Is French Vanilla Coffee? (Bonus: Iced Coffee Recipe)

When you hear ‘French Vanilla’, you think of an elegant, rather expensive cup of coffee. Is French Vanilla coffee?

Not at all! It’s a flavoring derived from the delicate spice. And you can use it on just about anything, not just coffee.

Vanilla is one of the spices with the fastest growing price in the last 5 years! In this article, we’ll explain all there is to know about this expensive spice and share a new delicious recipe below.

Topics Explored

  1. Is French Vanilla Coffee?
  2. What is French Vanilla Coffee?
  3. 3 Common Myths
  4. How to Make French Vanilla Iced Coffee
  5. FAQs

Is French Vanilla Coffee?

No, french vanilla is not a type of roast or a specific crop. The term refers to a flavoring used in foods and beverages. For example, there are french vanilla creamers, teas and lattes.

You can even find french vanilla flavored cocoa and cocktails. In addition, there’s french vanilla ice cream and cakes. 

French Vanilla Creamer
Homemade creamer

Vanilla is grown in exotic tropical places like Madagascar, but not France. So why is it ‘french’?

The term french vanilla describes a particular taste of vanilla.(1)

It’s the french formula for making ice cream, mixing vanilla with eggs. The final product is a rich, creamy texture and more intense aroma, unlike regular vanilla ice cream.

What is French Vanilla Coffee?

French vanilla coffee is a type of flavored coffee. There are two definitions:

  • The first one refers to flavored coffee beans. Concentrated french vanilla syrup is added to warm beans. Coffee beans are highly hygroscopic, so the syrup is absorbed fast.
  • The second refers to adding french vanilla flavored creamer or milk to the beverage. The second definition is more common.
Vanilla Iced Coffee

The Totonac people of Mexico are believed to be one of the first to use vanilla in a beverage.(2) Other claims point to the Mayan people being the first.

Both of these Mexican ancestors added vanilla and other spices to cacao drinks.

Today this coffee blend can be found in coffee shops all around the world.

3 Common Myths

There’s a lot of confusion surrounding French Vanilla. It can be hard to tell what’s right and what’s simply a myth. 

We’ve summed up the most common fables and cleared them up. Let’s get informed and learn what’s in your cup of french vanilla coffee.

Vanilla Pods
Photo by Jocelyn Morales

Myth 1: French vanilla contains real vanilla

French vanilla is very aromatic and flavorful. You probably think it’s made with real vanilla. But, surprisingly, there’s hardly any natural vanilla! Most vanilla is artificial or semi-artificial.

So unless you’re using homemade or order your vanilla from specialty places, then chances are you’re consuming imitation vanilla.

Real vanilla is 20 times more expensive than synthetic vanilla and harder to find. It’s made from orchids that bloom in tropical environments.

The imitation vanilla is made from wood byproducts. In the best case, the synthetic vanilla extract is made from low-quality vanilla beans.

It’s less potent, so you need double the amount to get close to the natural vanilla flavor.

Myth 2: French vanilla originates from France

French Flag
Photo by Rafael Garcin

The name confuses many people, but french vanilla is not grown in France.(3) Some websites further perpetuate that vanilla is grown in France.

Orchids are pollinated by certain bee species that live in tropical climates. So it’s impossible to cultivate vanilla in France.

The French do have some contribution to the popularization of vanilla. Their famous ice cream recipe is what enhanced and promoted this delicate flavor. Even Thomas Jefferson sneaked a copy of the recipe and brought it to the US.

Vanilla is native to South and Central America and the Caribbean. The Totonacs and then Aztecs were the first to use vanilla in beverages.

Myth 3: French vanilla refers to the flavored creamer

Pour Milk

French vanilla creamers are widely available from online retailers to supermarkets. Over time, french vanilla coffee has become synonymous with the liquid creamer itself.

Some big brands such as Starbucks-At-Home, and Coffee Mate offer it, and it’s one of their best sellers. This myth is widely accepted since the french vanilla flavored beans are less popular. French vanilla is more than the creamer itself.

You can make french vanilla coffee with pure coffee beans infused with vanilla flavoring. It can also be made by adding pure vanilla extract to plain coffee.

Vegans and vegetarians alike can consume the brew made from french vanilla flavored beans. Most creamers, however, have traces of dairy or other animal products.

How to Make French Vanilla Iced Coffee

Managed to get your hands on pure vanilla extract? Then it’s the right time to learn how to make french vanilla iced coffee. 

Starting from scratch, we have a recipe for homemade french vanilla creamer. Whether you prefer iced or warm drinks, it’s great to have it on hand.

French Vanilla Iced Coffee Recipe

French Vanilla Iced Coffee Recipe

Yield: 1 serving (~ 12 oz)
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes

You'll be surprised to see how easy it is to make your own Iced French Vanilla Coffee with this recipe. Take it up a notch by making your own French Vanilla creamer or use a store-bought!


  • Ice
  • Whole Milk: 1 cup
  • Ground Espresso: enough for 2 shots
  • Homemade French Vanilla Creamer: 4 tbsp*

Ingredients for Homemade French Vanilla Creamer:

  • Whole Milk: 10 oz
  • Sweetened Condensed Milk: 10 oz
  • Vanilla Extract: 2 tbsp (or 1 tbsp if using pure vanilla extract)


Homemade French Vanilla Creamer:

  1. Start by making the french vanilla creamer. Combine the sweetened condensed milk and whole milk in a saucepan.Milk and Condensed Milk
  2. Put it over medium heat and bring the milk to a simmer, stirring occasionally.Simmer Creamer
  3. Remove the saucepan from heat and add the vanilla extract. Add Syrup To Milk
  4. Once the creamer is cool, store it in an airtight jar or bottle. French Vanilla Creamer

French Vanilla Iced Coffee:

  1. Now brew two shots of espresso with your preferred method. Don't use brewed coffee as it won't taste as good. Set the coffee aside to cool.Pulling Shot
  2. Now transfer your milk into a deep pitcher (or french press) and froth it using a handheld frother. Submerge it an inch deep and froth until milk expands.Froth Milk French Press
  3. In a tall glass, put 4 tablespoons of the homemade french vanilla creamer.Spooned Creamer
  4. Add ice and the frothed milk. Pour out the foam gently.Pour Milk Into Cup
  5. Pour the two espresso shots over the milk. As the coffee sinks, the foam stays on top. And your french vanilla iced coffee is done!French Vanilla Iced Coffee Recipe


* Using store bought creamer is perfectly acceptable. But if you're feeling up for it, you can make your own!


Is French Vanilla Coffee

People wonder is French Vanilla coffee, and the answer is ‘no’. French vanilla is a term used to describe a certain vanilla flavor that’s richer and more fragrant than the regular plain vanilla. It originates in France and mimics the taste of vanilla ice cream.

Vanilla has been used in beverages since the Aztecs and continues to make a great addition to warm or iced coffee and tea.


Why is it called French vanilla coffee?

It’s called french vanilla coffee because of the flavoring that is added. It can be in the form of creamer, pure extract, or vanilla-infused beans. 

It’s not a special roast or vanilla bean grown in France. You can make any coffee taste like like it if you add some vanilla extract.

Is French vanilla coffee sweet?

It mainly depends on where does the french vanilla flavoring comes from. Creamers can be packed with sugar or artificial sweeteners. But pure extracts are usually not sweetened. They’re made with alcohol and pure vanilla beans.

If the flavor comes from vanilla-infused beans, then the coffee won’t be sweet.

Is French vanilla coffee strong?

French vanilla is just the flavor added to the beverage or the beans. How strong or caffeinated the coffee is will depend on the pure espresso used in the beverage. 

It will be strong if you pick two shots of blonde espresso. But if you pick a dark roast and use a single shot, it will have less than half the caffeine.

Verified Sources

Wondering where your info comes from? We totally understand. Hey Joe only obtains our information from reputable sources. Contents from this article are sourced from the following publications:

  1. The Seattle Times:
  2. Smithsonian Magazine:
  3. National Geographic:
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