What's the difference between flavor notes and flavored coffee?

Let's explore the differences between coffee flavors you may see in the grocery store: Hazelnut, Vanilla and Carmel vs flavor notes you'll see on coffee bags from our friends at FreshGround Roast, here at Sad Cow Coffee or otherspecialty coffee roasters. 

Decaf Coffee Flavor

TLDR: Flavored coffee is when brands add extra flavor to the bean, flavor notes are a direct description of the natural occurring flavors of the coffee bean. 

So are flavored coffees bad?

As with any answer, it's depends: on the brand, the type of flavor and your personal tastes. There are a few things to keep in mind when considering flavored coffee. 

  • The flavor syrup is added typically on top of roasted coffee beans within the cooling tray, 
  • Brands can get away with purchasing less favorable coffee, knowing the added flavor post-processing will cover up any natural occurring flavors, 
  • If they're from a grocery store, they'll typically not have a roast date. (gasp!) 


Are coffee flavor notes basically the same thing? 

A speciality coffee roaster will cup and or obsessively dial in a roast profile for the coffee bean. During this process the roaster will take notes, or more specifically flavor notes of their interpretation of the taste. 

Excitedly, you can imagine this will introduce a wide variety of flavor notes: depending on location, altitude, how the coffee fruit was processed, and even down to type of soil. Pretty cool! 

Roasting Coffee

Some examples of coffee flavor notes would be: 

  • is bright and very interesting with berry and brown sugar notes, 
  • full-bodied with chocolate and almond notes, 
  • smooth and sweet flavor. It's chocolate and caramel notes make it a great choice for after dinner, 
  • etc.. 

In the end, if you're choosing to purchase from a speciality coffee roaster, there will be flavor notes, not flavored coffee.

While you may not enjoy all the flavors of coffee, reading flavor notes on a bag should give you confidence the roaster is passionate about choosing high-quality coffee beans and dialed in their roast profiles. Because in the end, this is what is fundamentally driving the natural flavor of coffee in your cup.


Wes Burke