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Why is coffee added in most chocolate cake recipes?

Make your chocolate desserts more chocolaty with one key ingredient. The answer isn’t more chocolate.

If you’ve made enough chocolate cakes, you’ve probably noticed a trend in the ingredient lists: coffee, whether in powder or liquid form . This is not to add espresso taste to the cake, but to make it more chocolatey. Even if your cake recipe doesn’t call for coffee, you should add it nevertheless, even if you don’t like coffee. Let’s look at why this caffeine element is so important in chocolate treats.

Why Does Coffee Enhance Chocolate Desserts?

The tastes of coffee and chocolate are comparable. They’re both bitter on their own. Nevertheless, when they are combined, they enhance each other. To enhance the chocolate taste, coffee is often added to baked products and sweets. In fact, a 2020 research discovered that coffee boosts our sensitivity to sweet tastes while decreasing our sensitivity to bitter ones, however the exact mechanism by which coffee induces these changes in taste sensitivity is unknown. What we know is that a little coffee in chocolate desserts enhances the chocolate flavor without adding any apparent coffee flavor. Consider it a supporting actor who allows the star to shine, similar to how salt improves the taste of cookies that would otherwise fall flat without providing savory flavor.

How to Add Coffee to Chocolate Desserts

You may use these ways to add a little more flavor to all of your favorite chocolate sweets, such as cakes, brownies, cookies, and more.

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. Since espresso powder is more concentrated, you only need a teaspoon to get the job done. Just add it in with the dry ingredients and you’ll have a lot more nuanced and improved chocolate treat. Because it’s more finely ground, espresso powder will even work in chocolate frosting, sauce, and ganache, too!

Replace Liquid With Brewed Coffee

To enhance the chocolate taste in recipes that call for boiling water (such as this Dark Chocolate Cake recipe), you may replace up to one cup of brewed coffee. 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 asks for boiling water, just reheat the coffee instead of making a fresh batch.

Several recipes, such as our Moist Chocolate Layer Cake and Black Magic Cake, already call for brewed coffee.


  • 15 Delicious Ways to Use Instant Coffee
  • Our Top 10 Favorite Chocolate Recipes
  • See our whole Chocolate Dessert Recipes collection.

Related Questions

  • What is the purpose of coffee in cakes?

    Coffee is manufactured to be used in baking. Cakes, cheesecakes, pies, cookies, muffins, breads, and soufflés benefit from its rich, bittersweet flavor. Fudge Layer Cake with Chocolate Avocado Icing, Coffee Brownies, and soft, fudgy Coffee Chocolate Crinkle Cookies all benefit from it.

  • What can I substitute for coffee in a chocolate cake?

    Just replace the coffee with water, mix, and bake as normal, and voilà: chocolatey bliss!

  • Can I substitute coffee for water in chocolate cake?

    With recipes that call for water, such as this chocolate Texas sheet cake, you may simply substitute brewed coffee. To not overpower the chocolate flavor, I’d recommend subbing in only up to a cup of coffee; so if a recipe calls for two cups of water, use one cup of coffee and one cup of water.

  • Is coffee cake supposed to have coffee in it?

    Is there coffee in coffee cake? While some early versions of the dessert did contain coffee, the snack cake is meant to be an accompaniment to, not a cakeful of coffee.