Pros: Wonderful products; fantastic customer service
Cons: Web site is a little confusing; different flavor syrups have different flavor strengths
Rating: 4 out of 5
First published 12/18/2002
One or two of my readers have probably been with me long enough to remember a series of reviews I did a long time ago: I wrote the coffee wimp’s guide to coffee drink cookbooks. You see, I like coffee, but only as long as it masquerades as dessert with lots of sugar and cream. Preferably flavor syrups, too, but it can be difficult to find a good source of flavor syrups. Most of the companies don’t sell their own products directly. And the stores that do sell them usually only stock a select few flavors. Not so with Da Vinci Gourmet!
Ever since I discovered Da Vinci Gourmet I’ve ordered directly from them. Want Irish cream syrup? Caramel? Dulche de leche? Orange? Toasted marshmallow? Chocolate peanut butter? Creme de menthe? Pineapple? Maybe even bubble gum? Heck, I’ve only gotten started! It’s even better than that, though. You can buy their syrups in classic or sugar-free. They have a series of all natural syrups. Then there are the chocolate-covered espresso beans, tea concentrates, and gourmet sauces (mmm – white chocolate!).
Okay, so you can’t buy everything there. They make and sell a very specific range of items. But if you’re just dying for Satsuma Mandarin Orange syrup (their special holiday flavor this year), this is one of the few places you’ll find it.
Many manufacturers have learned that if they want to attract people to their web sites, it can help to provide a few toys. Da Vinci is no exception. They have a fun little “flavorscope” that’ll give you a description of your personality based on your favorite coffee drink and flavor of syrup. There’s a brief discussion of flavor and our ability to taste things, and there’s a neat listing of the differences between flavors that sound like they should be similar (almond vs. amaretto; creme de menthe vs. peppermint; etc.). And, of course, you’ll find recipes on this web site. Some are drink recipes; others are… well, orange yams with toasted marshmallow meringue?
Layout and organization
Okay, so this web site is not terribly well organized. I’ve seen worse – at least I can place an order with Da Vinci! On the one hand, most of the navigation is fairly simple – little buttons on the left; fairly clean pages. You’ll find the problem when you try to decide whether to look at “products” or “purchase.” Both areas allow you to browse and purchase their products. It’s just that “products” makes you go through a list of products page by page, while “purchase” gives you a handy scrolling list. Also, neither section gives any sort of description of the flavors. Okay, so maybe “strawberry” should be obvious. But sometimes I have wanted to know what a specific something tasted like before buying it.
The cart works well; you can do all the standard things with it (changing quantities; removing items). Checkout is simple and you can save your information in an account so you don’t have to enter it over and over. The only problem I ever had here was in using a coupon they’d sent me – the site didn’t recognize it. Turns out they’d forgotten to activate it for my account. I emailed them and they set it up.
They ship by UPS ground; I’m on the other side of the continental US from them (they’re in Washington state) and it takes one week to get my order. They send their heavy glass bottles in a special styrofoam thing shaped specifically for bottles and then enclosed in a cardboard box. Nothing has ever arrived on my doorstep damaged. [Note added later: at some point they switched to using a packing material that looks like it’s made out of recycled material, which is nice; it seems no less sturdy and effective.] They email tracking numbers, so you can find out when your package is due to arrive.
I’ve ordered from Da Vinci for a couple of years now without mishap. What finally spurred me to review them was this week’s incident. I placed another order, same as always. It wasn’t due to arrive until the end of this week. Yesterday someone from the company called me to tell me that apparently the package had been damaged in shipping. They would send the order out again, and were terribly sorry that because of the holidays it might not arrive until just after Christmas.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a company notify me of a problem before I noticed it myself, until now. Most companies would have just sent out the replacement item and not said a thing – leaving me to wonder why the package was late. Also, unlike many other places I’ve ordered from, Da Vinci has never tried to telemarket to me, nor sent me unsolicited email of any kind. They do have an occasional email newsletter you can choose to receive.
I love the variety and quality of Da Vinci flavor syrups. I almost never drink coffee without at least a little caramel, orange, or Irish cream. The only thing to even vaguely beware of is the fact that different syrups come at somewhat different strengths of flavor. If you put too much gingerbread syrup in your coffee, or cherry, you will regret it! So start small and work your way up from there. Often I mix small amounts of stronger syrups with a “base” flavor like caramel.
So in short I heartily recommend Da Vinci Gourmet. Their products and customer service are wonderful!