I have known for a while that adding instant espresso powder is supposed to enhance the chocolate flavor in desserts. In fact, I shared a flourless chocolate cake recipe recently that recommended using the powder. But how much of a difference does the espresso powder actually make? I did a blind taste test to see if people preferred brownies with espresso powder mixed in.
Instant espresso powder is available in specialty food stores, chef supply stores and online. I got mine at Whole Foods. Since I’ve had a bottle of the stuff on my pantry shelf, I’ve mixed in about a teaspoon anytime I cook with melted chocolate. My chocolate desserts have tasted great, but it’s impossible to tell how much a difference the espresso powder makes without a direct comparison.
I wanted to know how strong a difference there was, and I was curious to find out if a large group of people would respond the same way. I knew my wife’s coworkers would be willing experimental participants.
I made one batch of brownies with espresso powder mixed into the batter and frosting and left the other alone. For this experiment the control batch of brownies was labeled “A” and the experimental batch labeled “B.”
My wife did a great job running the experiment. When tasters asked what the difference between the two batches of brownies was my wife declined to say, concerned that word would get back and bias people who hadn’t tasted and voted yet.
Of course, before running the experiment I sampled the brownies myself. Aware of which batch had the espresso powder, I had bites of each. The brownie with the espresso powder tasted better. It tasted more chocolaty, and the sweetness was muted just a little bit. These weren’t mocha brownies; the chocolate flavor was simply more prominent.
Later that night I tasted the brownies again, this time not knowing which sample included the espresso powder. I was able to identify the experimental batch correctly. The difference is slight, but there was no question in my mind that brownies with espresso powder taste better.
Would other tasters agree with me? To make things easy on my wife’s coworkers, I only asked a one-sentence survey: “Which is your favorite brownie?” I considered this question carefully. I could have asked “Which brownie tastes more chocolaty?”, but that wouldn’t really have answered the question I wanted to answer. I wanted to know if adding espresso powder makes chocolate desserts taste better.
The tasters confirmed my hypothesis. Ten people preferred the brownie with espresso powder, while only five people preferred the control batch. I also think it’s interesting to note that half of the people voting for the experimental brownie opted to “go public” with their vote and include their name or initials. This suggests an ownership of their vote and a strong preference for the brownies with espresso powder.
I’ll always add espresso powder to my chocolate desserts from here on out. And I don’t think other people will mind.
Get the brownie recipe I used in my experiment. It’s one my wife’s grandmother has baked for years.