This Simple Ingredient Is the Secret to the Best Chocolate Desserts

Make your chocolate desserts more chocolaty with one key ingredient. Hint: It's not more chocolate.

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chocolate cake on platter with slice removed next to serving utensil and towel
Photo: Meredith Food Studios

If you've baked enough chocolate cakes, you might have noticed a pattern across ingredient lists: coffee, whether in powder or liquid form. This is not meant to add espresso flavor to the cake, but rather, to make it even more chocolaty. And if your cake recipe doesn't call for coffee, you should add it anyway, even if you're not a coffee fan. Let's dive into why this caffeinated ingredient is so crucial to chocolate desserts.

Why Does Coffee Enhance Chocolate Desserts?

Coffee and cocoa are similar flavors. On their own, they're both bitter. But when paired together, they improve each other. Coffee is often added to baked goods and desserts to intensify the chocolate flavor. In fact, a 2020 study found that coffee increases our sensitivity to sweet flavors and decreases our sensitivity to bitter ones, although it's not fully understood how coffee causes these changes in taste sensitivity. All we know is that adding a bit of coffee to chocolate desserts amplifies chocolate's flavor without adding any discernible coffee taste. Think of it as a supporting cast member who lets the star shine, much like salt enhances the flavor of cookies that could otherwise fall flat, without adding savory flavor.

How to Add Coffee to Chocolate Desserts

Using these methods, you can add a little boost to all your favorite chocolate desserts, including cakes, brownies, cookies, and more.

brewed coffee in clear mug on white surface
Karla Conrad/Dotdash Meredith

Add Espresso Powder or Instant Coffee

The simplest way to accentuate the chocolate flavor in your baked goods is to add a teaspoon or so of espresso powder or instant coffee granules. Espresso powder tends to be more concentrated, so you definitely only need a teaspoon to do the trick. Just slip it in when you're mixing your dry ingredients and you'll have a much more complex and enhanced chocolate dessert. Because it's more finely ground, espresso powder will even work in chocolate frosting, sauce, and ganache, too!

King Arthur Espresso Powder

jar of espresso powder on white bacground

Replace Liquid With Brewed Coffee

In recipes that call for boiling water (like this Dark Chocolate Cake recipe), you can substitute up to one cup of brewed coffee to enhance the chocolate flavor. To avoid overpowering the chocolate flavor, don't add more than one cup of brewed coffee; if your recipe calls for two cups of water, sub one cup of coffee and one cup of water.

Here's a tip: Try refrigerating leftover coffee that would otherwise go down the drain for use in chocolate desserts. If the recipe calls for boiling water, you can simply reheat the coffee without brewing a whole new batch.

You'll notice many recipes already call for brewed coffee, like our Moist Chocolate Layer Cake and Black Magic Cake.


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