In the world of coffee and coffee-flavored products, there is a vast difference in flavor. Did anyone reading this make esters in science class, trying to create the smell of fake bananas ? Some of them were rotten smelling. Some smelled like Laffy Taffy’s banana flavoring. And, well, a banana smells nothing like that at all, but we accept it as a true replacement for the scent of banana. The same goes for coffee products. Some are artificial. Some are true to the coffee bean.  Painted Turtle Cider seems to have cracked the code on making a hard cider very true to the end goal with their java vanilla offering using coffee from Shuil Coffee Company.

Now, I am an absolute nut for porters and stouts, so you would think that this would translate directly to ciders. In my case, it is not a one-and-done transition. This java vanilla cider is complex and sophisticated, and, as I don’t actually like real coffee, this was right up there with a cup of coffee (with a hint of vanilla cream and apple). So, take that into consideration before looking at our review and judging. This may be your calling card, a replacement for that cup o’ joe on a Saturday morning. But, I must say, they did create and develop one of the most interesting ciders without finding rare fruits from a foreign land being pressed or a crazy fermentation process.


When you grab the can, you get the aesthetic right away. It feels like you are enjoying a beverage at a local coffee show with some wonderful local art strewn across the walls. Looking over the can, you will see that the product contains 5 grams of sugar and 6.9% abv. You will also see that this product is gluten-free.

When you crack the top, you get a true-to-the-coffee aroma. It is present yet delicate to the nostrils without an apple scent in sight. As you approach it closer, you get the vanilla scent that blends into a faint woodiness, one way that I describe the scent of certain coffee beans.

On the pour, you will notice a surprisingly golden product expelling. The cider had a medium carbonation into the glass with low rushing bubbles. The bubbles were gentle, never breaking all the way to the top. The longer the beverage sits in the glass, the more you will notice the golden color start to deepen or darken, perhaps a simple trick on the eyes. It ends up slightly closer to the color you expect, matching the scent. The cider is very clear if not slightly cloudy.

As you take your first sip, you will notice a cascading effect of flavors. The best way I can describe it is a multi-leveled home where each floor is doing something different. First, you notice the boy playing games in his room, then dad in the study working on a project, moving to an older girl talking on the phone in the basement, to mom sitting on the couch listening to her daughter’s phone conversation. There are many things going on, but they still get together for dinner as a family. This cider comes together.

It tastes sweet right out of that gate, sweeter than the can indicates. This sweetness, from the apples, opens up into two levels, one for the vanilla flavor and one for the coffee flavor. The vanilla is more of a hanging essence that brings the apple and coffee together into one space. The coffee flavor tastes just like coffee with a welcomed level of bitterness to play against the sweetness. Before you are overwhelmed by bitterness, the subtle apple sweetness returns — like the winged beast that is vanilla brought it back into the scene. This is a fiercely up-and-down roller coaster of sweetness and bitterness. The bitterness seems to suck up the final sweetness as the tongue begins to dry, leaving that perfect final note of bliss; the yin and yang of sweet and bitter.

Even with its blending of flavors, this cider can be a bit… heavy. This is more of a sipping cider than a chugging cider, as I believe they intended. This cider, at times, is as much a craft coffee with cider as it is a craft cider with coffee flavor. And the flavor out of the can as opposed to the glass is noticeable. The sweetness seems to sit in the can as a glass of this cider opens the cider up, revealing deeper notes of coffee and vanilla.

All in all, it is a journey. At times, it is too much coffee for my tongue, but it may be welcomed for you. To be honest, on day two of the cider, I liked it a few degrees more than day one. But, I have to say, there is some serious craftsmanship in this product.

Painted Turtle is a company based out of Lowell, Michigan. Named after the state reptile and their creative edge, this family-owned business grew out of a desire to make cider and 30+ years of managing apple orchards. Hand crafted in small batches, Painted Turtle use local apples and ingredients to create their English-style ciders. To learn more about the Loughlin’s and their great company, visit their website.