by William Sieber,
Director Coffee & Tea Flavor Division
, Melchers Flavors of America, Inc.

Coffee has been flavored with spices such as cinnamon and cardamom for centuries. But it wasn't until the early 1980s that American roasters began to enhance gourmet coffee with commercially processed flavorings. Melchers Flavors of America, Inc. pioneered this concept, and currently offers 40,000 recipes for application on gourmet coffee beans and teas.

Today, "flavored"coffees are available worldwide, but what is a flavor?

Flavors fall into the following categories:

Artificial Flavors: Artificial flavors are a complex mixture of synthetic ingredients that are approved for use in the Code of Federal Regulations of the United States Food and Drug Administration or are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) in a reliable industry publication. Synthetic aroma chemicals are typically produced by a controlled chemical reaction.

Natural and Artificial Flavors: These types of flavors consist of a complex mixture of synthetic ingredients and natural ingredients. Natural ingredients include essential oils, floral absolutes, CO2 extracts, fluid extracts, solid extracts, natural aroma chemicals, resinoids, etc.

Natural Flavors: Using an apple flavor as an example, these flavors are further defined into the following sub-categories:

1) Natural Apple Flavor: One-hundred percent of the ingredients in this type of flavor are derived from an apple except for the solvent(s), which may be synthetic.

2) Natural Apple WONF: Ingredients from an apple are mixed "with other natural flavors" for the purpose of additional enhancement and economy. The solvent(s) may be synthetic.

3) Natural Apple Type Flavor: One hundred percent natural ingredients from sources other than an apple that replicate the taste and aroma of the title flavor. The solvent(s) may be synthetic.

4) Natural Flavors for Organically Certified Coffees and Teas: Any of the above flavors that have been modified to include "all natural GMO-free" ingredients including the solvent(s). "GMO-free" ingredients are those that are free of genetically modified organisms.

Natural flavorings are typically more expensive to produce than artificial or natural and artificial flavorings due to the availability and price of the respective raw materials. Dosages of flavorings for whole-bean and ground coffees are usually between 2.0% and 4.5%, depending on the blend of beans, roasting parameters and the customer's subjective opinion of the final taste profile. Propylene glycol is the common solvent for most coffee flavorings, with the exception of those used for organically certified coffees, in which case natural GMO-free solvents are used with other natural GMO-free ingredients. Propylene glycol is synthetic and is an economical water soluble solvent. Propylene glycol also acts as an anti-microbial agent.

Industrial strength flavors are not "extracts" or "oils" and cannot be evaluated by smelling or tasting until they are applied at the recommended dosage to the whole beans or ground coffee and brewed. An industrial strength vanilla flavor created for coffee application may contain 10-15% vanillin (principle taste component), but a vanilla extract as sold in a grocery store contains only 17/100-22/100 of 1% vanillin by federal definition. Knowing this fact, one can understand the disparity between industrial strength flavors and household "extracts." Oils, or essential oils, are ingredients used to make industrial strength flavors. Essential oils such as East Indian nutmeg, Ceylonese cinnamon, and American peppermint are singular components, which when blended together with other ingredients, create a finished flavor.

As a general rule, coffee roasters should handle flavors with care. Although the ingredients are "food grade," they can still cause irritation to eyes, skin, hands, etc. We recommend coffee roasters use latex gloves and safety glasses when they handle flavors and a dish detergent for clean up. At all times, flavors should be stored at room temperature away from heat and light. Ideally, a coffee roaster should dedicate a separate area for flavoring coffees, thus eliminating the possibility of flammable fumes coming into contact with the open gas flame of a roasting apparatus or cross-contamination of unflavored coffees and paper products.

Any coffee roasters who has any additional questions regarding flavors is invited to visit our Web site @

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