by Emily King

It has been a growing epidemic for years. While we were going about our “day-to-day,” minding our own business, it was creeping into our ice cream and other desserts.  Soon, it was showing up in our milk and yogurt. Now, I’m afraid there is no escaping its clutches as it has infiltrated cereal and even barbecue sauce!

No, I’m not talking about trendy ingredients like cranberries, fiber, or probiotics, I’m talking about the real-deal: The original, no-nonsense alternative to a vanilla-chocolate-strawberry world. I’m talking about COFFEE.

We love it so much that we can’t fathom confining it to a mug. Americans have been enjoying Jamoca® ice cream from Baskin Robin’s since 1956 and Ben and Jerry’s reports that its Coffee Heath Bar Crunch® -flavored ice cream is its 8th best-selling product. Add to that a seemingly endless array of coffee-chocolate confections, cookies, and cakes available to us in stores and restaurants worldwide, and it’s clear that bakers and chocolatiers have mastered the art of coffee-infusion.

But why stop there?

It is true that dessert ingredients tend to augment the rich, dark, nutty tones of coffee, but coffee’s flavor characteristics also make it a valuable flavor booster in its own right. In recent years, chefs and cooks have been considering coffee’s potential in savory contexts and the results of their experimentation have been nothing short of delicious.

Perhaps the inspiration to use coffee in savory dishes came from the Southern invention and truck stop-diner favorite known as “red-eye gravy,” a zippy sauce made from the pan-drippings that accumulate after frying ham or bacon, a bit of flour, and strong coffee. 

Don’t worry—you can still get red-eye gravy at your favorite seedy diner. Coffee is unpretentious; it may be “all the buzz” in gourmet circles, but it embraces its origins as a lowly substitute for tea. Still, gourmands can’t keep their hands off of it. They use it in braising liquids, marinades, and spice rubs. Barbecue enthusiasts and grill-masters brush their meat with coffee-infused barbecue sauces. Even your Italian Grandmother might be in on this trend: if her Bolognese sauce tastes more robust that usual, coffee might just be the culprit!

Because of its strong, rich, bitter, and roasted flavors, coffee is an asset to marinades and rubs for strongly flavored meats. Lamb, beef, fatty portions of pork (like pork shoulder or ribs), and dark-meat chicken are great companions for a rub or marinade that includes coffee. For the veggie-inclined, coffee can be a great deglazing liquid.  A sauté of garlic, onions, and spices, deglazed with coffee serves as a perfect foundation for a marinara sauce with depth, or you can add more stock and vegetables for a gorgeous tomato-based vegetable soup.

Okay,  I can see the wheels turning in your head.  You’re eyeing your coffee-maker and thinking about what you can do with the damp grounds that remain from your morning pot.  But before you go there, STOP! First consider the flavor you want to attain…and then go buy some better coffee. For the best result, most recipes recommend that you use finely ground coffee for rubs since it spreads more evenly and packs the most flavor. Espresso and coffee liqueurs are preferable for baking and desserts, while strong, pressed coffee is best for braising liquids and marinades.

Of course, if you don’t feel like messing with the whole cooking process, this DOD girl can point you in the direction of Village Coffee Roastery where coffee-rubbed short rib sandwiches are the Thursday special.

See you there?

Click here to see Heidi and Jason of Village Coffee Roastery make coffee-rubbed prime rib.

Still thirsty for more? Click here to see Julie and Emily get their caffeine fix at Village Coffee Roastery in Scottsdale.

For More Coffee 101, click here

Brought to you by Village Coffee Roastery, turning Science into Art