After years spent lapping at flat whites spiked with sickly “nonfat” flavor syrups—one pump or two?—I graduated from university, landed my first Serious Journalism Job, and switched to Serious Brews Only. But now, in my tiny apartment kitchen, flavored coffee is undergoing a renaissance. I’m not talking about the bags of “caramel” grinds that leave a sort of soapy residue on the roof of your mouth. No, I’m talking about—endorsing, even—the simple act of adding spices to your coffee grounds.
While adding spices to coffee has been a common practice for decades, if not centuries, in many parts of the world, including Morocco and Mexico, I first learned about it from my friend Maddie. One morning late last year, I woke up on the lofted bed in her living room to the unmistakable sound of whole beans jostling around in a bag. From my perch I watched her add them to a grinder followed by a few shakes of cinnamon and a pinch of salt (!). I thought I must be dreaming, until the guttural roar of shattering coffee beans woke me. I took a sip from the ceramic mug she handed over, and I’m telling you it was transcendent—like walking into a sunny clearing after a long hike through thick woods.
Here’s how to add spices to your coffee:
If you are decidedly not a morning person ( ✋), just add a sprinkle of preground spices directly into your French press, Chemex, Mr. Coffee—choose your own adventure—along with the ground beans. For the naturally peppy among us, you might prefer adding whole (as in, not ground) spices in with your whole beans and grinding them together. This will result in a more fragrant, aromatic brew, but be warned: Your bean grinder will likely hold on to those flavors and potentially infuse them into your next batch. Whichever route you choose, once the coffee and spices are combined, add a pinch of salt (though you might want to skip it if you love coffee’s bitterness), and continue to brew as normal.
Warmer spices—the ones you’d reach for when baking—like cardamom, allspice, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, star anise, and cinnamon pair particularly well with coffee. Senior cooking editor Sarah Jampel loves New York Shuk’s Kafe Hawaij, a spice blend that was brought to Israel from Yemen and is traditionally used in fresh coffee. I’ll grind a tablespoon of cacao nibs with my coffee beans for a darker take on a mocha. And though it sounds a pinch deranged to me personally, people I don’t know on the internet have reportedly enjoyed adding dried culinary lavender to their grinds. (You do you.)
Whatever you choose, know that a little spice goes a long way; my rule of thumb is ½ teaspoon ground spice per six cups of coffee. The best way to find what you like is to experiment with intensity and try to emulate your favorite baked goods (lookin’ at you pumpkin bread) in coffee form.