If it’s already a dessert, it has no place in my latte
When I was in high school, my favorite thing to order at Starbucks was a Vanilla Latte. The vanilla syrup mellowed the bitterness of the espresso, genuinely improving the flavor of the drink. When the lattes started getting too expensive to fit into the budget of a 16-year-old, I went through a phase of black coffee with caramel syrup and a splash of whole milk. Later that year, I got a job as a barista at another local coffee shop, where drip coffee was free for employees. It was during this time that I drank approximately seven thousand cups of coffee made from hazelnut-flavored beans, which I thought smelled the best. Nearly a decade later, I never order flavored coffee. As a breakfast journalist, however, I do still have to try the occasional flavored coffee drink (both in terms of flavored beans and flavored syrup-sweetened), and I must tell you: There are some flavors that do taste nice in coffee, and there are many, many others that simply do not.
Though vanilla is a delicate yet complex flavor derived from orchids, it has mostly come to mean “plain.” Vanilla-flavored coffee, in syrup or bean-form, is inoffensive. Whether the flavor comes from real vanilla beans or chemicals created in a lab, vanilla is always enjoyable when paired with coffee.
Chocolate or Mocha
In most American coffee shops, a “mocha”-flavored drink typically means a mixture of chocolate and coffee, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Be it a chocolate syrup or powder, I’m always down for mocha coffee.
Caramel coffee is similar to vanilla, but with a more toasty overall flavor. Caramel can turn the bitterest, most icky, industrial coffee-brewer sludge into something almost drinkable. I endorse caramel.
I truly think that nothing smells better at 8 a.m. than freshly-brewed hazelnut coffee—taste, however, is a whole other thing. Though I won’t buy hazelnut coffee when left to my own devices, I always pour myself a cup of the stuff at hotel continental breakfasts or conferences and simply sniff it for a while.
The following flavors should never be found in coffee:
Cookie dough, cinnamon roll, birthday cake, blueberry cobbler—these dishes are all perfectly acceptable when eaten for dessert, but they should not, I repeat, not, be used to flavor coffee, neither as a syrup nor as bean. The end.
I’ve already explained why nothing should be banana-flavored, and this obviously applies to coffee. Peach, raspberry, orange, and cherry syrups also have no place in coffee. They do, however, work wonders in seltzer. And please, don’t even get me started on pumpkin spice.
Candy cane coffee is maybe OK in a peppermint latte sometime around December 25th, but otherwise there is nothing permissible about candy in coffee. Butterscotch coffee is also extremely weird, like caramel that’s been left in a grandmother’s purse for 15 years. Get rid of it.