A Coffee Expert Reviews Lay's Cappuccino Potato Chips

Would you eat a cappuccino-flavored potato chip? It’s one of the final four options in the Lay’s million-dollar “Do Us a Flavor” contest, which ends in five days. Competitors from around the world submitted chip ideas in hopes of winning the prize. The other flavors in the running are Bacon Mac & Cheese, Wavy Mango Salsa, and Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger. Cappuccino seemed the most, um, unique to us, so we asked one of the world’s leading coffee experts to weigh in. Oliver Strand, who writes about coffee for The New York Times, among other publications, crunched through a bag and wrote this review for Yahoo Food

Photo credit: Courtesy of Lay’s

In what might be the only example of the Internet speaking with a single voice, bloggers and snack food pundits all seem to agree that the cappuccino-flavored potato chips introduced by Lay’s over the summer taste awful. They’re right. The chips smell like the coffee candy your grandmother kept in a glass bowl in the living room. They have a dusty flavor that coats your mouth before settling into a bitter aftertaste that gets in the way of what a potato chip is supposed to do, namely make you want to cradle the bag and not share. Try one of these and you probably won’t reach for another.

But I’m not so sure that the cappuccino-flavored chips were meant to taste good. They were introduced as a part of Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor” contest that asks the public to vote on which chip to bring into production this fall. (There’s cash, too: The creator of the winning flavor gets either $1 million or 1 percent of the net sales through July 1, 2015, whichever is greater.) This year, there are four candidates. Line them up, and it’s clear which one doesn’t belong. The cappuccino isn’t supposed to win; it’s in the running to make the others seem more reasonable.

It’s also a punch line. If the chips were on reality television, the cappuccino would be the delusional contestant who makes you cringe every time you watchthe not-too-bright one who wants to build a business empire, or the sour-faced one who wants to be a model. “The potato chip that wants to taste like coffee” is the train wreck you talk about with your friends.

Still, there’s a part of me that wanted the impossible to happen, and for the creamy, toasty flavors of a cappuccino somehow to be transported into the crispy, salty crunch of a potato chip. After all, that is what is on the bag.

According to Sprudge, a website that is to coffee what Deadspin is to sport, the cappuccino on the Lay’s bag is the work of Andrea Otte of HalfWit Coffee Roasters in Chicago. We spoke on the phone, and she explained that the best food stylists can do just about anything except pour latte art. For that, they need a ringer like Otte.

HalfWit is one of a growing number of small, focused roasters that appeal to coffee nerds and the coffee-curious. (It’s the sister company to Wormhole Coffee, the well-regarded Chicago coffee shop.) The HalfWit espresso is called “Triforce,” a blend that’s two parts coffee from Antigua, a city in Guatemala, to one part coffee from Yirgacheffe, in Ethiopia. It’s a serious coffee. When Otte went to the photo studio, she brought a professional-grade espresso machine, a grinder, and bags of Triforce.

I know there’s no way that the flavors and mouthfeel of a Triforce cappuccino could be captured. The picture on the bag has all the absurdity of the packaging for Sea Monkeys, which are portrayed as a nuclear family living underwater—father and mother next to each other, kids smiling—but which are actually tiny brine shrimp that scoot around for a couple of days and then die. No grown-up would believe that Sea Monkeys are a family of cool aquatic simians that can smile, or that a cappuccino-flavored potato chip could taste remotely like a cappuccino. But sometimes you wonder if it’s possible, and feel a flash of hope that makes the disappointment so sharp.

Have you tried any of the Lay’s “Do Me a Flavor” flavors? What did you think?