When I first saw the cappuccino flavored Lay’s potato chip, I couldn’t figure out whether I was in heaven or hell.
On the one hand, this corporate giant was promoting one of the best, classiest, most elegant drinks there is. On the other hand, the beauty of a cappuccino is the intimacy of a barista hand preparing it, and topping it off with a rosetta. Not a mass produced, oily chip available at any old convenience store.
So the other day, I got on the phone with the man who is responsible for this flavor. Chad Scott, a 37-year-old assistant professor at UNLV, came up with the idea as part of the Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor” contest.
“It’s a polarizing chip,” Scott said, while drinking his afternoon cappuccino. “Some people absolutely love the idea and see what I was going for. ‘It’s absolutely genius!’ And then I get people on the other extreme: ‘My gosh what were you thinking? That’s horrible!’”
But here’s the thing: Scott is actually a coffee aficionado. He often brews Stumptown’s Hairbender blend. He orders beans from hip coffee roasters like Blue Bottle and Madcap. He uses a burr grinder, filtered water, and a Technivorm, one of the most refined drip coffee makers out there. His cappuccinos are of the 6-ounce variety, not the grande ones.
He also loves coffee shops, often working out of them. In fact, that’s where the idea of a cappuccino-flavored chip emerged. One day, while scrougning around for something to eat, he got some chips. Then, he decided to do something odd: He dipped the potato chip into his cappuccino.
“I liked the blend of salty and sweet,” he said. “I thought they went really well together.”
But it was also sort of a novelty, like dipping fries into a frosty at Wendy’s. Until he saw the Lay’s contest asking for customer-generated ideas for new chips. The company chose four finalists and developed the flavors and started selling the chips.
Scott’s cappuccino flavor is competing against cheddar bacon mac & cheese, wasabi ginger, and mango salsa. The flavors were chosen among 14.4 million submissions and developed by Lay’s. They’ve been on shelves since late July.
After nearly two-and-a-half months of voting, the contest ends on Saturday, with voters deciding which flavor should remain on the shelves (You can vote here). The winner receives at least $1 million.
“I saw the cappuccino chip as being so different from what’s out there,” said Scott, who has a background in sociology and is currently working on his Ph.D. disseration from Texas A&M University. “It really calls into question what is the possibility for the chip? Can it be a breakfast chip? Can it be a desert chip? That’s what people have been doing. They’ve been using it as an ingredient in cakes and desserts. Or dipping it in ice cream. I could have never imagined all the things people would do with it.”
One area where it has been met with a frosty reception is among coffee purists (although the latte art on the bag featured the work of Andrea Otte of The Wormhole, a funky coffee shop in Chicago).
“Sometimes I run into baristas and it’s like, ‘Cappuccino is not to be joked with. Cappuccino is serious business. What the heck are you doing?’” Scott said.
Just after being announced as finalists, he and his wife went on “Good Morning America.” Afterward, they distributed 14,000 bags in New York City. Their next stop was Stumptown.
“I was so excited about it,” Scott said. “We got to Stumptown to get a cappuccino. I asked the barista, ‘Have you heard of the Lays cappuccino-flavored chips?’ He said, ‘Oh, I have heard about them, but I’m not so sure about it.’”
Scott told him he was the one behind the flavor.
“Then,” Scott said, “They ended up making me a great cappuccino.”
Scott said he got to sample the chips before they were made, but he didn’t have any input in how Lay’s designed it. The chips contain no actual coffee, and no caffeine.
“I think it’s an interesting tasting potato chip. I’ve had quite a few of them. I honestly wasn’t quite sure how it would come out,” he said. “It’s a little more cinnamon-y than I thought it would be but I ended up liking it. I think folks who are really into cappuccinos are turned off by the cinnamon. But overall, I’m pleased.”
He says he eats them several times a week.
When I bought a large bag of the cappuccino-flavored chips I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The first bite, I was impressed. They actually did kind of taste like a cappuccino. Or at least what it would taste like if it was a solid instead of a liquid.
But the more I had, the less I craved more. It was like a dessert where you might want a few bites to try, but not a full cake. I never finished the bag.
Scott says he has given a lot of thought to what he would do if he won the $1 million prize. After all, with only four finalists, the odds are far better than playing the lottery.
He says he would buy his mother a home and pay for her to finish college (she stopped going when she had him), and donate to some non-profits.
“I’m going to have to get an amazing espresso machine. I’m going to go big,” he said. “The first thing I would go is Slayer Espresso. those machines are absolutely amazing. Definitely get a great espresso machine. Maybe even a coffee shop to put it in, who knows?”
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.