Because amazing iced coffees are only the beginning.
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As someone who cannot make a decent cup of coffee—hot or iced—I first started keeping coffee concentrate on hand to make sure I could serve a decent pour to guests. Once I began keeping these genius shortcuts around, though, I began experimenting with them as ingredients in other things. Join me in this expanded universe of delicious ways to use those gifts from the caffeine gods in your daily cooking and baking.

The difference between coffee concentrate and syrup

For starters, know that there is a big difference between coffee concentrate and coffee syrup. Coffee concentrate is just that: a rich, unsweetened coffee that can be added to hot water or milk for cups of coffee, paired with chilled water for cold brew, and creamed up with cold milk for an iced coffee. Coffee syrup is sweetened coffee concentrate. Both are great to have around for different purposes.

Our favorite store-bought coffee concentrate and syrup

There's nothing quite like making your own caffeinated elixir at home, but if you want to start with some fantastic store-bought options, we have some favorites. For coffee concentrate, try Stumptown Coffee Roasters Cold Brew Concentrate or Slingshot Coffee Company Cold Brew Concentrate. For coffee syrup, Dave's Coffee Syrup, Eclipse Coffee Syrup, and Autocrat Coffee Syrup are all classic options.

How to make your own coffee concentrate and syrup

If you don’t currently have any coffee concentrate or syrup on hand, never fear. You can pick up/order supplies from most grocers, or, you can make your own! To make concentrate, all you’ll need is coffee grounds, water, and 12 hours of advance planning (get the recipe here). Once you’ve got your concentrate made, you can whip up a batch of DIY coffee syrup by dissolving equal parts sugar into the coffee concentrate, heat just until the sugar dissolves, then cool and store in the fridge. You can use the syrup for sweetened coffee drinks, coffee milk, to pour over ice cream, and anywhere you might use maple syrup.

Dessert swap-outs

But don’t stop there! Have recipes where vanilla is the dominant flavor? Swap in coffee concentrate for a whole new flavor. Imagine vanilla buttercream becoming coffee buttercream with one quick swap out, or your next vanilla cheesecake going full café au lait. Chocolate desserts are always improved with a hint of coffee to bring out the chocolate flavor, often using instant espresso powder to do the job. You can use your coffee concentrate instead of the powder in pretty much any recipe in a 1:1 ratio; try it in this devil’s food cake.

You can substitute concentrate for espresso in a classic affogato with no fuss (just warm the concentrate straight in a small pan before assembling the dessert). Or dilute your syrup with a little water (or Kahlúa), for a great swap-in soak for the ladyfingers in a tiramisu.

Happy hour heroics

Coffee concentrate and syrup are also great for cocktails and mocktails. Think espresso martinis, booze-free black Russians, or homemade coffee soda. Concentrate can serve a similar purpose to bitters, so try by the drop for a coffee Manhattan.

Cooking upgrades

Finally, don’t relegate these coffee flavors to just dessert. The bittersweet nature of coffee with its roasted notes works beautifully with meat and spice. Think about adding a dash of concentrate to your next batch of chili or as a great addition to a Mexican mole sauce. If you have ever seen a coffee rub for BBQ or grilled items, you know how well those flavors meld, so think about adding concentrate to a marinade or syrup to your next BBQ sauce or cocktail meatballs.

And before you know it, it's coffee break time!