What Is Espresso Powder & How Do You Use It?

updated Mar 5, 2021
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

If you’ve baked a chocolate or mocha-flavored cake or dessert, the recipe probably called for espresso powder or instant espresso. This is an easy way to bolster the flavor of the chocolate (coffee and chocolate help each other taste their best) without brewing a fresh pot of coffee every time you crave a cake.

You might also see espresso powder called for in dry spice rubs for meat — especially those destined for the grill. What’s the deal with this wonder ingredient anyway? Is it just a tiny jar of ground espresso? And what do you do if a recipe calls for it, but you don’t have any? Here’s everything you need to know about espresso powder — what it actually is, how to use it, and what to use if you don’t have any on hand!

Credit: Joe Lingeman

What is Espresso Powder?

Espresso powder is very intensely dark and concentrated instant coffee. It’s not just espresso coffee beans ground fine. It’s actually coffee crystals that dissolve quickly in liquid. Even though you can technically dissolve it in water for drinking, espresso powder is really not for ideal for your morning latte. It is primarily used by bakers for flavoring cookies, cakes, and more.

More recently, you’ll see it included in coffee spice rubs or other meaty recipe. It’s also different from plain old instant coffee in that it’s much more concentrated. Espresso is, after all, a form of coffee — not a different kind. Espresso grounds are darkly roasted coffee, ground very fine for the espresso extraction.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How Do You Use Espresso Powder?

Instant espresso has a better, darker flavor than your average storebought instant coffee. Just a teaspoon will give a darker, richer flavor to your chocolate recipes; it won’t make them taste much like coffee but it will enhance their flavor. Using more than a teaspoon starts to bring out coffee flavors.

What’s A Good Substitute For Espresso Powder?

But what if you don’t have it and you don’t have time to hunt it down? It’s perfectly acceptable to use instant coffee instead. Use about 50% more than the amount of espresso powder called for in the recipe, but taste as you go. Instant coffee usually has a harsher taste than instant espresso; it can taste tinny or sour if too much is used.

Buy it: Espresso Powder from Amazon, $4 for 2 ounces