Is French Vanilla Coffee? (Explained)

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Is French vanilla coffee

When you go to Tim Hortons, they almost always suggest French vanilla which is their signature drink. This leaves most people wondering what type of drink French vanilla is. This article answers all the questions about French vanilla and French vanilla coffee.

Is French Vanilla Coffee?

French vanilla coffee is coffee that is either flavored using French vanilla syrup or creamer or made with French-vanilla-infused ground coffee, coffee pods, or instant coffee mix. It has a rich and creamy taste. You can also create the French vanilla flavor by mixing hazelnut and vanilla syrups.

French vanilla is therefore a special custardy flavor that you can add to food items and beverages such as coffee to make French vanilla coffee.

The French vanilla drink at Tim Hortons’ is actually coffee which is made with a French vanilla flavored coffee mix. Tim Hortons’ simply calls it French vanilla.

What is French Vanilla?

French vanilla is a rich creamy flavor with a smooth finish which is now available in ice cream, coffee syrups and whiteners, and other products. French vanilla comes from the traditional French way of making ice cream custards that involves adding egg yolks to milk or pouring cream for a deeper and richer flavor.

French vanilla ice cream has a yellowish hue as compared to the white color of regular plain ice cream that does not have eggs.

French vanilla is now a mainstream way of branding ice cream that contains egg yolks.

The commercial success of French vanilla ice cream gave rise to numerous products that are labeled as French vanilla including syrups, creamers, K-Cups, and premixed coffee powder which means that they have a custardy aroma and flavor. The custard style was adopted to make these products.

Vanilla vs French Vanilla Syrup

French vanilla syrup has a buttery aroma and a creamier and smoother taste as compared to the stronger vanilla aroma and cleaner taste of vanilla syrup.

However, it is not clear how the custard style is adopted and incorporated in commercial French vanilla creamers and syrups or the ingredients that give the French vanilla syrups and creamers their elegant custardy finish.

In any case, there is little distinction between commercial regular vanilla syrup and French vanilla syrup in terms of ingredients. There is no telling how the manufacturers achieve the “custard-like” taste in French vanilla.

In fact, some people have castigated the French vanilla branding except for ice cream as a marketing gimmick to imply quality, especially for creamers and syrups.

Most coffee shops usually mix hazelnut and vanilla syrups to make French vanilla syrup that has a rich nutty flavor to mimic the commercial French vanilla syrup. In my previous coffee shop, we would add one pump/part of hazelnut to 3 or 4 pumps/parts of vanilla. Some coffee shops mix the two in equal parts.

In Starbucks, a French vanilla Frappuccino involves adding hazelnut syrup to the regular vanilla bean Frappuccino recipe and topping it with caramel drizzle or a topping of your choice.

Most people assume that either the vanilla or the finished product comes from France but that is not the case as the French label indicates the flavoring style. Vanilla beans are usually grown in Madagascar, Tahiti, and Mexico.

See this separate post where we explain the difference between vanilla syrup and vanilla extract.

What is French Vanilla Coffee?

Tim Horton’s French vanilla cappuccino

French vanilla coffee is coffee that has French vanilla flavor in it. Here are 5 ways of making French vanilla coffee

  • Brewing coffee with French vanilla flavored coffee grounds
  • Making coffee with French vanilla-infused K-Cups
  • Adding French vanilla syrup to coffee
  • Adding French vanilla creamer to coffee
  • Using French vanilla flavored pre-mixed coffee powder
  • Mixing vanilla and hazelnut syrups with coffee

French vanilla coffee was hyped by Tim Hortons whose signature drink is the French vanilla that comes in a premixed coffee powder. Tim Hortons also has a French vanilla iced coffee.

Dunkin’ Donuts has a French vanilla swirl that is added to coffee to make French vanilla coffee. Coffee shops that don’t have French vanilla syrup mimic the flavor by adding hazelnut and vanilla syrups to the coffee.

French vanilla creamers such as coffee mate French vanilla have a distinct creamier flavor than regular creamers. You may want to look at their ingredients as these creamers may contain artificial flavors and sweeteners.

French Vanilla Coffee Ingredients

French vanilla coffee powder such as Tim Hortons’ usually contains artificial sugars and flavors, non-dairy creamer, whey, dairy solids, cocoa, instant coffee, salts, and partially hydrogenated coconut oils among other ingredients.

A basic homemade French vanilla coffee recipe involves adding condensed milk and vanilla to cream or milk and mixing with coffee. Condensed milk gives a buttery finish to the coffee. You can add a tiny amount of hazelnut syrup to mimic the taste of French vanilla coffee in your favorite coffee shop.

Starbucks French Vanilla and How to Order

To get French vanilla coffee at Starbucks, order a latte with vanilla syrup and a bit of hazelnut syrup. This drink is comparable to Tim Hortons French vanilla.

You can also get a French vanilla frappuccino or a French vanilla mocha by blending vanilla and hazelnut syrups into the drink.

Is French Vanilla Good for You?

As we have previously discussed in this post, there are several items that are labeled as French vanilla. This necessitates interrogating each item on the basis of its ingredients as there is not one specific product that is called French vanilla.

What we have are products that have French vanilla flavor.

French vanilla creamer contains artificial flavors and partially hydrogenated oil that may present some health risks, especially when consumed in large amounts over an extended period.

Similarly, French vanilla coffee powder that is premixed with non-dairy creamer contains potentially harmful compounds that are also found in non-dairy creamers.

A homemade French vanilla coffee recipe with pure vanilla extract, condensed milk, regular milk, coffee, and a natural sweetener is possibly much healthier than ready-to-use French vanilla coffee powder.

French Vanilla Coffee vs Vanilla Coffee

French vanilla coffee has French vanilla syrup that gives it a creamy flavor or a combination of hazelnut and vanilla syrups that gives it a nutty flavor. Vanilla coffee, on the other hand, has either vanilla syrup or vanilla extract added to it. Both French vanilla and vanilla coffee have a rich vanilla flavor.

You can also make French vanilla coffee with a ready-to-use powder such as Tim Hortons French vanilla by adding hot water.

5 French Vanilla Drinks apart from Coffee

There are several drinks that you can flavor with French vanilla other than coffee. These drinks can be homemade or ordered from your favorite coffee shop. If you do not have French vanilla syrup, add hazelnut and vanilla syrups to make the French vanilla flavor

  • French vanilla hot chocolate
  • French vanilla iced tea
  • French vanilla slushies. For example, at Dunkin Donuts, you can mix French vanilla swirl in blue raspberry coolotta for a smooth finish
  • French vanilla frappe
  • French vanilla milk. Add French vanilla syrup to hot or cold milk

Wrap Up

The term French vanilla is common in products such as ice creams, creamers, syrups, and coffee. It is quite a confusing term as most people assume that it refers to a product that is made with vanilla from France.

French vanilla on its own does not mean coffee. French vanilla coffee is coffee that is flavored with French vanilla syrup or a mix of hazelnut and vanilla syrups.

French vanilla coffee is also available in coffee pods and premixed coffee powders.


Patrick is first a coffee lover and then a trained barista. His bucket list includes sky diving and sipping on Java in the Himalayas.

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