The secret ingredient missing from your homemade pot of chili is espresso powder

Fact: Espresso powder is a multi-purpose ingredient that adds a rich, smokiness and bitterness to stews

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published October 6, 2021 5:15PM (EDT)

Bowl of Chili (Getty Images/DNY59)
Bowl of Chili (Getty Images/DNY59)

I tossed on a jacket and boots the first day that the temperature briefly dipped under 65 degrees here in Louisville, Ky. Then I made my way to Toasty's Tavern, an easy-going neighborhood bar, where I ordered the most "fall" meal I could imagine — bourbon with a splash of ginger beer and a bowl of dark, spicy chili topped with a mound of shredded white cheddar cheese and minced raw onions. 

The next day was inevitably a scorcher — the capriciousness of "false fall" weather here is storied — however, I felt like I had heralded my favorite season with the pomp it deserves during that moment. The weather's still teetering on too hot for October, but on the next cool day, I'm ready to dive into the kitchen to recreate that cozy meal at home.

This is thanks, in large part, to my six-ingredient DIY chili seasoning. It has a little more depth than the mixes you buy off supermarket shelves, thanks in large part to an unexpected addition — espresso powder. 

We love espresso powder here at Salon Food. If you know how to use it correctly, it's a cheap, punchy ingredient that can be an all-purpose addition to both savory and sweet treats. Look no further than senior writer Mary Elizabeth Williams' extra dark sheet pan brownies.

So what does espresso powder do to chili? Well, the dark bitterness really amplifies the smoky heat of the chili pepper while also cutting through some of the inherent fattiness of typical beef or steak stew cuts. Don't worry — it doesn't taste like "coffee" in this context. It just adds a little richness

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The below recipe makes a total of 2 tablespoons of DIY seasoning, which is an ideal amount for a single pot of chili. Feel free to multiply the recipe if you'd like to make extra to store. It will last in a covered container for up to six months (aka until the end of chili season).


Recipe: DIY Chili Seasoning 

Makes: 2 tablespoons 


1 tablespoon of chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons of espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder


1. Blend the ingredients until fully combined. Use the seasoning to flavor your next pot of chili. 

Looking for more seasonal dinner inspiration? Here are more of our fall favorites:

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Chili Espresso Fall Food Recipe Seasonings Spices Stews