Coffee: The Cook’s Companion

It’s become perfectly normal to flavor baked goods and cakes with a bit of espresso powder or a tablespoon of brewed coffee—the beverage goes famously well with these foods, and pairing them within the same recipe has become commonplace.

But what about cooking with coffee? This is the latest trend in coffee culture—the frontier the real culinary adventurers are currently exploring. And the results are looking delicious. 

Flavor Pairings
Pairing any food with another is chiefly a matter of identifying which flavor notes and aroma compounds are common to both. First, a bit of science; Coffee is typically defined by its roast (light to dark) and its body (light to full). Since coffee can have overtones of citrus, spice, cocoa, wood, herbs, savory, floral, fruits and nuts (and that’s just for starters!), a basic chart is helpful to determine the possible flavor combinations:

Common Grounds
So with a few different options for extracting coffee flavor — coffee grounds, espresso powder or brewed coffee, to name a few — what should you use, and for which recipe?

Coffee grounds can be used as a meat rub, in granolas, and in mixes and marinades. 

Espresso powder is fantastic when used exactly as you would a spice to flavor soups and stews and even tomato sauce.

Brewed coffee goes well with flavorful chilis, barbeque sauce and braised meats like chicken.

If you have one form of coffee and a recipe calls for another, you can usually substitute, keeping in mind that you’re likely adding only a bit of it. Brewed coffee is essentially water with coffee flavoring, so use it sparingly to avoid a bland, watered-down dish.

Try This At Home
If you’re new to using coffee as an ingredient, you may want to start with baked goods — muffins, scones and breads—something you would typically eat with a cup of coffee. For the daring, here is a coffee recipe that is a little further off the beaten path:


Coffee-Fig Compote
This compote works best as an addition to yogurt. Serves four.


  • 1 1/4 c. brewed coffee
  • 7 oz. pkg. dried mission figs, stems removed and figs quartered
  • 1/4 c. honey (local, if possible)
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/8 t. cardamom
  • 1/8 t. cloves
  • 1/8 t. nutmeg
  • 1 t. orange zest


  1. In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the coffee, figs, honey, spices and orange zest. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes.
  1. With a slotted spoon, remove figs from pan. Simmer liquid an additional 5 minutes, uncovered, over medium heat until reduced and syrupy. Combine figs and syrup and allow to cool to room temperature on the counter. Then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.