Coffee: It's a Spice. Really.

When you think of coffee, chances are that you think of the beverage -- and probably Starbucks -- and stop there. But coffee has uses beyond being a deliciously addictive caffeine fix to be guzzled down at all hours of the day. Coffee is also a spice that can add a rich, deep, and earthy flavor to other foods, particularly red meats. It even shows up as a secret ingredient in some of the very best chocolate cakes and desserts. When used in a small amount, the coffee enhances the chocolate, and the final result has no detectable espresso taste.

You might be thinking there's no way that coffee belongs in the same category as more common spices like cumin, coriander, and mustard, or even less common spices like achiote (annatto), anise, and fenugreek. However, these are all seeds that are roasted, ground, and used to flavor other ingredients. And while coffee is referred to as "beans," those familiar brown (or green when unroasted) pods are actually tree seeds that are roasted, ground, and used for their unique flavor.

Ok, so coffee beans are a spice, but how do you use them? The good news is that you don't have to do any work to taste test, because Liberty Market is hosting a "Perked Up Dinner" on Monday, April 30, featuring some of the country's top roasters like Stumptown and Mr. Espresso. Nothing about the menu is expected, and Liberty Market will be using coffee to spice up the evening's dishes in unique ways. The five-course community dinner includes espresso-dusted sea scallops, salad with unroasted Ethiopian coffee vinaigrette, and French-pressed brodo with pork-stuffed agnolotti.

If you want to use coffee in your own kitchen, it's easiest to sneak it in when you're grilling or barbecuing. Try mixing it in with favorite spices like cayenne, black pepper, paprika, and cumin. For a lighter rub, like for chicken or seafood, you might want to add herbs or even citrus zest. And, as with your morning cup of Joe, a spoonful of brown sugar will really bring out the coffee's flavor.

When using coffee as a spice, it's best to use a full-flavored dark roast, and as for all spices, go to the very best source. Luckily, I recently grabbed some beans from The Roastery of Cave Creek, my favorite local roasters. Not only do they roast incredible quality coffees, but they're good guys too. When I happened into their roasting room a few months ago looking for a latte, they sent me away with a free bag of the Black & Tan roast and let me know a little secret: They always keep bags of coffee hidden out front under the grill top, so stop by, pick up a bag or two, and leave $10 per pound in the mail slot. And yes, there's a camera, so please pay -- it's a great price.

Now that you've driven out to Cave Creek just to pick up some coffee (ok, maybe not), it's time to put it to good use in the kitchen. We tested this recipe for Coffee-Rubbed BBQ Cheeseburgers from Bon Appétit, and it is definitely a winner, especially with minor adjustments. Don't expect the coffee taste to be prominent, but the rub will add great flavor to the beef. And you'll be proud to have made restaurant-style burgers in your own backyard.

Coffee rub:

1 rounded tablespoon freshly ground coffee 2 teaspoons (packed) golden brown sugar 1.5 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt


8 slices applewood-smoked bacon 1 pound ground chuck (preferably grass-fed) 1 pound ground sirloin (preferably grass-fed) 8 slices smoked provolone, smoked caciocavallo, or smoked Gouda cheese 8 hamburger buns

Cook bacon in large skillet until crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Break in half. Gently mix chuck and sirloin in large bowl. Form meat into 8 patties, each 3 1/2 to 4 inches in diameter and 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. Using thumb, make slight indentation in center of each burger. DO AHEAD: Burgers and bacon can be prepared 8 hours ahead. Cover separately and chill.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Sprinkle 1 teaspoon coffee rub on top side of each burger. Place burgers, rub side down, on grill rack. Grill until slightly charred, about 4 minutes; turn.

Place 2 bacon slice halves atop each burger. Cook 3 minutes.

Top each with 1 cheese slice. Cover and cook until cheese melts, about 1 minute longer. Place burgers atop bottom halves of buns. Top with onion slices and tomato slices. Spoon dollop of Texas Barbecue Sauce over. Cover with bun tops and serve, passing additional sauce alongside.

Texas Barbecue Sauce:

1 tablespoon butter 1 garlic clove, minced 1 cup ketchup 1/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice 1 chipotle chile from canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced with seeds 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; stir 30 seconds. Stir in ketchup and all remaining ingredients. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until reduced to 1 1/3 cups, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. do ahead Can be made 1 week ahead. Cool slightly, cover, and chill.

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Dominique Chatterjee