If you need coffee to jumpstart your day—and who are we kidding, slog through the midday slump, power through a gym session (or your latest TV show addiction)—you need these 15 add-ins that give your cup a flavor and health boost. Coffee has tons of health perks, but don't ruin it by adding in a bunch of crap.
We covered every flavor profile to bring you maximum flavor without all the sugar, fat, and guilt of sucking down a Starbucks-Dunkin’-coffee house concoction. Now you can have your java with a kick of heat, a dash of spice, a hint of sweetness, and practically any holiday-inspired flavoring—all in the convenience of your own kitchen. Just think about what you can do with all the money you won’t be spending on coffee runs…
*Note: Adjust amounts of each ingredient according to taste and serving size (i.e. if you're adding directly to a pot of coffee, a single mug serving, or into a bag of beans or grounds.)
A spice commonly added to coffee in the Middle East, cardamom gives coffee an exotic flavor similar to ginger (they’re in the same family.) Sprinkle a pinch or two into a cup of brewed coffee, or add a few whole cardamom seeds to your coffee beans if you grind yours before brewing.
Health benefits: Cardamom is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, because it helps neutralize the stimulating effects of caffeine, but that’s not the only reason to add the spice to your java. A two-tablespoon serving has just 36 calories, is loaded with fiber, essential minerals, and cancer-fighting compounds; research published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention found cardamom contains compounds with the potential to kill cancer cells and stunt new cancer cell growth. Cardamom has also been known to improve blood circulation in the body, help control cholesterol, cure dental diseases, and infections like gonorrhea. It’s even been said to cure impotency, erectile dysfunction, and premature ejaculation.
If you want to maximize flavor without adding extra calories, cinnamon is a top-notch add-in. Brew your coffee with a cinnamon stick so the jazzed-up spice has time to infuse, or add a dash to your cup to enjoy your own version of a holiday specialty drink sans all the sugar.
Health benefits: Cinnamon actually comes from the bark of a tropical evergreen called the Cinnamomum tree, and it has one of the highest antioxidant contents of any spice, according to research from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. It’s been known to reduce inflammation, help lower sugar and triglyceride levels in the blood, soothe nausea, and aid in fat burning. The antiviral and antibacterial properties in the spice are also said to boost your immune system (and ward off colds.) It’s also packed with manganese, iron, calcium.
If you love the taste of coffee creamers, but don’t love all the processed sugar and added fat, try vanilla extract or vanilla bean for a hit of flavor. Add a few drops of pure extract to your pot of coffee or add a vanilla bean to your coffee grounds so the flavor infuses before you brew. (Note: The longer you keep the vanilla bean in your grounds, the stronger the flavor will be.)
Health benefits: Believe it or not, vanilla has been a medicinal food used for centuries—not just a beloved ice cream flavor. It’s touted for being a brain superfood in its ability to boost mental performance, mood, and overall brain health. Vanilla is also used to calm stomach aches (due to hunger pangs and digestion), reduce joint pain, relieve stress, even cure male impotency.
Coconut milk is the perfect add-in if you’re lactose intolerant, cutting out dairy for dietary purposes (i.e. the Paleo diet), or just want a low-calorie milk substitute. Of course coconut milk adds a light coconut flavor to coffee and lightens up your brew, but it's also closest in texture to whole milk. You can add vanilla extract to coconut milk to create a homemade, lower calorie creamer. Just be careful and use coconut milk sparingly as it still contains a fair amount of fat.
Health benefits: The fat in coconut milk is mostly in the form of medium chain saturated fatty acids (MCFAs)—one in particular is called lauric acid, which your body converts into an antiviral and antibacterial compound that destroys a variety of disease-causing organisms. Aside from boosting your immunity, the MCFAs in coconut milk are rapidly metabolized in your body, which means they’re less likely to be stored as fat. You’ll also get a healthy dose of vitamins C, E and B, antioxidants, magnesium and iron—all of which work toward promoting healthy bones, teeth, brain, kidneys, and heart health.
You might not use ginger a lot in everyday cooking, but think about it this way: If you like gingerbread, you’ll love ginger coffee. Add a few slices of fresh ginger root or a couple tablespoons (or teaspoons depending on your container) of ginger powder to your coffee grounds.
Health benefits: Ginger is a natural digestive aid, so it can actually calm your stomach if you find coffee aggravating. Aside from treating gas and bloating, ginger root can also help soothe sore throats and colds, ease the pain from arthritis, and reduce inflammation, lowering your risk for prostate cancer, according to research published in Herbal Medicine.
You can’t walk into a specialty coffee shop or chain without seeing a peppermint-flavored latte during the holidays. But you can just as easily make your own this winter season—albeit with far fewer calories and sugar. Add peppermint oil extract to your brew, but add sparingly; peppermint can be overbearing in high amounts. Native to Europe, peppermint is an herb crossed between water mint and spearmint.
Health benefits: You may not associate peppermint oil with health benefits, but it contains a bevy of vitamins and minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A and C. If you’ve ever used peppermint oil to relieve sore muscles, you’ll know it has anti-inflammatory properties; this works internally, too. It can aid digestion, calm upset stomach, nausea, heartburn, and smooth muscles in your gastrointestinal tract (helpful if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome.) Peppermint oil also has powerful antiseptic properties, so it can help fight bad breath and germs. It’s also been said to relieve stress, anxiety, stimulate mental activity, and clear your mind.
Cocoa powder and coffee is an incredible combination because you get your jolt of caffeine with the sweetness of chocolate. Basically you’re creating a mocha concoction. Add about one teaspoon of ground cocoa to the bottom of your cup before brewing, or purchase cocoa beans and grind them with your go-to coffee beans to create your own specialized grounds.
Health benefits: Cocoa flavanols help lower blood pressure, increase blood vessel function, and thus, may help you fight off age-related cardiovascular diseases, according to a study from University Hospital Düsseldorf. Research published in the journal Circulation also found cocoa to have anti-inflammatory benefits, which have a beneficial effect on insulin resistance, and blood platelet function.
Not for the faint of heart, cayenne can be the zing you need to kickstart your mornings. Add a dash of cayenne pepper to your grounds before brewing; but be careful—a heavy hand can leave you with a burned mouth, and it’s not because your coffee is too hot.
Health benefits: The heat in cayenne peppers is due to capsaicin, which is loaded with health benefits. Capsaicin has the potential to stimulate energy burning by activating receptors in white and brown fat cells, which could help to manage or even prevent obesity and other related health concerns like Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease, according to research from the University of Wyoming’s School of Pharmacy. Cayenne has also been said to improve circulation, boost heart health, even fight ulcers and prostate cancer.
Coconut sugar isn’t made from coconuts; it’s made from the sap of flower buds that grow on the coconut palm tree. The sap is boiled to evaporate most of its water, leaving coconut sugar, which looks and tastes similar to brown sugar. Add a teaspoon to your grounds before brewing. Trust us, that’s all you’ll need.
Health benefits: Coconut sugar is unrefined, so it has an impressive amount of zinc, iron, antioxidants, and a type of dietary fiber called inulin. You body doesn’t digest it in the upper GI tract; instead, it acts as a prebiotic, promoting the growth of microorganisms in your intestines. Research shows inulin supports gut health, helps prevent colon cancer, balances your blood sugar levels, and fends off obesity and fatty liver disease. Like any other sugar, though, you want to consume it in moderation.
If you want the comfort of a hearty breakfast (a.k.a. you want a tall stack of pancakes drench in butter and syrup), try adding a bit of maple extract to your coffee grounds for a sweet kick. The extract is lower in sugar and not nearly as thick as natural maple syrup, so you get all the flavor you love without the sticky mess.
Health benefits: Maple extract can help combat infection-causing bacteria, boosting the effectiveness of medication and minimizing the impact of drug-resistant bacteria, according to research from McGill University.
Aside from caramel and vanilla, hazelnut is one of the most popular coffee flavors. Lucky for you, a homemade version is super simple. Add some hazelnut extract to your cup or the whole pot of brewed coffee. Remember, extracts are strong, so use trial and error to find the amount you like most.
Health benefits: Hazelnuts themselves are full of healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidants. Its phenolic acids and flavanols have been known to protect against cancer, and vitamin E is known to reduce the risk of heart disease. Hazelnut oil is believed to boost heart health, lower cholesterol levels in your body and keep blood sugar in check because of its high content of oleic acid. The oil is easily absorbed into the body and is even said to have anti-aging properties.
This is probably the most indulgent add-in on the list, and once you try it, it’ll be hard to go back to plain ‘ol coffee. Add a two-inch square of high-quality dark chocolate (At least 72% cacao) to the bottom of your coffee mug. Pour hot coffee over the top and stir the chocolate until it’s completely incorporated. You, sir, have just created a healthier hot chocolate.