How to Cook with Coffee

Coffee is a versatile ingredient that can and should be used in many recipes.

You may start every day with a cup of joe, but it shouldn't end there. Coffee adds depth, richness, and boosts flavor in so many recipes. Here's a guide to cooking and baking with coffee, including top-rated recipes to try.

Dark Roast of Light Roast?

Flavorless green coffee beans only become delicious when roasted. The flavors of the coffee come from both the coffee variety and the roasting itself. The darker the roast, the more you will taste the flavors associated with roasting which are sweet and rich. Light roast coffee is more acidic, and more likely to have citrus, floral, fruity and tangy aromas and flavors. Darker roasted coffee can have notes of smoke, bittersweet chocolate, spice, nuts and caramel. Some coffee is also flavored. You can use any kind of coffee in cooking, but be careful using flavored coffees since those flavors may or may not complement your dish.

Types of Coffee

Recipes will specify coffee grounds, brewed coffee, coffee liqueur, instant coffee powder or espresso powder. Espresso powder is similar to but more concentrated and stronger than instant powdered coffee. If recipes require brewed coffee, you can use a combination of instant coffee powder or espresso powder and water. You cannot substitute brewed coffee for powder.

Cold Drinks

Coffee can be enjoyed hot or cold, and it can also be used as the base for various drinks such as a Buttery Coffee Smoothie, for breakfast or a Jumpstart Chocolate Workout Smoothie to get your day started right. It can also be used for a sweet treat, such as a Coffee Shake or a Cappuccino Cooler made with coffee and chocolate ice cream.

Buttery Coffee Smoothie
Buttery Coffee Smoothie. Yoly


Coffee brings out the savory qualities in meat, making everything from beef to ham to chicken taste more robust. You can use finely ground coffee grinds in spice rubs and crusts, including this Steak Coffee Rub or Coffee Crusted Beef Tenderloin Steak or Gabe's Coffee Crusted Hanger Steak with Apple Fennel and Herb Salad. Using brewed coffee to braise beef in Roast with Gravy will yield a rich gravy. Coffee is traditional in Ham with Red Eye Gravy and enhances the flavor of chicken in the Filipino dish, Chicken Adobo with Coconut Milk.

Ham Red Eye Gravy
Ham Red Eye Gravy. Chef John


One of the most popular ways to use coffee is in desserts. Tiramisu, which is Italian for "pick me up" is a dessert composed of layers of espresso-soaked lady finger cookies, a creamy mascarpone filling and a dusting of cocoa. The flavor combination works not just in traditional tiramisu such as Tiramisu II but also in cakes such as Tiramisu Layer Cake or Ice Cream Tiramisu Cake or even Tiramisu Ice Pops.

side view of a square slice of tiramisu showing the layers of ladyfingers and custard, topped with chocolate shavings
Connie Ding

Creamy Coffee & Cappuccino

Lovers of coffee with cream will like Coffee Banana Mousse made with marshmallows, a banana and cream, Coffee Souffle a flan-like dessert made with gelatin, coffee, milk, sugar and eggs. The creamy flavor of cappuccino is also featured in this Chocolate Cappuccino Cheesecake.

Coffee Souffle
Coffee Souffle. Larkspur


Mocha refers to the combination of chocolate and coffee. When properly balanced, the two flavors compliment each other beautifully. To get the mocha flavor, instant coffee is used in many different ways. It is combined with white chocolate pudding mix in Double Chocolate Mocha Trifle mixed with melted semi-sweet chocolate chips in Mocha Truffles and in this recipe for Mocha Walnut Cookies instant coffee is blended into cookie dough which is studded with chocolate chips.

Mocha Truffles
Mocha Truffles. Rainbow Jewels

Baking with Coffee

When a small amount of coffee is used in recipes, it may be undetectable, but still manages to enhance the flavor of baked goods, such as in this Black Magic Cake or in Hermit Bar Cookies. In Tabitha's Homemade Whole Wheat Bread just a teaspoon of both cocoa and instant coffee enhance the natural sweetness of whole wheat.

Tabitha's Homemade Wheat Bread
Tabitha's Homemade Wheat Bread. Holiday Baker

Coffee Liqueur

Coffee liqueur is another ingredient that adds coffee flavor, especially in desserts. In Mexican Coffee Balls instant coffee and coffee liqueur are combined for a powerful double punch of coffee flavor. Try it in Coffee Liqueur Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce, Coconut Coffee Liqueur Cake, and even in savory recipes such as Cornish Hens with Coffee Liqueur Sauce.

Coffee Liqueur Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce
Coffee Liqueur Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce. Kim's Cooking Now


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