A Simple-Yet-Brilliant Hack for Better Boxed Brownies

Plus, a way to use up leftovers from your morning brew.

February 13, 2023
Photo by Mark Weinberg

This article is a part of Chocolate Week—seven days of recipes and stories, all chocolate—presented by our friends at Guittard. A fifth-generation family business, Guittard has been crafting an array of chocolate offerings (like top-quality baking chips, cocoa powder, and baking bars) in San Francisco since 1868.

We know that adding coffee to anything chocolate will heighten and intensify those rich and, well, chocolatey flavors. A small amount of brewed coffee or espresso (or the powdered instant stuff) will make chocolate cakes, cookies, frostings, and other treats taste more like themselves, without contributing an overtly ‘coffee-ish’ flavor. It’s a baking trick we’ve relied on for years, which is why we were shocked to realize we’d missed a genius—and simple—opportunity to combine these magical ingredients: the humble boxed brownie mix.

As with so many of today’s food trends, this one has been gaining traction on TikTok. All it requires is that, when making brownies from a mix, you replace the water with brewed coffee or espresso. It doesn’t get easier than that—and, rather than sending it down the drain, the trick is a great way to repurpose any leftovers from your morning cup o’ Joe.

Many others on the app have posted about this trick over the past year, so it’s not exactly new (maybe you’ve already tried it yourself?), but its popularity appears to be on the rise. America’s Test Kitchen also backs up the method, noting that it will result in “better, more [chocolatey] brownies.”

Just keep in mind that, due to caffeine’s structure and high boiling point, it won’t “cook out” like alcohol does. So, if you add coffee to your baked goods, they will be caffeinated. In most cases, the amount of coffee will be small enough that the caffeine content in a single brownie will be negligible, but it’s something to consider if you’re especially concerned about caffeine intake. Of course, you could always swap out regular coffee for decaf—your brownies won’t know the difference.

Coffee & Chocolate, a Love Story

Have you tried adding coffee to brownie mix? Share your thoughts below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Karl
  • Priscilla L.N.
    Priscilla L.N.
  • JulieG
  • Tracey Aquino
    Tracey Aquino
  • Lynne
Anabelle Doliner

Written by: Anabelle Doliner

Staff Editor


Karl February 19, 2023
So, not a secret.

But be aware virtually all boxed brownie recipes prescribe over-baking, resulting in a cakey brownie.

Bake brownies in a square or round pan; don't double recipes into a rectangular pan, because there will be much more uneven cooking in the latter.

If you want that brownie texture that is neither cake nor fudge, use an instant read thermometer to bake until 190F (185F is OK if you want it to lean towards fudgier). Why baking recipes omit destination temperatures in this day and age is beyond comprehension.

You must remove brownies immediately from any glass baking dish (use a foil sling) because carryover cooking in glass is much higher than in metal.
AntoniaJames February 20, 2023
Very helpful, Karl - for all brownies. Thank you. ;o)
Priscilla L. February 18, 2023
Okay, maybe I'm a bit of a brownie snob, but why would anyone need a box mix when brownies are so freakishly easy to make and 100% better? Melt chocolate and butter in microwave, stir in sugar, eggs, kosher salt and vanilla. Fold in flour and any additions (chips, dried cranberries, espresso powder, whatever.) Top with a sprinkle of finishing salt, bake, and done! Takes five minutes to put together and worth the effort without the chemical aftertaste of a box mix.
JulieG February 17, 2023
I made a batch with coffee last week for a superbowl party. I added a teaspoon of cinnamon too which several people noticed but no one mentioned they tasted coffee which I think means it was the perfect amount. I sometimes add mini chocolate chips too. I think the minis are more subtle than the regular sized chips.
Tracey A. February 17, 2023
Uhh, this is not news by any stretch of the imagination. I can't believe you actually touting this as new information that EVERYBODY is aware of already.
Susan G. February 17, 2023
You're never too old to learn a new trick, even this nearly 70 year old, even you. I guess I am not EVERYBODY, because I have not heard this before. I do add some coffee to slow cooker pot roast, but perhaps you already know this, too.
jen September 15, 2023
yep, ive been doing this for years...
Lynne February 16, 2023
I've been adding espresso powder to my brownie mix for years, and usually get asked for my recipe! I also add a 1/4 tsp. of quality vanilla...
jen September 15, 2023
i add vanilla too, funny how they leave that out.
Peggy S. February 16, 2023
A couple of TBSP of malted milk powder is sooo goood!
Peggy S. February 16, 2023
in addition to the coffee/espresso, good homemade vanilla extract.
AntoniaJames February 13, 2023
Another trick is to add chocolate chips at the very end, with or without walnuts. I buy Guittard Extra Dark Chocolate Chips for this. ;o)
Libby S. February 16, 2023
Hi, when you say the end, do yoi mean as the last ingredient before you bake or on top after it bakes pls? Many thanks
Cici February 16, 2023
Add any flavoring enhancement to raw batter after everything is mixed in. If recipe calls for 1/2 water, you can substitute 1/2 cup brewed coffee, for example. Or substitute 2T vanilla extract by removing 2T from your 1/2 water or coffee. The key is not to add more liquid than original recipe calls. Add chips, nuts etc after batter is all blended.

Add coarse salt very lightly to finished product. But I personally do not care for that.
Patriot September 19, 2023
Hi Cici I’m not a coffee person but I am a tea totalier for the last 72 yrs never tried that befor what do you think of tea the creamy kind? Love find new info thank you!