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What to Do with the Leftover Coffee You’re Tired of Staring At

It might look sad now, but that cold cup of joe can be turned into everything from plant food, to cocktails, to brownies

Despite going through something of a filthy coffee hipster phase in my mid-20s, I’ve returned to just slugging a cup o’ dirt from the drip every morning and praying the caffeine kicks in. What’s worse, as my Aeropress and artisan bean-roaster collect dust, I once again find myself ambling down the block to Dunkin’ or Starbucks when I need an extra kick

But more often than not, I find myself surrounded by half-empty cups of overpriced store-bought coffee by the end of the week. I’m fine with a few leftover ounces of drip coffee going down the sink, but three bucks’ worth of a $5 Americano from Starbucks? Surely there’s a way to stretch that investment a little further, right? (Besides chugging/boofing it, of course.) 

“The thing I love to do with my leftover coffee is freeze it in ice cube-trays for some great drinks over the next few days,” says Minneapolis-based nutritionist Amy Lippert. “I add them to my iced coffee so it doesn’t water-down my drink and love to use them in making a frozen coffee treat — or I add a little cocoa powder to make a mocha version.” 

This works for either leftover iced or hot coffee, but leftover iced coffee tends to be a bit more watered-down from the melted ice cubes. Thus, it might not retain the full flavor later on. Without going so far as to directly call out the iced coffee-drinker I married for also being the serial drink-abandoner in our relationship, let’s just say I could use a few more ideas. 

According to Liana Werner-Gray, nutritionist, chef and author of several cookbooks, there’s no limit to creatively repurposing leftover coffee. Besides making coffee ice cubes, she first recommends using leftover coffee as the liquid base for a mocha smoothie. “It depends on how much coffee you have left over, of course, but you can always add more water or milk if needed,” she tells me. “Leftover Starbucks coffee with cream makes for a great blend to add to the smoothie, but if it’s black coffee, make sure to add some milk to the smoothie, too.” 

Maybe you weren’t feeling motivated enough during your last grocery trip to buy smoothie ingredients. That’s okay! Do you have instant or overnight oatmeal lying around? “Instead of milk or water, use your leftover coffee to make overnight oats or chia-seed pudding,” Werner-Gray continues. “Throw in some chocolate chips, hemp seeds and fresh mint, and you’ve got a delectable breakfast on your hands.” 

Let’s say smoothies and oatmeal aren’t your thing either. Werner-Gray still has you covered. “Make Mocha brownies,” she tells me. “Basically any recipe that calls for milk you can use your coffee as a replacement, so it’s delicious in a chocolate brownie mix as well as cakes, pancakes and waffles!” 

If all else fails, “add some vodka to it,” Werner-Gray suggests. “Make a coffee liqueur!” 

Now, what if you’ve been idling in the kitchen, staring at yesterday’s cup of coffee as morning turns to night? Buddy, I’ve been there. Thankfully, your total incompetence and failure to make a decision, let alone something edible, isn’t a total loss. If the coffee-flavored cocktail doesn’t sound appetizing at the end of this torturous ordeal — yet you remain determined to not let the expensive coffee be a total waste — find a patch of grass outside to dump it out. 

“You can pour it into your compost or garden to make a rich lush soil,” Werner-Gray explains. “Just like coffee has health benefits for us, it also provides these nutrients for the soil, which will, in turn, feed and nourish the plants in the garden.” 

That’s right, dump it out in some grass and feel the sweet rush of accomplishment and thrift. But make sure it’s an outdoor garden. Take it from me, pouring anything but plain water into houseplants is a surefire way to invite a fruit fly infestation. And when that happens, there’s no such thing as a leftover drink worth saving.