This easy sticky coffee tofu is the BEST — it’s savory with a hint of sweetness that I can’t get enough of after just one bite. Try it with some chopped Thai chili for a spicy kick too!
This dish is inspired by the popular Singapore coffee ribs where the meat was first marinated then deep-fried. The sauce comprises 3-in-1 instant coffee which includes coffee, sugar, and creamer that are then paired with soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sweetener. Then, the sauce is reduced before tossing with the meat.
Personally, I haven’t had 3-in-1 instant coffee in a while, not to mention it’s hard to get a plant-based version. So, to create a vegan version of this dish, I used instant coffee granules and adjusted the other ingredients to get a similar flavor as the traditional one.
What to Expect for First Timer
If you have not tried coffee in sauces, this recipe is definitely worth a try. I was skeptical and didn’t think the sauce will work when I first tested the recipe. The sauce mix (before adding to the pan) was thin, slightly bitter, and didn’t taste good. That did not stop me from trying (welcome to my life as a recipe developer). I went ahead and cook it down.
Now, the sauce has turned thicker with dark, almost like molasses texture. I tasted it again and was very surprised at how the taste turned from slightly bitter to sweet with a hint of smokiness once cooked. Not to mention the tofu catches all sauce nicely with a nice glossy sheen at the end. When I paired it with some chopped Thai chili, the tofu tasted even better! I did adjust my sugar level from 1 tablespoon to 2 to create a perfect blend of savory and sweet taste in this dish.
How to Make Sticky Coffee Tofu
Step 1: Prepare the tofu
Drain out the tofu water, pat dry with towels. Slice tofu into sticks or slanted trapezoids like mine inspired by my Gochujang Air-Fried Tofu. It helps to create different shapes to make a dish more interesting, do you agree?
Instead of marinating with sauces, I kept the seasoning as simple as salt and pepper.
To create a crust that catches the sauce, I dusted the tofu with a thin layer of cornstarch on all sides.
Then, pan-fry until golden brown on each side. This crust will keep the shape and hold the sauce when cooked. It also prevents the tofu from breaking apart.
Tip: For a crispier tofu texture, place the tofu in a heated oven to keep it warm while you make the sauce. Also, if you like frozen tofu texture, check out my Tofu Katsu Curry on how to prepare the tofu.
Step 2: Make the sauce
Dissolve a stick of instant coffee in a mixing bowl with hot water. Add the remaining sauce and stir until well-combined. Please make sure the sugar has dissolved completely before adding it to the hot pan.
Tip: To keep this dish allium-free, feel free to add 1/2 teaspoon minced ginger instead.
Step 3: How to put together
This final step couldn’t be any easier. Simply cook the sauce down until it turns thick. When you first add the sauce into the pan, you’ll see small bubbles when boiling. Continue to cook and it will slowly turn from small bubbles to larger bubbles which shows that most water has evaporated.
Now, add the tofu and quickly toss to coat them while the sauce is still warm. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds, chopped Thai chilis, scallions on top right before serving.
Enjoy this finger-licking dish as-is or with a bowl of rice! It tastes even better when cooled.
Sticky Coffee Tofu Cooking Tips
- Tofu – Cut tofu into your desired shapes. I do like the slanted trapezoids as I can serve it as a finger food. If you prefer a more flavorful tofu, try marinating them before pan-frying. Please note that you want to get a thin crust on the tofu so it catches the sauce later.
- Coffee – Instant granules work best. If you like a creamier sauce, feel free to dissolve the coffee with oatmilk or other plant-based milk.
- Sugar – do not skip this sweetner, it’s needed to balance out the coffee acidity and soy sauce saltiness.
Other Flavorful Sauce recipes to try
Why You Need this Sticky Coffee Tofu
- Has a flavorful unique taste sauce (similar to my 1-2-3-4-5 sauce)
- Easily customizable – use gluten-free soy sauce for non gluten options
- TASTY and Delicious!
If you try this recipe, I would love to hear your feedback and see your beautiful re-creation. Leave me a comment, rate it, and tag @woon.heng and #woonheng to your photos on Instagram or Facebook. Happy cooking, friends!
Sticky Coffee Tofu
- 1 lb firm tofu drained
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cooking oil
- Toasted sesame seeds
- Chopped scallions
- Chopped Thai chilis
Prepare the tofu
- Pat tofu dry with towels, then cut into 2cm wide sticks (I cut mine into trapezoids).
- Season with ½ teaspoon of salt and a few dashes of black pepper. Add 1-2 tablespoons of cornstarch into a fine mesh sieve. Then, dust the tofu until all areas are coated with a thin layer of starch, turning the tofu as needed.
- Heat a large non-stick over medium heat with 1-2 tablespoons of cooking oil. Carefully place the coated tofu into the hot oil, slightly apart. Pan-fry until all sides are golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side. Do not flip until a crust is formed.
- Remove and set aside to cool. For a crispier tofu texture, place tofu in a preheated toaster or oven to keep warm until ready to use.
Cook and Serve
- To make the sauce, dissolve instant coffee in hot water. Then, add the remaining sauce ingredients and whisk until well-combined.
- Set the same pan you use to pan-fry tofu over medium heat. Slowly pour in the sauce and cook until it starts to thicken. Tip: When you see large bubbles, the sauce is starting to thicken.
- Add the tofu and quickly toss until well coated.
- Transfer tofu to a plate and garnish with toasted sesame seeds, chopped scallions, and chilis.
- Serve the dish as-is or with a bowl of rice.
- *Some instant coffee is more bitter than others, so please adjust the sugar level accordingly
- For a creamier sauce, feel free to substitute water with warm unsweetened plant milk
- For a homemade vegan oyster sauce, please use this recipe
- Do not skip the sweetener as it’s needed to balance out the coffee’s acidity and soy sauce’s saltiness. Feel free to use maple syrup as a substitute.