From instant to fresh ground, to soaking and rubbing, there are ample ways to incorporate coffee into your meals.

If you’re reading this, it’s likely safe to say your morning routine includes coffee. From drip to espresso, there’s nothing quite like that first drop of caffeinated goodness gracing one’s lips to transform them from sleepy pillow gremlin to the functioning members of society many of us aim to resemble. 

Then comes the afternoon crash, and sadly, many of us simply don’t have the time or wherewithal to escape the office and grab that pick-me-up we so desperately need to make it to 5PM. Here’s an idea: what if you could secretly sprinkle little bits of your favorite life-giving go-go juice into meals throughout the day? What if instead of holding your head up with your hand during an afternoon meeting, you could simply reach into your bag and grab a handful of pure energy? This life could be yours for the low, low cost of cooking and baking with coffee.

An Overview
As a general rule with cooking and baking, any additional strong flavor should either directly complement or highlight what’s already there. Coffee can be a great addition to many dishes, but not every dish. For example, coffee amplifies the chocolatey flavor of certain desserts, but may be ill-advised in Fettuccine Alfredo where it would most certainly drown out delicate aromatics. Unless you’re really craving a cheese and garlic latte, of course.

You can create the majority of coffee-infused recipes with five very simple techniques. 

Add Brewed Coffee Into Your Liquid Ingredients
If you often brew large batches of coffee, it’s likely there are occasions you just can’t finish it all. Instead of throwing it down the drain, repurpose your leftover brewed coffee as the main feature of your next culinary creation. Within reason, of course – if it’s been literal days, you may want to consider brewing a fresh pot. 

Using brewed coffee is ideal for dishes that already have a substantial amount of liquid, such as soup, pot roast, gravy, or sauce, so as not to overpower the dish. A little bit of coffee goes a long way toward complementing heavier, richer savory dishes such as those involving beans, spices, or tomato puree. 

Using more than a little brewed coffee in baked goods is generally not advised, as the consistency and texture of pastries is so heavily impacted by the ratio of wet to dry ingredients. If you do give it a try, be sure to measure how much liquid you’ve added. To maintain the integrity of the final product, you’ll need to subtract that exact same volume of another liquid from your overall recipe.

Scrub a Dub Dub, Put Coffee in your Rub
You’re sure to wow guests at your next dinner party when they try your homemade coffee rub, whipped together with either freshly ground or instant coffee. Rubbing is a technique that involves coating the surface of a food with seasoning, usually with a mixture of dry ingredients. While applying the coating by hand is certainly possible, a pastry brush is extremely helpful for evenly distributing flavor.

Rubs are most commonly applied to the protein of a meal, such as steak or tofu. They tend to impart pungent aromatics, as they sit on the surface of your food without completely soaking in, as well as a big kick of flavor. While instant coffee should dissolve with little effort, be sure to grind fresh coffee extremely fine to avoid an unpleasant crunch with each bite. Your guests will thank you.

Soaking or Dipping Ingredients in Coffee
By soaking or dipping ingredients in coffee, you can impart a pungent coffee flavor into each bit. This technique is common in baked goods where whole pieces of an ingredient are mixed into the batter at the end, such as Tiramisu, fruit cake, and bread pudding.

In this context, the difference between dipping and soaking is simply the amount of time the item is in contact with coffee. Dipping is exactly like it sounds: you quickly dip the ingredient into brewed coffee, allowing excess to drip off. This is preferable in dishes where the coffee-infused ingredient may become soggy or fall apart when soaked, such as ladyfingers in Tiramisu. 

Soaking involves allowing your ingredients to sit in brewed coffee anywhere from a few minutes to several days. This is beneficial for ingredients that can and may benefit from absorbing more flavor over an extended time period, such as dried fruit and nuts.

A Pack of Instant a Day Keeps the Yawning Away
Instant coffee is arguably the easiest to incorporate, with the most versatile applications, largely due to the fact that it’s literally made to be dissolved, well… instantly. 

You can add instant coffee into nearly any recipe either by adding it into dry ingredients, or by dissolving it into wet ingredients. You can substitute instant coffee in any of the previous methods for essentially the same results. 

The biggest pro of using instant in place of ground coffee is that you won’t have to worry about perceptible grounds in your final product. Nor will you have to fret about inefficiently or unevenly extracted flavor. The biggest draw is that since instant coffee is only now becoming more popular among specialty coffee drinkers, it may be difficult to find a high quality substitute. However, options are available.

When baking with instant coffee, simply mix 2-3 packets into your recipe for every 2 cups of flour. Coffee in baked goods helps amplify the flavor of chocolate and brown sugar, and offers a delicious contrast to many fruits. 

Whole Bean
Last but not least, and perhaps the simplest method albeit the least versatile, is using whole bean coffee. 

To state the obvious: whole bean coffee should be added to a recipe sparingly. Each little bean packs a big crunch, which in excess could overwhelm the rest of the ingredients. 

Other than chocolate-covered espresso beans, whole bean coffee is mainly used in baking as a garnish; a bean or two atop a cupcake is not only aesthetically pleasing but also adds a unique sensory component to an otherwise soft pastry.

Don’t be afraid to experiment
One of the kitchen’s greatest joys is that there are truly limitless ways to tweak a recipe and make it your own. Experimentation is key to finding what you do or don’t enjoy, and as much as it may feel embarrassing, making a bad batch here and there is key to learning and improving. 

The same applies to cooking and baking with coffee. There are very few hard rules (please don’t make coffee Fettuccine Alfredo), mostly just what tastes good to you and your loved ones. 

Thinking outside the box is where the magic happens. That’s why the world’s greatest chefs are rarely those who play by all the rules, but rather those who break them. Or better yet, those who create their own.


Resources and Links:
Baking With Coffee Is Easier Than You Think
The Best Recipes for Baking with Coffee - Food and Drink Blog
40 Delicious Coffee Desserts
14 Delicious Ways to Use Coffee In Baking
7 Way You Can Use Cold, Leftover Coffee to Level Up Your Baking
45 Delicious Ways to Use Up Brewed Coffee
12 ways to Cook with Coffee That You Probably Haven't Tried Yet
Cooking with Coffee: 10 Unique Recipes
How to Cook with Coffee
46 Ways to Use Coffee-in Drinks, Dessert, and Main Dishes