Coffee as a Flavor in Cooking

Recently I've discovered the amazing world of coffee as a flavor in food. Drinking coffee has its perks for some people, but I've never relished the dark, bitter taste of black coffee, and I've never needed its unnatural adrenaline boost. The rich brown smell, however, has compelled me to add sugar and cream so that it is drinkable, and I found that I actually like it!

This newfound taste experience made me want to see if I could use coffee flavor in more foods, so I began to experiment with all the different forms of coffee and its flavors. Below I will tell you what I have discovered about using dissolvable coffee crystals, coffee extract, finely ground coffee powder, and leftover strong coffee to flavor your cooking.

Instant Coffee Crystals as a Flavoring

The simplest way to add coffee flavor to any food is to buy a small can of instant dissolvable coffee crystals. Make sure you read the back label before you start dumping it into your blender, however, as some brands are stronger than others. The kind I have been using requires four tablespoons per cup of liquid, while others use just one tablespoon per cup. Your tongue will have to be your guide, so start with just one tablespoon and add more if a stronger flavor is needed. Also, avoid extraordinary coffee flavors that add extra or exotic spices or to your coffee, as these flavor flourishes are harder to use in recipes that do not need those extra spices. It is best to use the plain coffee flavor and mix in extra spices if you so desire. 

Make Your Own Mocha Chunk Ice Cream

If you have an ice cream maker, use your basic vanilla ice cream recipe and for every gallon of final product, mix 1/4 cup of instant coffee crystals with your cream and sugar mixture until it dissolves. Add 1 cup cocoa powder and whisk until it also dissolves. For chunky mocha ice cream, try stirring in miniature chocolate chips and topping each serving with chocolate-covered coffee beans.

I found Flavorganics Coffee Extract at Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocers
I found Flavorganics Coffee Extract at Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocers

Coffee Extracts

Coffee extract is a great way to add coffee flavoring to any traditional baked goods, but it tends to be weaker and subtler than most other extracts (such as almond or vanilla). Coffee extract creates a much more delicate flavor than espresso, and I found that I had to use several teaspoons to get my flavor base to even begin tasting like coffee. I found a small bottle at Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocers, but it does not seem to be at traditional grocery stores.

Coffee extract is great if you are short on time or aren't able to dissolve coffee crystals in a liquid base for your recipe. For baked goods, such as cakes, cookies, or quick breads, add 2 to 3 tablespoons to the egg, butter, sugar, or oil mixture and blend. Keep in mind that coffee extract pairs well with vanilla, almond, rum, and hazelnut extracts, so feel free to experiment!

Strong or Old Coffee as a Flavoring

Next time you have a pot of old coffee that's too strong to drink, consider saving a small amount in a jar in your fridge. You might even boil off some of the water to make it even stronger. This coffee "concentrate" makes a great flavoring for milkshakes or iced coffees because this coffee is strong enough to handle diluting, and the other flavors and sweeteners complement the bitter taste of your old coffee. This concentrate can also be used to flavor pancakes and waffles, muffins and cupcakes, cocoa and eggnog, cakes, cookies, and anything else that suits your fancy. Make sure your batter is not to thin or runny by using the coffee concentrate in place of other liquids such as water or milk in your recipe (mix dried milk powder with your coffee concentrate if milk or cream is called for). 

Finely Ground or Powdered Coffee as a Flavoring

Once I was frustrated with the lack of strong flavor my coffee extract was producing for some mocha granola I was making, so I gave in to ingenuity and got out my small coffee bean grinder. I poured in 1/4 cup of pre-ground coffee grounds, put on the lid, and blended until a fine powder resulted. My idea was to use this powder like I would use cocoa powder: as a flavoring, but with more dry-ingredient content than just a spice. My one concern was that the double-ground grounds would not be fine enough. The last thing I wanted was coffee grit in my food.

My concerns were relieved when I took a bite of the freshly-baked granola. Because the dry ingredients in my granola were of a bulky and clumpy texture already (oats, coconut, wheat germ and bran), the powdered coffee grounds gave only a nice rich coffee taste without the grit I was expecting. Paired with cocoa powder, and topped with chopped chocolate chips that melted onto the granola right after I took it out of the oven, my mocha granola was a hit!

All photos and text © Jane Grey 2010

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Duchess OBlunt 6 years ago

Jane Grey, interesting ideas - not that I will ever use them because I am just not the domestic type (I'll leave that up to my husband). I will certainly pass on your ideas for him to see if he likes them, but for me mmmmm mmmmm mmmmm just coffee please. Fresh, strong and black.

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Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Duchess OBlunt, glad you stopped by! I've had fun experimenting with the many different ways to flavor food with coffee. Hope your husband likes these techniques!

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WildIris 6 years ago

I've made many a cake recipes that called for instant espresso as an ingredient. Coffee brings out a richer flavor in chocolate. Enjoyable read. Thanks

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Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

WildIris, so true. I love what coffee does to chocolate and vise-versa. Yummm!

Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan

Ok, so the ice cream sounds amazingly delicious and I need some right now! (Can you tell it's a Monday?) Chocolate-covered coffee beans are my favorite... If you ever need a taste-tester, give me a call!

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Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Rose, please come on over the water any time and have some! I was amazed at how well the icecream turned out and I loved the dark, rich chocolaty mocha taste. I bet you would love it! :) Next I want to try sherbet flavors too. Mmmmm....

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

Hmmm...the coffee cookie idea is now a must try!

Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author


If you have a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, then you're set to go! Tell me what you did and how you liked it if you get a chance.

cameciob profile image

cameciob 6 years ago

Hi Jane, these are great ideas for coffee. I only drink coffee but I would like to try the ice cream once because I'm never happy with what i get from stores.

barryrutherford profile image

barryrutherford 6 years ago from Queensland Australia

funny i like flavouring in my Coffee such as macadamia nut syrup

Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Cameciob, this recipe was much better than the coffee ice cream from the store, and I think it's because I could taste it to make it as dark and rich as I wanted by adding more dissolvable coffee crystals, and more cocoa powder. I hope you try it!

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Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Barryrutherford, that's what I do too if I ever drink coffee. Macadamia nut syrup sounds delicious and I bet it would be great to use in recipes too!

C.S.Alexis profile image

C.S.Alexis 6 years ago from NW Indiana

I love my coffee so this was a must read. I have been adding about 1/4 cup of coffee to my gravy for at least 30 years. It gives the gravy a good color as well as a rich flavor and most people would never dream there was coffee in the gravy. Thanks for sharing all these good coffee ideas.

SteveoMc profile image

SteveoMc 6 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

I too love the coffee and that made this a must read. I like your ideas about adding coffee to other things to make them mocha or coffee flavored. The candy store sells these chocolate coffee beans that are delicious. I also love the micro grinds, they reconstitute a REAL cup of coffee. Thanks for all the neat ideas.

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Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

C.S.Alexis, what a fascinating idea! I can see how that would add good color and a darker, richer, flavor to your gravy. I've never heard of it before, though. I'm amazed that you don't taste the coffee in it! Thanks for the great idea! I'll keep that in mind next time I need to make gravy.


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Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

SeteoMc, I love those chocolate coffee beans too! If you figure out how to make them at home, let me know. I've heard the best are from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, which we have a lot of out here in Colorado. Thanks for your comment! Always great to hear from fellow coffee lovers.

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celinewayne 6 years ago

hi katie, thanks for sharing this useful info. i love coffee so much =)cup of coffee, coffee cake, iced coffee... i must try this coffee extract =)

Mike Chronos 6 years ago

I've always loved coffee flavored ice cream but as a flavor in cooking, I've never really tried it. Interesting! Thanks Jane!

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Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Mike, the idea came to me after seeing coffee-flavored-almost-anything at restaurants and in packaged food at the grocery store. I love coffee as a flavor, so it's been fun to experiment with it in different foods.

Rusty C. Adore profile image

Rusty C. Adore 6 years ago from Michigan

Fantastic! I love coffee and often save leftovers (if there are any) in the fridge to make iced coffee. I never thought of putting that coffee into other recipes until this hub! Thanks. I look forward to trying some out!

Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Rusty, So great to have you visiting my hubs! I hope these ideas create many yummy concoctions in your kitchen.

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