoa-like spice has a fuller flavor and is free of theobromine (which is present in chocolate). Unless you have a carob tree in your area, find carob powder at any health-food store.
- Cassia. I haven't had a chance to try this but it tempts me! Cassia, used to flavor puddings, creme brûlée, and liqueurs, sounds like it has great coffee potential.
- Cinnamon. This is arguably the most oft-used home coffee spice. It's easy, cinnamon is found in every well-stocked spice cabinet, and it's healthy. You'll have to determine just how much flavoring you like -- start with a half-teaspoon, sprinkled evenly over your coffee grounds.
- Cinnamon-Cardamom. Why doesn't cardamom enjoy the popularity it deserves in many countries? It's one of my favorite "secret" ingredients. One of the "sweet" spices like cinnamon, it has a peppery nuance. I'm not the only one who enjoys it in my coffee; it has long been used in coffee in Arabic cultures as a gesture of hospitality. Try it in equal parts to cinnamon, or try it alone dusted over your grounds.
- Cocoa. Keep unsweetened cocoa powder on hand. Use a teaspoon to a tablespoon over the grounds, or blend with raspberry extract.
- Coconut. Coconut goes beautifully with coffee. Add coconut flakes to your grounds -- and consider trying coconut-macadamia nut coffee.
- Coconut-Mocha. If you agree that coconut and chocolate go together like puppies and smiles, add 1/2 tsp. coconut extract and 1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa to your grounds. Mix it up a bit. You'll be astonished by the smooth flavor and irresistible aroma.
- Nutmeg. A little goes a long way -- and a whole lot can be toxic, so be sparing when using nutmeg. On the plus side, it is distinctive and has a delicious warm-spice aroma.
- Pumpkin-Pie Spice. Available in a pre-mixed blend of harvest spices, this is a great coffee to serve at Thanksgiving or the Harvest Moon festival! Add a teaspoon-full of powder to your grounds.
Nut-flavored coffees are among the smoothest. Certain nuts work; others, meh. For this purpose, buy fresh, unsalted, shelled nuts in the baking or produce section of the grocery. Don't buy the cans you'll find in the snack section -- they're salted, oiled, roasted, and otherwise tampered with such that they won't work well in your coffee.
Chop the nuts coarsely and dust liberally over your coffee grounds. You'll use more nuts than you would with spices -- be generous.
Note: I do things the hard way so you don't have to. Learn from my failed experiment! Do not add nuts to the whole beans and grind them together. Yes, I know, it sounds like a great time-saving technique. What can go wrong? Well, think about peanut butter. It's an inescapably viscous substance made of ground up nuts. I decided to grind some pecans with my beans. It made coffee-pecan butter. What the heck, I thought, let's try it! Here's the problem: in a drip system, the pasty substance will clog the filter so water doesn't trickle through. But that's not all! When the water doesn't trickle through, it overflows out the top of the brew cone ... and goes wherever it darned well wants to go. Trust me on this one. For my male readers, heck, go ahead and try it. You know you want to.
- Pecan. My absolute favorite nutty brew, pecan is smooth and has a delectable flavor. Add about a 1/4 cup to your brew for starters; a small amount will add smoothness, but for distinctive flavor, go heavier. Hint: find bags of fresh pecans in the baking section. They have a wonderful sweetness.
- Hazelnut. Admit it: you've probably bought many a cup of hazelnut coffee. Known also as "cafe noisette" (noisette is French for hazelnut), it's a popular flavoring. Hazelnut shells are quite hard and, thanks to their marble-like shape, challenging to crack -- so make sure you buy them shelled if possible.
- Almond. Use the fresh nuts, or use the extract as mentioned below -- almonds make a great "cafe amandine."
- Macadamia. Don't even think about getting unshelled macadamia nuts -- they're famous being one tough nut to crack! Try them on their own or in a flavored blend with coconut extract.
Flavored-coffee: where do you stand?
Are you the flavored coffee type?
Extracts -- made for baking and beverages -- are excellent options for coffee flavoring. For authenticity's sake, get the genuine product rather than artificially-flavored extracts. Check the labels -- the word "flavored" is sometimes in fine print. Extracts enjoy a long shelf life; if you find it inconvenient to grind your own nuts, some of them are available in extract form.
- Vanilla. If you enjoy flavored coffees, you've probably already had many a cup of "French Vanilla." Buy real vanilla extract (it's not cheap, but you can get a bargain in the larger bottles sold at CostCo), add a tablespoon to your grounds, and enjoy! If you are merely wanting to mellow the flavor of particularly harsh coffee, you can add a teaspoon to smooth it out without getting an overwhelming vanilla flavor.
- Cherry-Almond. What a great combination -- it's the cup that launched this hub, and I'm drinking it as I write. Sprinkle just a few drops of cherry extract and a lesser amount of almond extract over your grounds (the almond can easily overpower the cherry, so go easy on it) and you'll have an unbeatably smooth, mellow flavor.
- Raspberry-Mocha. Oh, my. Just you wait until you try this one. A few drops of raspberry extract ... a teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder ... and you'll be hooked. The mocha will balance out the raspberry's tartness. This was one of my favorite coffees until I could no longer find it commercially -- I had to come up with my own version.
- Coconut-Macadamia Nut. Start with coconut extract, grind up macadamia nuts, and brew up a tropical delight.
- Vanilla Butter and Nut. Limited on space in your spice rack? McCormick offers a three-in-one combination.
- Hazelnut. What a luxury -- cafe noisette!
- Almond. Try it alone or with cherry. Almond (in extract form) is a stronger essence, so you won't need much for great flavor.
- Orange. This is a "P.S." added on! No sooner had I written this article then I visited the store to restock. While raiding the extracts, I saw the orange extract and suddenly recalled the great orange-mocha coffee I'd loved at a boutique coffee shop 30 years ago (before Starbucks ate every neighborhood street corner). I'm enjoying a cup of orange coffee right now. Add a tablespoon directly to the pot. If you haven't had orange coffee, you'll be astonished. Experiment with orange mocha, as well -- add unsweetened cocoa to the grounds, and add the extract to the pot. It may remind you, too, of those wonderful orange-flavored milk chocolates.
Brew with Reckless Abandon.
Not every flavor is a great complement for coffee; what works well with tea often fails miserably with coffee, and vice versa. Don't let that stop you from experimenting, though. You are limited only by your imagination and what's available in your pantry or garden. You may have regional spices or flavors that aren't readily available in other places -- if you do, please share them in the comment section below. During the holidays, eggnog is readily available to mix with your coffee -- just use it the same way you would add cream, after you've brewed the java, or for stronger flavor mix it 50/50 and reheat.
If you have any favorite coffee spices to share, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you. If you enjoyed this article, I'd be flattered if you share it!
Copyright (c) 2013 MJ Miller
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