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5 Rules for Cooking with Coffee

cooking with coffee header imageOne of the first rules of cooking with coffee is that really, there are no rules. There are, however, some basic guidelines that can make your experimentation with coffee as a culinary ingredient more successful. If you’re just beginning to explore the possibilities of cooking with coffee, keep these five guidelines in mind as you start your experimentation.

cooking with coffee rule 1Rule #1: Cook with Good Coffee

For decades, cooks and chefs have paid little attention to the quality of the coffee they use in their recipes. Most recipes simply specify “coffee” or worse, instant coffee. And aficionados of specialty coffee aren’t much better when it comes to cooking with coffee instead of drinking it. The consensus there is “why waste good coffee?”

To be clear, I wouldn’t advocate using your finest $30-a-pound Gesha as a steak marinade or an ingredient in your chocolate cake — but I wouldn’t discourage it either if you’re willing to part with the makings of a cup or two of coffee. Essentially, when it comes to using coffee as a culinary ingredient, if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it. You’ll definitely notice a difference in the results when you use good coffee as a spice or flavoring.


cooking with coffee rule #2Rule #2: Learn What Coffee Tastes Like

Sure, coffee tastes like coffee —  and wine tastes like wine and chocolate tastes like chocolate. And just like wine and chocolate, the flavor of the finished product varies a great deal depending upon species/genus, terroir, seasonal climate variations, processing, roast levels, age of the coffee and preparation method. And that’s just off the top of my head. If you find that difficult to comprehend, consider how different a cup of coffee tastes right after the pot is made than it does if you wait half an hour.

Get to know coffee, in general and in specific. Drink a wide range of coffees and get familiar with the flavors you can expect from different regions, roasts and varieties of coffee. The more coffee you taste, the more you’ll taste the coffee, and the more easily you’ll be able to match different types of coffee to other ingredients in your recipe. As a starting point, check out these cheat sheets:



cooking with coffee rule 3Coffee is an extremely versatile ingredient. It works in savory dishes and sweet dishes, and for any course in your meal, from soup to dessert. It’s also very versatile in the way you use it. When you’re cooking with coffee, there are three basic forms you might use:

Brewed Coffee in Recipes

moka pot silhouette

Many coffee recipes you’ll find call for brewed coffee, and generally specify “strong” or “very strong.” When a recipe calls for very strong coffee, I often substitute espresso, or coffee brewed in a moka pot. If you’re experimenting with adding coffee flavor to your own recipes, choose brewed coffee when the recipe calls for water or juice as a liquid ingredient. Try substituting strong brewed coffee for water when making a chocolate cake, for example. You can also use coffee as an ingredient in marinades, where it will add flavor and help tenderize meat, or substitute coffee for water when making sauces and gravies. The classic Southern Redeye gravy is a good example.


Infusing Coffee for Recipes

thumbnail coffee infusion

Recipes for coffee ice cream, custard and other cream- or milk-based dishes usually call for instant coffee, coffee extract or a few tablespoons of very strong coffee as flavoring. I like to use this method to add coffee flavor instead: stir coffee — either whole beans or ground — into the milk called for in the recipe. Bring the milk and coffee to a simmer over a low flame. Just before it boils, pull it off the fire, cover it, and set it aside to steep for 20-30 minutes. Strain the coffee-infused milk through a strainer lined with a triple thickness of cheesecloth. Measure and add enough fresh milk to replace any lost to evaporation or absorption, then continue with your recipe, substituting the coffee milk for regular milk.

Ground Coffee in Recipes

vintag-coffee-grinderThe most common use for ground coffee in recipes is as a component in a rub for meat or to crust meat or seafood for searing, but it’s not the only way to use coffee grinds in your cooking. When a recipe does call for ground coffee, think about the texture you want to achieve. A fairly coarse grind is suitable for meat rubs, but you’ll want a finer grind for searing scallops. If you grind to talcum powder consistency — the grind used for making Turkish coffee — you can even sprinkle it over the top of icing, use it as a coating for truffles or fold it into cream and sugar to make fudge and candy.


4-a-cooking-with-coffee#4. Invest in a Good Coffee Grinder

A good coffee grinder is important to brewing excellent coffee. It’s essential if you’re going to cook with coffee. Using the right grind of coffee in your recipes — especially those calling for ground coffee, where people will be eating coffee grounds (it’s not as gross as it sounds, trust me!) — is vital to getting the right flavor and texture for your finished dish. The right grind can add crunch to chocolate or a hint of flavor when dusted over the top of icing.

cooking  with coffee rule 5Rule #5: Experiment

Faint heart ne’er won fair lady, and a timid cook never makes spectacular dishes. Expect to fail now and then — or often, for that matter — but don’t let your failures deter you from experimentation. Likewise, don’t let your preconceptions limit your experiments. Would you eat cheese sprinkled with ground coffee and drizzled with honey? Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver includes it in his tapas recipes. Stencil the top of a cheesecake with a heart made of finely ground coffee, or mix powder ground coffee with cinnamon and lightly dust the tops of apple-cinnamon muffins with the mixture.

As you experiment, keep notes to track the coffees you enjoy and the flavors that work best together. It will help you build your own repertoire of recipes and facility to improvise when cooking with coffee.



5 rules for cooking with coffee infographic

Deb Powers has been reading about coffee, drinking coffee, brewing coffee, writing about coffee and roasting her own coffee for nearly 30 years.She confesses to being a coffee wonk and finds endless fascination in even the most meta of coffee information.
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Deb Powers (Chamie) at

Deb Powers – who has written posts on CoffeeBreak.Today.

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