Flavorful Measures

Table for Two with Dustin Fleming.

Welcome to Table for Two, our blog series with Barnie’s Coffee & Tea’s Manager of Coffee Programming, Dustin Fleming. Whatever roast or flavor you choose, Dustin’s the one who put that adventure in your morning cup.

Today Dustin describes the coffee flavoring process, the ebb and flow of flavor trends and coffee that sounds as good as it tastes.

Where does the process for coming up with flavored coffees start?

In the beginning, I make a long list of flavors that I think could work, and then I sleep on it. I revisit that list the next day and narrow that list down to about 15 or 20 different flavors that I want to tinker with.

It’s best to really go in with intent and a goal in mind, but then to let it freeform from there. For example, I follow food and beverage trends in the wider industry, as well as trying to figure out what’s going to be trending to beat the curve. For a while, the trending flavors were floral – hibiscus, roses and lavender tea infusions, for instance – and now we’re seeing the sweet, dessert and pasty-flavored coffees trend.

What else do you have to consider when crafting a new flavored coffee?

You have to think about how people drink coffee. Most people in the United States drink coffee with cream and sugar, typically one ounce of cream with two to three grams of sugar per mug. So we test each coffee black and also with cream and sugar. Once we figure that out, we start pairing them with popular breakfast items – a croissant, some eggs and a sweet pasty. If it tastes good with all three, or especially good with one of those items, we’ll move forward.

Coffee also has to hit the ear right, so that you want a taste. Take our upcoming Peanut Butter and Jelly coffee for example. I’d put it on that big flavor list this year, scratched it off, and then put it back on. It just sounded right, and I wanted to try it. We made it up, and sure enough, it tasted pretty darn good. Same goes with our upcoming Apple Crisp coffee. “Crisp” is one of the most delicious words in the English language. I don’t have the privilege of letting you try a coffee and then telling you about it, so the coffee has to speak for itself. It has to be delicious before you even taste it, from your ear to your mouth.

Knowing and following coffee trends is important, but how much does your gut instinct play into creating a new flavor?

When it comes to instinct, it comes from understanding how and why things pair well together. As a former bartender, cook and barista, I’ve always worked with my mouth – making things that you have to taste. You create this massive rolodex of flavors in your head, so that you can start picking and pairing the ones that will go well together. My favorite method is to take a common flavor and put a twist on it. That’s where my gut comes in. I dip into that databank of flavors and start playing with flavor combinations that I haven’t seen yet, but that I think would be delicious.

Barnie’s doesn’t want to be just another French vanilla coffee on the shelf. We want to explore new grounds and pave the way.

Cinnamon Macadamia Nut is a recent example of how that process works. That pairing is common in cookies and desserts, but I’d never seen it done in a coffee before. My instinct told me this would work, and now it’s one of our most popular recipes.

Is that how Barnie’s seasonal Orange Creamsicle coffee came to be? Did your research or your gut guide that decision?

Orange Creamsicle is a great example of projecting where consumers’ tastes are headed. That coffee was actually scheduled for release last year, but the dessert coffee trends we’re seeing today wasn’t in full swing yet, so we postponed it. Besides, our company is based in Florida. I am from Florida, and oranges are native to Florida, too. A refreshing orange drink was a no brainer, but it needed to be a summer orange coffee.

We’re taking old ideas from the 80s and 90s and tweaking them, perfecting them.

But there were other reasons we decided to release Orange Creamsicle when we did. We’re living in a culture of nostalgia right now, and you know what people were eating in the 70s and 80s? Orange cream pops. With nostalgia becoming as important as it is in pop culture, and with Americans becoming more willing to give new recipes things a try, I figured this was the time.

So the coffee industry is in an interesting place, where customers are looking to relive the “good old days” while also wanting something new and exciting in their morning cup.

All these 90s kids are growing up, literally and in the coffee industry. You have coffee roasters who saw the industry in the 90s and early 2000s, who didn’t necessarily like how coffee was made but loved the coffee culture of the time. For instance, 30/30/30 cappuccinos – one part espresso, one part milk and one part foam – were incredibly popular back in the day. That drink disappeared, but now you’re starting to see foam come back. You’re starting to see texture and layers come back. That’s what happening now: we’re taking old ideas from the 80s and 90s and tweaking them, perfecting them.

So let’s say you’ve settled on your next flavor. What now?

It comes down to cupping and refining the flavor profile. I ask whether the taste I had in my head matches up to what I’m tasting in this cup and whether this taste will appeal to our customers. If so, we move forward, but if any of those answers are “no,” we go back to square one. We’ve completely scrapped coffees well into the production cycle. At one time we were working on a chocolate version of our Santa’s White Christmas. I went through five versions of that coffee and didn’t like any of them, so we scrapped it. We tweaked the chocolate and hazelnut flavors and nothing worked. I have no problem scrapping a project that doesn’t meet our standards, no matter how far into production we are with it.

In a world full of lightly roasted, single-origin coffees, amazing flavored coffees almost feel like a lost art form. How does Barnie’s Coffee factor in?

For a time the industry wanted to get back to the basics, so flavored coffee took a back seat. You could still find the staples – vanilla, chocolate, caramel, hazelnut – but it wasn’t until recently that unique, interesting flavors started making a comeback. Flavored coffee is starting to find its niche. In the United States, 30-40 percent of our coffee is flavored. Those people who drink flavored coffee will most likely pass their love for that brew onto their kids. Barnie’s Coffee & Tea has been a big part of keeping that love alive, and we don’t want to be just another French vanilla coffee on the shelf. We want to explore new grounds and pave the way for the future of flavored coffee.

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