Coffee pairing is the ability to match coffee with certain foods in order to enhance the dining experience. Yes, coffee can be paired with a lot of other types of foods, not just pastries. A good example of this is the salty and starchy American style breakfast, which consists of eggs, bacon, toast, or hash browns. This is usually paired with coffee. Coffee doesn’t always have to be paired with sweet foods.
Coffee pairing is more of an art than a science. It has a range of flavors and other tasting notes. See my post about the coffee flavors here for more information. Therefore, coffee can be paired with many different types of foods that share similar flavors. The other artisan drinks, such as beer, wine, and tea, also have a pairing library. A light German lager goes well with chicken. Prosecco is great with fish. Darjeeling is awesome with dark chocolate. Coffee is also an artisan drink. It is very much part of the foodie realm. It is only natural that coffee can be paired with other foods.
Everything comes down to personal preference when it comes to coffee. I’ve argued that personal preference is one of the beautiful qualities about the society of coffee lovers. We all enjoy coffee differently. Therefore, determining which coffee and food pair well together is entirely up to you. But I wanted to give you a good start into coffee pairing so you can refine your own preference. I created a simple guide to coffee pairing below for your reference.
Most berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc.), pair well with coffees from Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Jamaica, or Yemen.
Peaches, plums, raisins, apricots, cherries, nectarines, and citrus fruits pair well with coffee from Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Honduras, Bolivia, Costa Rica, or Nicaragua.
Chocolate goes great with coffees from Brazil, Columbia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Kona, or Mexico. Brazilian coffee goes exceptionally well with Dark Chocolate.
Wheat, whole wheat, and whole grain bread goes well with coffee from Guatemala, Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru, or Columbia
Cheese, butter, and cream can be paired with coffee from Sumatra, Java, India, Kona, or Papua New Guinea.
Iced coffees from Nicaragua, Costa Rica or Honduras are good with spicy foods.
Focus on coffees with fruit notes such as coffee from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Hondura, or Bolivia.
Beef, pork, and lamb pair well with coffee from Sumatra, Papua New Guinea, India, or the Dominican Republic. Dark roast coffees are best with meats.
(Note: All coffees pair well with Doughnuts, sweet pastries, cookies, and puff pastries)
There are more variables that can affect coffee pairings, such as acidity, brew methods, extraction time, and coffees growing region. All of the above may alter the coffee flavors but don’t worry about these technicalities. My advice would be to focus on the dominant flavor of the coffee at first (i.e. Berries are the dominate flavor of Ethiopian coffee). Then experiment with different roast types and other variables that affect the coffee flavor. This will help you narrow down certain notes that are attributed to certain variables. Finally, you’ll be able to pair your coffee with specific foods. Remember, it’s your preference. Enjoy your coffee pairing exploration!
The Science Behind Coffee Pairing
While coffee pairing is largely an art, there’s a bit of science behind it too. The flavors in coffee arise from the complex interplay of compounds developed during the growth of the coffee cherries and the roasting process. These compounds can be complementary or contrasting to the flavors in foods, leading to a harmonious pairing.
The Role of Acidity in Coffee Pairing
Acidity is a key component in coffee that can greatly influence pairing. A coffee with high acidity will have a bright, tangy, sparkly or crisp quality. Such coffees can cut through the richness of creamy dishes or complement the acidity in certain fruits. On the other hand, a coffee with low acidity will feel smoother and may pair better with sweeter or spicier dishes.
The Influence of Roast Level
The roast level of the coffee bean can significantly impact its flavor profile. Light roasts tend to preserve more of the bean’s natural flavors, often resulting in a more acidic and complex profile. These might pair well with lighter foods or those with a more delicate flavor. Dark roasts, on the other hand, have a stronger, bolder flavor, often with notes of chocolate or caramel. These can stand up to richer, more robust foods.
The mouthfeel or texture of both the coffee and the food can influence how well they pair together. A full-bodied coffee might complement a rich chocolate cake, while a lighter, more delicate coffee might be overshadowed. Similarly, a creamy latte might pair wonderfully with a crunchy biscotti, offering a delightful contrast in textures.
Exploring Regional Pairings
Just as wines from specific regions are often paired with foods from the same area, you can explore pairing coffee with local dishes from its region of origin. For instance, Ethiopian coffee, known for its wine-like qualities and fruity notes, might pair wonderfully with traditional Ethiopian dishes like injera (a sourdough flatbread) and doro wat (a spicy chicken stew).
Experimentation is Key
The world of coffee is vast and varied, and the possibilities for pairing are nearly endless. Don’t be afraid to trust your palate and try unconventional pairings. Perhaps you’ll discover that a smoky, dark roast coffee is the perfect complement to a grilled steak, or that a floral, light roast coffee elevates the flavors of a fresh salad.
Coffee pairing is a journey of discovery, where each cup offers a new opportunity to explore flavors, textures, and combinations. By understanding the basics and then venturing out on your own, you’ll not only enhance your dining experiences but also develop a deeper appreciation for the intricate world of coffee. So, brew a cup, grab a bite, and embark on your own coffee pairing adventure!