It’s not rocket science, but it ought to be. I saw an ad for Baskin Robbins “Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee and Donuts” flavor ice cream over the summer and thought I’d try it. Who doesn’t like coffee, doughnuts, or both together? Bad idea, B&R. Bad idea all around. The flavor was a blend of waxy icing, stale chunks of cake doughnut, and artificially flavored coffee ice cream. It wasn’t good.
When you have a palate that appreciates good coffee and good ice cream, it’s a natural leap from tasting a bad combo to finding out which is the better, if not the very best, coffee ice cream. My system was scientific: I bought every brand and permutation of coffee (java, cappuccino, espresso, etc.) ice cream, frozen yogurt and gelato within a 20-mile range of my house. I did not taste boutique or house-made ice cream at local restaurants or ice cream shops, only flavors that were more widely available.
However, I was unable to taste Blue Bell or other regional specialties that were not on the shelf at California Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Lucky, Nob Hill (Raley’s) or corner markets. Your local flavors may vary. Regardless, that added up to about thirty pints of ice cream. Yeah, I know–somebody had to do it. Some flavors I even had to taste twice (#sorrynotsorry). I took notes on brand, flavor, texture, tasting notes and ingredients.
As a natural whiz at coffee, Blue Bottle Coffee’s gelato ice cream bar was near the top, but it wasn’t number one. The variety I loved above all others was Agave Dream “Cappuccino” flavor; it’s gluten free with no corn syrup or refined sugar. The flavor is a slightly burnt coffee with a faint smokiness, luscious cream and a nice ground coffee bean texture. I cannot praise this one enough. Agave Dream set the bar pretty high.
My other favorite (tied for first) was Petaluma, California’s Three Twins brand “Milk Coffee” flavor, icy-smooth and not exactly cream; it’s more an ice-milk than ice-cream in texture. This brand is organic, fair-trade, and if you buy a pint, they’ll purchase six square feet of rainforest through Ice Cream for Acres. This flavor is caffeinated, so don’t eat it before bedtime. Just try and stop yourself from eating the entire carton, though. I dare ya.
Ben & Jerry’s “Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz” fared very well, tying for second place with three other contenders. (Blue Bottle was in this tie.) The other number twos were Strauss Creamery and Trader Joe’s “Coffee Bean Blast.”
A well-known flavor from Haagen Daz, the “Coffee Almond Crunch” ice cream bar, fared well, ranking #3, tied with Gelato Massimo’s “Coffee Espresso” flavor. These HD ice cream bars are often available as singles at the corner market. Another single-serve contender was the cappuccino-flavored It’s It–which scored seventh place. It has some artificial flavor and the icing is a bit waxy, but the flavors of oatmeal cookie and chocolate with coffee ice cream gave the confection a pretty good score overall.
Talenti Gelato, “Coffee Chocolate Chip,” fared well, ranking in a tie for fourth place with Safeway’s Open Nature brand “Coffee.” Talenti’s “chips” are really flaked chocolate that melt quickly. The marketing calls this “bittersweet Dutch cocoa infused with Italian espresso,” and I can’t argue with that.
What I found is that the top few were far, far away from the bottom bunch, and it is quickly apparent what tastes good and what doesn’t. The handful of “no” and “never” rankings include the horrible-tasting Haagen Daz gelato “Tiramisu” flavor, So Joy Coconut Milk dessert in “Mocha Almond Fudge” flavor, Nada Moo coconut milk frozen dessert in “Java Crunch” and worst of the worst, Oikos Greek frozen yogurt from Dannon in “Café Latte” flavor. The Oikos flavor was like sour cream, with a tart, artificial coffee tang to it. Avoid, if you value your taste buds.
I loved creamy textures but I also enjoyed the light grainy crunch of freshly ground beans in the mix. Ice cream, gelato or frozen on a stick, coffee ice creams gave me great pleasure in sorting the tasty from the nasty. I suppose the result was foregone that the best flavors included real coffee instead of flavoring. But it’s nice to have scientific proof of that. Happy National Ice Cream Day!
|1||Agave Dream||“Cappucino”||slightly grainy with real coffee grounds.||Nectar sweetened. Slightly burnt aftertaste. A little smoky. Has flavor of dark Italian or French roast. Almost savory. Didn’t think I would like it but it’s good.|
|1||Three Twins||“Milk Coffee”||smooth-icy||This is another flavor that is good for you (nothing artificial or GMO) plus good for the planet; every purchase of a pint buys 6 sq ft of land through Ice Cream for Acres conservation fund. This ice cream is caffeinated–though hard to say how much so. There’s a richness that is not creamy; it’s a balance between the coffee flavor, which is pronounced but not bitter, and the touch of vanilla, which adds a layer of flavor. It almost tastes of dark chocolate and yet there’s no chocolate in it. This is undeniably tasty.|
|2||Bar Gelato||“Blue Bottle Coffee” ice cream bar||smooth with visible coffee grounds but no grainy texture||Icy, more milky than creamy; it tasted “grownup,” mildly sweet. Coffee flavor is not strong, compared to BB Coffee in a cup. Tastes like a glass of iced coffee on a stick. Very refreshing.|
|2||Strauss Creamery||“Coffee”||very smooth, creamy||Organic: Everything is organic. So it’s pure. But the flavor has a depth to is that feels like a spice, a root beer note. I notice there’s Dutch cocoa and vanilla in the ingredients and that is probably what I’m tasting. The coffee flavor is lighter and more nuanced.|
|2||Ben & Jerry’s||“Coffee, Coffee BuzzBuzzBuzz!”||smooth ice cream with chips of solid chocolate-espresso-flavored fudge, plus flecks of espresso||Pronounced coffee flavor when you get away from the chocolate bits. Roasted bean flavor, a rich brown color to the ice cream. I find the chunks of chocolate too thick, distracting from the coffee flavor. But I wouldn’t kick this out of bed. Nice Italian roast aftertaste. It feels caffeinated.|
|2||Trader Joe’s||“Coffee Bean Blast”||Fine grit in a very smooth base; nice creaminess to the base.||Strong coffee flavor. Tastes like a frozen cup of coffee with a splash of milk and sugar.|
|3||Haagen-Dazs ice cream bar||“Coffee Almond Crunch”||smooth inside, crunchy bits on the exterior chocolate dip||Chocolate-dipped with chopped almonds and toffee bits on the outside. This was scrummy. The coffee flavor was downplayed by the chocolate, but in a good way. It was a happy marriage. In this instance, the chocolate (even if it’s not the world’s “best” chocolate) was a complementary addition to the coffee, and the toffee bits added a delicious crunch.|
|3||Gelato Massimo||Coffee Espresso||Very creamy, crushed beans||Very ice-creamy in texture. This brand is caffeine free (surprising, for such a robust coffee flavor). Low fat, gluten free, non GMO–all good things. Delicious choice, almost chocolatey but very nice coffee flavor.|
|4||Talenti Gelato||Coffee Chocolate Chip||Mostly smooth with small flakes of dark chocolate that melt quickly.||Very tasty. The marketing calls this “Bittersweet Dutch cocoa infused with Italian espresso” but it’s the other way around. The coffee ice cream is infused with the chocolate bits. It’s a good combination but almost impossible to savor the coffee apart from the chocolate. (Talenti also makes a coffee-toffee flavor but it was not available at any local store; I presume the coffee flavor base is the same).|
|4||Open Nature (Safeway)||“Coffee”||smooth, rich||Rich coffee taste, very smooth.|
|5||Haagen-Dazs||“Coffee”||smooth||“from Brazilian coffee beans”; mild flavor. Very sweet. Almost tastes artificially flavored. Pale color.|
|6||Ben and Jerry’s||Coffee Toffee Bar Crunch||Smooth ice cream with major chunks of toffee bar and chcolate (Heath Bar).||Burnt sugar flavor, like crème brulee. The coffee flavor is light, but still very flavorful. Large chunks of toffee bar are distracting. Way too much going on in this flavor profile to concentrate on the coffee.|
|7||It’s It||“Cappuccino”||ice cream is smooth; lot of crumbs and waxy chocolate easily mixed in.||This is a tasty treat but don’t expect much coffee flavor. Despite coffee being listed as an actual ingredient (instead of coffee flavor), the coffee-ness is light, and very “vanilla,” that is, not noticeably coffeelike. More like a tan filling to carry the tasty cookies. The outer dip of chocolate is very waxy, that is, full of coconut oil (the first ingredient in the dip) so that it holds the ice cream in. It’s not flavorful; it has an almost chemical taste to it, separate from the rest of the treat. All together, It’s It is yummy, but not for coffee connoisseurs.|
|8||Breyer’s||“Cappuccino” Gelato Indulgence||smooth and airy; tiny chocolate chips on top layer only. Consistency is whipped (fluffy) and kind of gummy. Looks like Play-Doh in the tub.||Very light. I wouldn’t call this “indulgent” compared to other flavors/frozen desserts–it’s a nice light flavor, light coffee, creamy. And all the flavoring is artificial, plus the corn syrup. So flavor is ok, but not all that indulgent.|
|9||Dreyer’s/Edy’s Grand||“Coffee Craze”||very smooth, creamy||Light, almost non-existent coffee flavor. No real character. Slight molasses aftertaste.|
|10||Baskin-Robbins||Jamoca||smooth||B&R’s brand of Jamoca coffee flavor is pretty good. Creamy, solid coffee flavor, sweet. A little too sweet, but so much better in comparison to the coffee/doughnut flavor that perhaps I graded this too high. I prefer the plain to the Jamoca Almond Fudge flavor. And I prefer it with something else on the side — plain chocolate, or something nutty like black walnut or pistachio.|
|no||Genuto||Double Espresso||icy when fresh from freezer. Gooey when allowed to thaw to gelato consistency||Deep, dark richness with good coffee flavor, but the persistent nutty base is hard to overlook. Not in a good way. A reasonable choice if you’re lactose intolerant or vegan, but otherwise, it’s just OK.|
|no||So Joy Coconut Milk||Mocha Almond Fudge||chunky||Almost no coffee flavor. Tastes like coconut ice cream.|
|no||Nada Moo (Coconut milk frozen dessert)||Java Crunch||smooth with tiny chocolate chips||Chemical tasting. The chocolate tastes burnt. More like coconut than coffee.|
|no||Raley’s Gelato||Tiramisu||bits of cake and swirls of caramel or some such sticky ribbon.||Very sweet. Chemical flavor. More like vanilla than coffee.|
|never||Baskin-Robbins||“Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee & Donuts||mixed textures including waxy chocolate icing and stale cake chunks||This is the B&R Flavor of the Month (June 2015) and the impetus for this project. Taste: disgusting. Overly sweet with no taste of coffee discernable. Tasted exactly like crushed mini-chocolate doughnuts in vanilla ice cream. The chocolate icing that is so waxy it sticks to your teeth was swirled throughout. The doughnuts were mashed into the ice cream. Colors were brown and white swirls of ice cream, but I could not taste coffee at all. This is what you might eat when you were ragingly high or drunk–crushed doughnuts with ice cream. This is so big a no, I can’t dislike it enough.|
|never||Haagen Daz Gelato||Tiramisu||crumbs and cakelike bits mixed in||Third ingredient is corn syrup. Which tells you most of what you need to know. There’s an almost alcoholic flavor to this that also tastes chemical. Although there is coffee and not liqueur in the mix, it’s just not coffee-ish. It tastes more like almond or Amaretto than coffee. So no.|
|never||Oikos Greek Frozen Yogurt (Dannon)||“Café Latte”||smooth, but tacky, sticky||Not good. So not good that it’s terrible. Tastes like sour cream. “Contains less than 2% coffee extract,” and you can tell. Very artificial flavor. Corn syrup and all the additives–this is just sour and nasty. Not even in the competition.|
What’s your favorite brand of coffee ice cream (gelato, yogurt, or other frozen dessert)? Share below.