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I’m a coffee snob and I am not ashamed. I love a smooth shot of espresso, full bodied with a thick layer of crema on top. Dark roasts, light roasts, medium roasts, and city roasts all have a place in my heart. Lattes are nice. Cappuccinos are lovely. And breves? Divine.
My love for the bean runs deep; taking root long before I worked as a barista. Even after working with expensive equipment, some of my favorite coffees are the simple drinks that can be made at home. The following coffee hacks require equipment you likely already have: a drip-style coffee maker, a blender, and a citrus zester, or grater.
These hacks assume you are making a full pot of coffee (12 cup, by American standards). If you are making less, please adjust accordingly. However, these coffee hacks are guidelines only. So play around with them and find what you like.
Coffee Hacks for Brewing
Somewhere, deep in the hills of southern Mexico, is the best coffee I’ve ever had. Sitting in a one room hut, packed with at least a dozen people, singing and chatting in the warm candle light, someone handed me a mug. I had just graduated high school. I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker (yet) and certainly never took it black. But I wasn’t about to complain at the dark drink in my hands. I didn’t care. The experience itself was amazing.
And then, I drank the coffee.
I had never, NEVER tasted coffee so good. It was smooth, not bitter in the least, full bodied, and…. What was that flavor? I had tried to ask, but my words were lost in the noise of people and guitar music. It was a beautiful time. I’ll remember it always. And yes, I can still taste that brew.
I later learned that the coffee had been brewed with cinnamon. Not cinnamon flavor, like in the beans you’ll find at the store, but actual cinnamon bark. The resulting taste is different than you’d expect.
Freshly ground cinnamon bark is the way to go. However, ground cinnamon from your spice cabinet is a wonderful alternative. Be warned though, you don’t need a lot. The fine powder will clog your filter, causing water to overflow from the basket. You’ll end up with a mess and curse the day I was born. So go easy.
Sprinkle about ¼ to ½ teaspoon of the powder over your normal coffee grounds. Continue making coffee as usual. The flavor is subtle and smooth, and not quite what you’d expect from “cinnamon coffee”.
If you’re grinding your own bark in a spice mill, you can add a little more quantity to the coffee grounds, as long as your grind is not as fine as the commercially ground product. I’ve also used broken pieces of cinnamon bark instead. Results were mixed. The flavor strength varies widely depending on the amount used and type of bark.
Another fave of ours is vanilla. I know. It sounds boring, doesn’t it? But you couldn’t be more wrong! For this hack, you’ll need real vanilla extract. No imitation stuff here. Trust me. You can use your homemade vanilla extract if you’d like.
Prepare your coffee as you normally would; grounds in the basket, water in the machine. Before you turn it on, add a teaspoon or so of vanilla extract to your empty carafe and set it in place. Turn that baby on and smell the yum.
If you can afford it, by all means use vanilla beans. They are amazing added to the brew. Using ¼ -½ of a bean, snip or chop it into small pieces. Add the vanilla bits to your grounds before brewing, then continue as usual. You’ll brew yourself a little pot of heaven, friends.
We’ve tried combining cinnamon and vanilla, and still do on occasion. However, I find the flavors a little confusing to my palate. But you may love it. Give it a try!
Is your mind spinning with ideas? There are other spices that work really well, also. Cardamom comes to mind. Starbucks has a Vanilla Spice Latte that combines vanilla syrup and cardamom flavor.
At home, try adding a teaspoon of ground cardamom to your grounds before brewing. The flavor is quite subtle and somewhat peppery. While the resulting brew isn’t Starbucks, it is unique and delicious.
I’ve tried brewing coffee with clove and allspice. Honestly though, I wasn’t impressed. I’ve also used almond extract in place of vanilla- but I didn’t care for that either. If you’re willing, play around with what you have on hand. You may discover something great!
Friends, cheap coffee is cheap coffee. You can’t make a great cup from poor quality grounds. But you can make it taste a little better. If all you’ve got to work with is lousy stuff, try adding a pinch (a pinch!) of salt to the grounds before brewing. Or, add a teeny bit to your cup. It’ll help round out the flavor and mask some of the bitterness.
Here’s a great article on the topic.
As I write this, I’m sipping my java from a handmade red clay mug, given to us by a dear friend. It’s a Cafe Valencia kind of day.
To make Cafe Valencia, you’ll need an orange and a zester. Here is the one I use.
Fresh orange zest is the only way to do this. I have tried using dried peel, but it was flavorless. The oils just aren’t present enough in the dried product. Grate your orange until you have 1-2 teaspoons of zest. You may prefer using a full tablespoon or so, depending on your machine and flavor preference.
Add this zest to your coffee grounds and run the brewing cycle. This makes a brew that is faintly scented of oranges. The flavor is light and floral, but not overly so. It has a bit of sweetness to it. It’s uplifting and refreshing, without adding acidity or bitterness. With a little honey and cream, it makes a delightful cup.
Coffee Hacks for Your Cup
The fat in cream has long been known to mellow the bitterness of coffee and tea. They make the perfect complement to one another. Fat is the key. And very little is needed to do the job well. I find commercial creamers to have a thin consistency, a long ingredient list, and be rather flat tasting.
Several years ago I realized I couldn’t handle much milk. This meant I had to say goodbye to half and half. But I had read that whole cream- as in what you use to make whipped cream- contains very little milk. I knew I didn’t like the creamers I found at the store, so I gave it a shot.
Oh. My. Goodness. It’s heavenly, friends. I encourage you to try it. I realize you probably don’t keep a carton on hand in your fridge. But if it sounds at all interesting to you, please try it out. If you can swing it, an organic whole cream, from grass-fed and pastured cows will have vitamin K2 and other nourishing elements. If that’s out of your budget, regular whole cream won’t disappoint. Believe me!
Using full-fat cream in my coffee has actually caused me to use less of my sweetening ingredients. I just don’t need as much.
My favorite way to sweeten my cuppa joe is honey. Hands down. I quit using sugar over a decade ago. I have tried sucanat, coconut sugar, and others. But honey wins every time. Honey adds a warm sweetness, without being too sharp or overpowering. It harmonizes perfectly with your brew. The type of honey you use will make a difference. But once you give it a fair shot, you may never go back to flat, boring sugar again.
If you’ve read anything about “Bullet Proof” coffee, adding butter and coconut oil won’t seem strange. (Or, maybe it still does.) I was pretty skeptical about this idea at first. I’d tried using butter in my coffee ages ago, when I was looking for fat without milk. It was horrible. I ended up with an oil slick on top of my coffee. It never occurred to me to use a blender to incorporate the butter.
I still don’t use butter. But I do occasionally use coconut oil. I like the flavor, the latte-like foam it creates, and the creaminess it gives. It’s a poor man’s latte.
Coconut oil can feel odd in the throat. I don’t like to use a lot, for this reason.
To make the poor man’s latte, pour a little less than your normal mug’s amount into your blender. Add a teaspoon or so of coconut oil (and/or butter), and your sweetener of choice. Blend, starting on a low setting, then increasing to a medium speed. You’ll only need to blend about 30 seconds. The liquid will change to a lighter color, and you’ll wonder what on earth just happened.
Pour the frothy goodness into your mug. Marvel at the foam. Slowly sip and enjoy.
The last hack I want to mention is gelatin. (Because butter and salt weren’t odd enough, right?) I’ve mentioned using gelatin before in making broth. In general, I try to find ways to increase the nutrition value of my foods. And gelatin is a great addition. (It also helps that coconut oil froth to firm up and last.)
Well made gelatin (here’s my favorite) is loaded with protein. It’s healing effect on the gut is well established. It’s tasteless. It’s easy to sneak into smoothies and baked goods and soups. But, really? Coffee?
Yep. If I don’t toss it into the blender with the rest of my concoction, I’ll stir it in as I pour coffee into my mug. Believe it or not, gelatin ads a bit of body and creaminess to your cup. With a touch of cream and honey, it’s a very comforting way to begin your day. Or perk up your afternoon. It feels so good, friends.
There they are, friends. My favorite coffee hacks for home- no special equipment required. Try one of them out on your next pot, or over the weekend. Have a home coffee date with your soul-mate. Invite a friend over to try out your special brew. They are easy to do, and can be made using what you likely have already.
Anything I missed? Do you have a favorite home coffee hack?