Flavor Takes Center Stage
Capturing the essence of fresh flavors.
By Anne-Marie Hardie
Flavored teas and coffees retain their appeal for a variety of consumers from millennials to seniors. Flavors enhance the sensory experience by evoking familiar emotions triggered by aroma and taste. Scents reassure consumers seeking comfort over adventure but flavors today must offer something more stimulating than hints of strawberry, vanilla and jasmine.
“We find that more and more, customers are looking at natural flavors from the named fruit,” explains Flavourtech sales and marketing director Leon Skaliotis. The Australian company processes the actual raw material used for flavoring directly through its patented spinning cone column. The process takes 25 seconds to strip volatile aromas. “They can even tailor the aroma captured by selecting different profiles of the aromas present to produce something unique,” he said.
Developing authentic flavors is far from simple. Complexity is the rule made more complicated by various methods used by blenders who must contend with emissions and safety around the often volatile agents used to convey flavorings. To be effective, companies need to think of the end application – right from the start.
“They need to consider everything about the product from how it is going to be packaged and brewed, to whether the tea is CTC, loose leaf, oolong, or black,” says Michael Abrams, founder, Flavor Waves.
Before investing the time to create the final product the flavor technologists need to ensure that the manufacturer can effectively duplicate the product experienced in the laboratory. This is why blending equipment is such a vital part of the conversation.
Bulk density and robustness are the two major concerns that Bill Smith, director global beverage innovation and r&d, Sensient, considers that when dry flavors are mixed with tea or coffee in industrial sized machines: “The size and density of the particles need to be fairly similar in order to achieve a stable and homogeneous mixture,” he says, adding “If not, it’s like trying to mix sand and golf balls; they just won’t stay blended.”
Abrams emphasizes the critical importance of ingredient size to insure tea and herbs align. “Otherwise, you will obtain very uneven blending as well as hot spots, and experience separation issues as smaller particles settle to the bottom,” says Abrams. “Bulk densities must be as close as possible for all dry ingredients when dry blending happens,” he said.
In response to these concerns Sensient may increase both the particle size and density of the flavor to ensure an even mix. Vane type mixers pose additional challenges simply through the sheer force used while mixing the components. Individual particles must be robust enough to withstand the mixing process. “Compacted and encapsulated powder flavors are cost effective and often able to meet the needs of most blended products,” says Smith. “But occasionally a more, robust extruded particle that is typically more costly, needs to be used.”
The bigger picture
Determining the right formulation goes beyond equipment. Heat is a significant concern as some flavors become unstable when the flavor is applied after grinding or flavors are uneven when applied directly to the coffee bean.
“Providing detailed information increases the likelihood of delivering the right product sooner,” said Tim Schnittker, Hertz and Selck. “Understanding the raw material is key as it will help guide the direction that the flavor needs to go,” he said.
Delivering the right flavor profile includes identifying challenges in the base product, whether it is a tea with a high tannin level or a slightly less palatable robusta. Products such as Sensient’s Smoothenol are used to enhance the palatability of some beverages. For example, applying the product enhances robusta, giving it a nicer taste. “Smoothenol is used to mitigate some of the aspects that may be seen as a negative,” says Smith. “We can modify the base a little bit, so that we can deliver the taste that the customer is looking for.” This is where the true expertise shines through as the sensory team needs to understand the nuances of the flavor that their customer desires and in turn deliver them.
“Flavor profile is a very personal, subjective, criteria, ultimately it depends on what the customer wants,” says Anne Perreault, senior flavorist at Foodarom. Part of delivering signature flavors involves conducting taste trials with customers to determine the exact flavor note that the customer is seeking.
Flavor Waves goes through a similar process investing the time to understand the exact nuance of flavor the customer is seeking. “They may come in saying we want a mango flavor,” says Abrams. “We will then ask them to describe the flavor, is it a sweet ripe mango? an under ripe note? or a mango that has a snappier taste?” The goal for all in the industry is to get an accurate description of the flavor so that they understand what the consumer is expecting.
“To design custom flavors, you have to have patience, and be willing to invest the time to allow us to tweak the flavor,” says Abrams. “Our goal is to design a superior, delicious flavor, but the customer has to be willing to allow us to work with you, until we build the particular flavor, perfectly.”
Responding to the customer
Today’s label savvy has driven a shift in the industry with more and more companies considering natural flavoring, gluten free, non-GMO, and organic. “There needs to be a conversation about the use of the product first beginning with which regulatory requirements the product needs to adhere to,” says Perrault. Knowing these requirements upfront will ensure that the flavor selected conforms to the ethos of the company. Another factor that draws these consumers in shares Sue Quach, Sensient, is the story behind the product, whether it’s a Sicilian lemon harvested by hand, rain forest alliance or another quality that resonates with them. “Telling a story behind the product responds to the consumer’s need to connect with their product,” says Quach.
It is about understanding the customer’s market, their demographics and in turn what they are currently looking for when it comes to a product. Lisa Taake, director of business development, Beck Flavors, emphasizes that before creating a flavor they take the time to understand the market that the product is going into. “We ask questions up front,” says Taake,” so that we understand the parameters the customers are working with.”
The wild west of flavors
Perhaps one of the most exciting things about the hot beverage industry today is that almost anything goes.
“Millennials want different flavors and different profiles, something that they haven’t seen,” says Quach. “They are more receptive to putting twists on things, including putting two familiar things together to create a unique experience.”
Hot beverage consumers are looking to experiment, they are looking for unique flavors and products with added benefits, like caffeine and supplements. Flavor Technologists help ensure that the product delivers both the benefits and still tastes good. “Caffeine is bitter, the challenge is having the product taste as good as it should,” says Smith. “We are here to provide the support to the customer to find that perfect balance.”
Flavored coffee lovers continue to be drawn towards indulgent and nostalgic flavors, and regional flavors continue to trend. Trending flavors for Beck Flavors are mocha marshmallow, Georgian pecan, maple French toast, and salted butterscotch coffee. Abrams has seen a similar trend with the most popular flavors for coffee continuing to be vanilla, French vanilla, hazelnut, hazelnut crème, caramel, and caramel combination flavors. While, Sensient has noted a stronger role for savory/spicy notes in coffee, these include a Mexican chamoe and Urfa chili, offering coffee with a bit of heat.
Cold brew adds an additional opportunity for flavor, mirroring the craft brewing trend in alcohol. “There are interesting things in cold brew coffee, and even in nitrogen coffee, where there is possible to work with a different way, “says Perreault. “In this case, the experience is different, we can work with bitters, ginger, more in specialty items, it opens up a lot of possibilities in spices and botanicals.”
Perreault continues to see an increased interest in botanicals for tea as well such as juniper berry, lemon grass, blueberry and lavender, rosewater and cucumber extract, all natural flavors that blend well with oolong and green tea.
Fruit flavors, in particular, watermelon is trending for Flavor Waves consumers with continued interest in super fruit flavors such as acai and blueberries. “We do this one special flavor with harvested Kona coffee cherries, have shown to have antioxidant,” says Abrams. “We take the coffee cherry paste or pulp that adds a richness to the tea, adds a certain smoothness, to a tea, especially a brewed tea.” Hawaiian sourced flavors are one area that Flavor Waves intends to continue to offer including macadamia nuts, pineapple and wild grown coconuts.
One flavor that Sensient has recently experimented with in tea is a honey evergreen, sharing that the pine note with a honey flavor profile works well with a green tea. Charred coconut was another new flavor that is trending, lending towards a savory tea.
The reality is, shares Schnittker, is that one can never tell what the end user will really like over a longer period of time. That being said, flavor technologists can predict certain trends to come by looking into other industries or areas of the world. It is a true discovery process intertwining the subjective tastes of a consumer with the guided support and expertise of the flavor industry. These experts help provide new opportunities to experience the world of tea and coffee.