Regardless of what time of day they drink their coffee, most people like to serve some tasty food alongside their coffee. This is especially true if you are making coffee for friends, family and guests.
Here, we take fresh inspiration from all over the world and show you some delicious pairings that will work beautifully with the specialty coffee of your choice. You’ll see that some are sweet, some are savoury; some are light, some more substantial. Read on for plenty of new ideas.
First, however, it would be helpful to get an overview of the types of coffee flavours available. You’ll soon see, once you read the pairing suggestions below, that coffee tastes can vary enormously. To get the optimal combinations of food and coffee, you’ll probably want to experiment with some new coffee varieties, too.
A quick specialty coffee flavour guide
No two coffees are the same. However, they can be organised into groups according to their dominant flavours. Many coffee experts like to organise coffees by colour and you may find your favourite coffee retailer arranges them this way, too.
“Brown” coffees are those with hints of nuttiness, chocolate or caramel. They are ever so slightly naturally sweet, but with an acidity that balances well.
“Purple” coffees are deep, dark and richly sweet coffees. They have flavours of dried fruit and molasses and are slightly floral.
“Green” coffees are the lightest, most acidic coffees. These are reminiscent of tropical, stone or citrus fruits.
Perfect food and coffee combinations
Now, here are some traditional food and coffee pairings from all over the globe that are bound to put a spin on your coffee breaks.
We’ll start with a well-known, classic combination. Coffee and chocolate are the perfect pairing that most people can’t resist. It is often said that plants that naturally grow alongside each other make the best flavour combinations. Well, both coffee and cocoa plants are native to tropical jungle areas and their growing regions frequently overlap. Both coffee and cocoa beans are roasted and this can bring out similar flavours too, like nuttiness or honey tastes.
Finding the best pairing of coffee and chocolate requires some experimentation. There are two principles behind getting a good match. You could either opt for contrasts that might balance perfectly well (i.e., the sweetness of chocolate alongside an acidic “green” coffee). Or, go for similar flavours like a nutty “brown” coffee with a bar of nutty chocolate.
If you’ve tried chocolate with coffee before and have not been convinced, then perhaps the pairing wasn’t quite right. The sweetest of chocolate, like white chocolate, can overwhelm the bitter flavour of the coffee. The balance isn’t quite right in this case. Try slightly less sweet chocolate, like milk chocolate, to get a better balance, or dark chocolate to match the flavours of bolder, dark “purple” roasts of specialty coffee.
2. Cakes and pastries
In many countries, European in particular, people enjoy coffee and cake or pastries together. For example, Fika is a Swedish word that translates roughly as a coffee and cake break. But more than that, it’s a social experience to enjoy with friends and family.
Lots of styles of cakes go brilliantly with coffee and there are so many options from around the world. As for chocolate, those cakes and pastries that work the best often have similar flavours to the coffee. Some examples would be fruit cake (made with dried fruits) and a lighter, fruitier “green” coffee, or perhaps a walnut cake or almond pastry with a nutty coffee.
Coffee and cakes or pastries can be enjoyed as a morning snack or afternoon treat, or even for breakfast. Croissants and pain aux raisin are examples of breakfast pastries that are delightful with coffee.
If you prefer a healthier choice, you’ll be pleased to know that fruit can make an excellent pairing with specialty coffee. The usual advice is to stay away from the more sour fruits like lemons and grapefruit. But, once again, it’s a case of experimenting and finding what works for you. Here are some ideas:
- Berries (blueberries, raspberries, etc) often taste great with darker roasts like “purple” coffees.
- Stone fruit (peaches, plums, apricots and cherries, etc) are often excellent with a lighter, fruitier “green” coffee.
- Dried fruits, especially dates, are also delicious served with coffee. This is a favourite combination in Arabic countries.
Another healthy, delicious option for a light snack with coffee is nuts. The nuts can really help the nutty flavours in coffee pop, so give them a try.
If you fancy baking with coffee, coffee and walnut cake is a classic recipe that is particularly beloved in the UK and the USA.
5. Ice cream
This might sound strange at first, hot coffee and cold ice cream, but it’s actually the basis of a favourite Italian dessert. Affogato is a simple two-ingredient dish: delicious vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over it.
If you’d like to enjoy your coffee alongside your ice cream and not on it, then that would also be delicious. If you fancy a flavour of ice cream that isn’t vanilla, then see above for the notes on fruit or cake flavours for some inspiration as well as the types of coffees that would work.
The idea of cheese with coffee is quite different from the sweet pairings above, but it’s one that some people can’t get enough of.
You’re going to need to pair speciality coffee with a high quality cheese. The amount of expertise that has gone into your coffee should be matched by the cheesemaker’s mastery. As for specific cheeses, many people enjoy the nuttiness of a hard Italian cheese like Piave Vecchio with a “brown” coffee. Or try the distinct sharpness of an English cheddar alongside a “green” coffee.
Why not give it a try?
To round off, here’s another classic. Biscotti is a small, hard biscuit made from almonds. Biscotti is the name used in English-speaking countries; in their home country of Italy, this particular biscuit is known as Cantucci.
Biscotti is delicious, delicate, and the perfect size to accompany after-dinner coffee.
What will you try first?
Hopefully, this article will have inspired you to try out some new food and coffee combinations. There’s lots of fun to be had in experimenting with pairings. Try to think of it as an art, not a science; there’s no right or wrong. It’s all down to personal preference.