Does 'Spiced' Coffee = 'Flavored' Coffee?

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[Photograph: FotoosVanRobin on Flickr]

Is "spiced" coffee the same as "flavored" coffee? We want to know how coffee purists feel about getting a little shake of somethin' in their morning brews.

For hundreds of years, folks around the world have been adding fresh-ground spices to their coffee. Yemen, for instance, is known for a traditional ginger- and sugar-heavy brew called qishr; Turkish coffee often features ground cardamom. Even I'm able to confess to occasionally enjoying a little sprinkle of cinnamon in my coffee grounds around the holidays—a cold-weather tradition inherited from my father, just a simple touch that can really warm up an after-dinner mug.

But I ask you, coffee lovers: Is there a serious distinction to be drawn between "spiced" and the we-all-know-it's-wrong "flavored" coffee?

To my mind, yes, absolutely. At home with my spice rack I'm always starting with freshly roasted, super-high-quality coffee beans that are authentically and fairly sourced, tossing a little cinnamon shake in there for festiveness' sake; I can and do happily drink the same coffee without embellishment.

I think that adding a little fresh spice to my morning cup is the equivalent of squirting a kiss of whipped cream onto a slice of homemade pumpkin pie. Sure, it'd taste great on its own, but doesn't that little something extra just hit the spot sometimes?

Most any flavored coffee concoction you can buy on a grocer's shelf, however, is probably flavored for a reason. That's more like slathering too-sweet icing on a dry cupcake.

That being said, I will admit that Trader Joe's has got a couple of embellished seasonal blends that might be worth checking out, if you're into that sort of thing. Specifically, the Gingerbread and Wintry Blends. In both cases, the TJ's crew appears to have chosen the right zests for each coffee base (pre-ground though they may be). The peppercorns (green and red, presumably because the combo is Christmas-ier than, say, white and Sichuan peppercorns?) in the Wintry Blend are surprisingly well-matched with the chocolaty earthiness of the part-Sumatra-based coffee, and the darker roast does suggest a nice way to warm up after a few long hours of shoveling.

Speaking of peppery, the twang of allspice and nutmeg in TJ's gingerbread coffee is actually quite a lovely addition. What's at first surprising and slightly pungent quickly mellows into a pleasantly nose-tingling little kick, alongside the pieces of ginger and hint of cinnamon also in the mix. Whether or not it's recognizably gingerbready as opposed to just spicy is kind of questionable, but the result is actually something I'd happily allow myself be served after Christmas dinner plates have been cleared and the pies are warming up.

What say you, coffee purists: Is "spicing" coffee as much an offense as "flavoring" it? Should I bow my head and do some sort of coffee-snob penance for not hating these coffees? You tell me.

About the author: Erin Meister trains baristas and inspires coffee-driven people for Counter Culture Coffee. She's a confident barista and an audacious eater, but she remains a Nervous Cook. Her latest project is Eat This Neighborhood, wherein she attempts to eat at least one thing at every single restaurant in the vicinity of her Chelsea apartment.

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