When you go to Tim Hortons, they almost always suggest French vanilla which is their signature drink.
But is French vanilla coffee?
No. French vanilla is a flavor that you can add to coffee using creamers and syrups for a custardy and creamy taste. There are also premixed French vanilla coffee powders and K-Cups whose flavoring style mimics the French style of using egg yolks in ice cream custards.
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.
In this post I discuss French vanilla and French vanilla coffee in detail.
What is French Vanilla?
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. The ice cream has a yellowish hue. Regular plain ice cream does not have eggs and is white.
French vanilla is now a mainstream way of branding ice cream that contains egg yolks. The custard-style was later adopted in other products with vanilla such as syrups, coffee whiteners, and premixed coffee powders that are also labeled French vanilla.
Vanilla vs French Vanilla Syrup
Personally, I find that French vanilla syrup has a buttery aroma and creamier 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 in commercial French vanilla creamers and syrups actually adopt or the ingredients that they use for the 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 especially for creamers and syrups to imply quality.
Most coffee shops usually mix hazelnut and vanilla syrups to make French vanilla syrup that has a rich nutty flavor to mimic the commercial product. In my previous coffee shop, we would add one part of hazelnut to 3 or 4 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 topped 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 I explain the difference between vanilla syrup and extract.
What is French Vanilla Coffee?
French vanilla coffee was popularized by Tim Hortons whose signature drink is the French vanilla that comes in a premixed powder and you just add hot water to make a cappuccino. Tim Hortons also has a French vanilla iced coffee.
French vanilla coffee is also available in cappuccino K-Cups and coffee pods.
You can make French vanilla coffee by adding a French vanilla syrup or creamer, or by adding a mix of hazelnut and vanilla syrups like most coffee shops.
French vanilla creamers such as coffee mate French vanilla have a distinct creamy flavor. They may also contain artificial flavors and sweeteners.
French Vanilla Coffee Ingredients
Powdered 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 hazelnut syrup to mimic the taste of French vanilla coffee in your favorite coffee shop.
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.
The term French vanilla is common on some 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.