This silky-smooth coffee gelato offers the rich, aromatic flavor of freshly brewed coffee, all in a creamy bowlful. This is the perfect year-round treat for coffee lovers!
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When you think of gelato, what flavor comes to mind first? Chocolate probably, pistachio, maybe? You might be a fan of fruity gelati, such as lemon or raspberry. I love all of these, but my gelato dreams—and those of many Italy lovers—are punctuated with scoops of coffee gelato.
Italy has an incredible coffee culture. The narrow streets of Rome and of all Italian cities, big and small, are lined with bars, coffee shops that often also sell pastries, snacks, and gelato. (Nope, bars in Italy are not the alcohol-serving kind!) Italians all have their favorite bar, and they often drink their morning coffee there, every day.
In Italy, you don’t settle into your local coffeeshop for hours on end, en tête-à-tête with your computer and a latte; you drink your morning espresso in seconds, standing at the bar, while exchanging a few words with the barrista or your neighbors. Coffeeshops are central to Italian social life, and so is coffee.
Morning coffee and pastries at Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria in Rome
It should come as no surprise that one of Italy’s most famous desserts is coffee-based. Tiramisu is indeed a creamy ode to coffee, and to Italy itself. But probably second to tiramisu on the list of most renowned coffee-based Italian desserts is gelato al caffè. No gelato lineup in an Italian ice cream shop would ever be complete without coffee gelato—and my gelato-loving heart wouldn’t be content if I didn’t regularly churn a batch of homemade coffee gelato.
My coffee gelato has a silky-smooth texture, and the rich, aromatic flavor of freshly brewed coffee. A bowlful of this creamy treat is bound to please all coffee lovers, but I find that perhaps even people who don’t drink coffee also love this gelato: it has a truly comforting flavor that pleases everyone, even kids!
If you don’t or can’t have caffeine, no worries: you can make this coffee gelato with your favorite decaffeinated beans instead.
Just as freshly brewed coffee is more aromatic when it’s made with freshly ground beans, coffee gelato is exponentially better when you make it with freshly ground beans—or should I say, freshly smashed beans. This coffee bean gelato is made with lightly crushed coffee beans, which slowly infuse the gelato custard overnight. The aroma this technique produces is richer and fuller and the flavor is smoother. Not to mention the texture, which doesn’t contain any coffee grit.
Just as with any recipe in which one ingredient is central to the flavor of the dish, using the best and freshest coffee beans is key to producing the coffee gelato with the best, smoothest flavor. Coffee beans that are sold in grocery stores or national chain coffeeshops were roasted weeks ago, if not months.
Tasting a cup of coffee made with freshly roasted coffee beans can be revelatory. The flavor is bright, rich, and aromatic. The dusty, bitter notes older coffee can sometimes reveal are non-existent, and you discover the full spectrum of aroma coffee can offer.
Freshly roasted beans means beans that were roasted days ago, not months. If you know a coffeeshop that roasts its own beans in your neighborhood, let this coffee gelato be your excuse to pay them a visit. Ask them when their coffee beans were roasted: if they’re proud of their product, they won’t be shy about giving you an answer. If the coffeeshop has shelves of their products you can pick yourself, look closely at the bags: they should show a “roasted on” date. Use the coffee beans that were roasted the most recently.
These days, coffee is offered in such a wide range of flavors. I’m not talking about added flavors, but terroir flavors. Coffee beans that were grown in Costa Rica taste vastly different from those harvested in Ethiopia.
Many indie coffee producers now add keywords to their packagings to help customers pick a coffee that matches flavors they enjoy. Such keywords can range from “marmalade, nutmeg, delicate” to “molasses, chocolate, full-body.” If you’re visiting a local coffeeshop, don’t hesitate to ask for their advice: they’re the experts! Let them suggest coffee beans they think would work great in gelato form. It doesn’t have to be espresso beans—in fact, I would steer clear of dark roasts because they can have a harsher, more bitter flavor that wouldn’t translate well in a creamy gelato.
In this coffee gelato, rich, round, sweet flavors work best. Coffees with notes of toffee, pecan, milk chocolate, honey, caramel, or brown sugar would all be wonderful here.
Whichever coffee you pick, make sure it’s one you enjoy drinking. If it tastes great in your cup, it’s going to taste wonderful in your freshly churned homemade coffee gelato!
To make coffee gelato, I use a Sicilian-style gelato base, which uses cornstarch instead of egg yolks as a thickening agent. This is my favorite gelato base and I think its silky mouthfeel is especially suited for a coffee-flavored gelato. Learn more about Sicilian-style gelato and what makes it different from a classic gelato base.
If you prefer, you can also make this coffee gelato using a classic gelato base instead. Get the recipe for my go-to classic gelato base—simply make the custard as indicated and mix in the coffee beans while the custard is still hot. Let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight and churn as instructed in the recipe below.
See how to make a Sicilian-Style gelato base, which is the technique on which my coffee gelato recipe is based. It’s quick and easier than you think!
For the best vegan gelato flavor and texture, I suggest combining oat milk with coconut cream. Oat milk has a smooth, subtle flavor that is very close to that of dairy milk, whereas coconut cream delivers an unbelievably rich texture. Coconut milk and coconut cream both have quite a strong flavor, so using only coconut cream and combining it with oat milk creates the perfect balance.
Having said that, here’s how to substitute the original ingredients to make this vegan coffee gelato:
Be aware that the terms “coconut milk” and “coconut cream” are sometimes used interchangeably. To make sure you’re buying real coconut cream, choose a product with at least 20% fat content. The label of quality coconut cream products will always clearly indicate the fat content.
Alternatively, you can use other plant-based milks and cream, keeping the same milk-to-cream ratio for the best texture. Always make sure the vegan products you choose can withstand being heated and boiled to avoid the chocolate gelato turning grainy. Products labeled with the word “Barista” are sure picks: it means they can be heated without curdling.
Last but not least, here’s an important serving tip. Because home freezers are set to very low temperatures, make sure you always take your coffee gelato out of the freezer 10 to 15 minutes before serving it. That will not only make it easier to serve—gelato’s lower fat content means it freezes rock hard—but also soften it to a consistency closer to what you would enjoy at a gelati bar, waking up the flavors and giving it the luxurious texture that is so easy to fall in love with.
For a change, you serve your delicious homemade coffee gelato as an affogato! An affogato is an extremely easy Italian dessert that is made by pouring an espresso shot over a scoop of gelato. Making an affogato using espresso and coffee gelato is basically the dreamiest dessert for coffee lovers!
Never made gelato before? Curious about what makes gelato different from ice cream? Check out my detailed video class: How to Make Gelato: Tips and Recipes to Make the Delightful Italian Frozen Treat. In it, you’ll find out what makes gelato different from ice cream, how to make a versatile gelato base you can turn into a variety of flavors, and all my secrets and tips to churn and serve outstanding gelato. I even share how to make dairy-free vegan gelato! In short, it’s a very thorough, colorful class that will quickly turn you into a gelato master. Watch Now!
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