The scoop on flavored coffee beans

The best coffee beans are rarely used to The best coffee beans are rarely used to make flavored coffee. Photo Credit: Fotolia

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Erica Marcus Erica Marcus (face disguised) is Newsday's food writer.

Marcus has covered food for Newsday since 1998.

Do flavored coffee beans have more calories than regular coffee beans?

They do not. Black coffee has a negligible number of calories, anywhere from 1 to 5 per 8-ounce cup, depending on the strength of the brew. Adding a shot of vanilla syrup or hazelnut-flavored creamer will increase the calories, but if the beans come flavored, there's no significant increase.

Which begs the question: What is in flavored coffee beans?

If you look at the ingredients on a package of flavored coffee (whole beans or ground), there will be coffee, and there will be either natural flavors, artificial flavors or both. Natural flavor, mind you, does not refer to ground cinnamon or fresh apple juice. According to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, a natural flavor is "the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis which contains the flavoring constituents derived" from the food in question.

Artificial flavors are those "not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice" or other foods.

According to Dianne Sansone, director of technical services at Flavors & Fragrances, one of the country's leading suppliers of flavors and fragrances, natural flavors are not always preferable to artificial. "With hazelnuts, for example," she said, "we generally wouldn't want to use a natural extraction because of the allergen factor. Instead, we'd create a synthetic version of the pyrazines that nobody is allergic to." (Pyrazines are organic compounds that can mimic the flavor of nuts, roasted foods and chocolate.)

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Georgio Testani, owner of Georgio's Coffee Roasters in Farmingdale, does not sell flavored coffee, but he explained how the flavors are introduced to the beans: "The flavoring comes in gallon jugs," he said. "You put some flavoring and the roasted beans in this little cement mixer and tumble them together. In 15 minutes you have flavored coffee beans." The flavoring solution is very concentrated, and care must be taken to avoid cross-contamination. "You should be using a different sleeve to line the drum for each flavor," he said, "and different brew baskets and thermos containers as well."

The best coffee beans are rarely used to make flavored coffee. "Usually it's the lower grades," said Testani, "or even sweepers -- the beans swept up from the loading dock."

I was surprised that Testani, a purist, had no issue with the idea of adding flavors to coffee, only with the common industrial methods of doing so. "Add some cinnamon to the ground beans when you brew them, a drop of vanilla to the finished coffee. That's a nice way to add flavor."

What's the best way to store coffee beans?

It depends on how long you want to store them. For short-term storage (up to one week), keep beans in an opaque container at room temperature. For long-term storage, place them in an airtight container and store in the freezer. Many beans come from the store in airtight containers, but you can make one by using a drinking straw to suck the air out of a heavy-duty resealable plastic bag. (One of those vacuum sealers that doesn't rely on your own pulmonary health also will work.) Once your beans are sealed and frozen, leave them alone. When you've exhausted your supply of short-term, room-temperature beans, take out the frozen ones and keep them at room temperature. You should not refreeze coffee beans.

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