I'm not at all averse to throwing cream at a problem coffee in emergency situations (turnpike rest areas, plane crash sites in the middle of the Andes mountains where I'm unlikely to be rescued for days), but technological advancements in the modern age had, until recently, escaped me. The array of "enhanced" creamers available in American supermarkets has taken a quantum leap from hazelnut to mind-boggling, from shelf-stable dairy to co-branded marketing cream genius. Without hesitation, I laid in a year's supply of what must be some of the most intense, extreme and in some cases experimental coffee flavor supplements under the sun.
Though I've been a coffee
snob enthusiast for several years now, I figured surely there were some guilty, slutty pleasures to unearth in the apparently exploding world of take-home flavored creamers. (Cinnabon flavor? Really????) With an open mind and palate, I dug out the stalest coffee I had (you know...to provide a sort of tabula rasa) and set-a-tastin'. Have you tried this stuff? Would you?
1. Almond Joy
This is a shock to the system and a confusion to the palate. Synthetic coconut, synthetic amaretto (er, "toasted almond") and....coffee? This "limited edition" licensed creamer opens with a cloying coconut butter aroma a little more like body lotion than food, almonds coming late on the finish by the time I actually get it into the cup. Sensorily, one is immediately transported to an airport, or perhaps an upscale convenience store like a Wawa, all the while submerging the idea of coffee completely in this liquid candy bar that doesn't quite taste like a candy bar, either. Maybe I hate candy now. Or coffee. I don't remember.
2. Bailey's Creme Brulée
Once upon a time, creme brulée was such a desirable thing to me I would necessarily order it above all other deserts on a menu, simply based on principle. Nowadays it is available in a four-month-refrigerator-stable coffee creamer with Bailey's branding, but let's not get bogged down with conversation here: this is not good. It makes your coffee taste much worse than when you drank it without cream, and it makes the cream taste worse than if you drank it without coffee.
3. Southern Butter Pecan
Ah, yes, a coffee additive "inspired by the Southern flavors of pralines and pecan pie", not that I've ever put either of those in my coffee. Though it's not as distinctly offensive in flavor as, say, a certain candy bar style creamer I may or may not have tried, the idea of sweet buttered pralines and pecans makes more sense in ice cream than creamer cream—precisely because you're not putting the former into a cup of coffee. Hell, it makes more sense in pie! And I'm not putting that in my coffee either!
4. Coffee-Mate Warm Cinnamon Sugar Cookie
It's been so long since I've put sugar in coffee I forget the up-front rush of sweetness and am nearly startled out of my cream coma. The flavor is more than palatable here—actual spices taste much less synthetic than lots of the other options—but it's still a strange flavor to put in your coffee. The sugar-cookie-ness of it all almost ruins the finish completely, like the almost bitter burnt-sugar bottom of the cookie itself. But in between the beginning and the end of the sip, this creamer ain't bad.
5. Coffee House Inspirations White Chocolate Mocha
Despite the rather poncey envisagement of your potential beverage on the package label—a full-cup rosetta latte art pattern on top of what is apparently a very lush cup of white chocolate mocha—this one goes down pretty easy. It's smooth and sugary, and since white chocolate isn't really chocolate anyway, there's not a lot of performance pressure on flavoring here.
At this point I'm starting to get into the heads of the marketing geniuses behind these flavors, some of which are even seasonal! (But speaking of which, where is the Pumpkin Spice flavored creamer? Have these people forsaken AMERICA?) Anyway, this one's easy drinking and inoffensive.
6. Coffee-Mate Eggnog Latte
I'll come right out and admit that a fair number of my collegiate days were spent counting down to the season in which I was able to purchase a Fa La Latte on the way to class (I guess you're right—I should have been studying.) That said, a coffee supplement that is flavored like eggnog while not actually being eggnog is a weird concept. Weirder still is pouring the mixture—not at all viscous, beige, or speckly—fluidly into your morning cup. That said, this pretty much sank right to the bottom of the cup and disappeared, making me wonder for a moment: do I need to use more? The answer is no, but as the seasonal cream flows, you could do a lot worse.
7. Bailey's The Original Irish Cream Non-Alcoholic Coffee Creamer
At a certain point in these reviews I became unsure of whether my choice of coffee—a nice, sturdy El Salvadorean whose farmer I won't embarrass by naming outright—might be some of the problem. Was I using coffee with too much character? Freshness? Too much flavor of its own? To test my theories I let some of the coffee I used to benchmark these creamers sit out for some time, then I microwaved it, forgot about it, and microwaved it again. Then I poured in this Bailey's The Original Irish Cream Non-Alcoholic Coffee Creamer. The leveled coffee playing field did seem to help somewhat, but once again the dominating flavor overall was one of sugar, rather than coffee, Irish Cream, or well, anything else. The flavors here are alright—a little musty, a little strange especially as coffee is a flavor in Bailey's Irish Cream—but a certain something is lacking in the combination. OH RIGHT, BOOZE.
8. Coffee-Mate Natural Bliss Vanilla
Ah, back to basics! This soft-focus gauzy packaging reminds me of fabric softener...wait, where was I? Yes, finally a flavored coffee creamer for those of us who wish to live a more natural, organic lifestyle. If this stuff is so pure and natural, why must it be so stickysweet? Why would I want to put vanilla in my coffee anyway? Unable to figure out why milk, sugar and "natural vanilla flavoring" would taste so strange in my coffee, I drank some of this straight: it was akin to drinking liquid frosting. That said, it tasted better without coffee than with it.
Any Serious Cream article would be remiss without honorable mentions to those many flavors our tasters were unable to track down and try: Coconut Creme, Sugar-Free Vanilla Caramel, Italian Sweet Creme, Bailey's French Vanilla, Caramel Macchiato, Peppermint Mocha, and the ever elusive Cinnabon. But if there's bad coffee in hell...surely one or two of these will find its way to the condiment station. See you on the other side!
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs, and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is bad at keeping up her coffee-world blog at twitchy.org