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A Beginner's Guide to Pairing Coffee with Food

A Beginner's Guide to Pairing Coffee with Food

Cameron Millard |


The increasing popularity of speciality coffee has meant it has never been easier to experience the diverse range in taste and flavour profiles that coffee can offer. Here at Redber alone we have over 40 coffees single-origin and blends, each one different from the next!

This brings us on to a topic we thought would be interesting to share with you, pairing coffee with food. Just as a sommelier can offer wine pairings for food, roasters and coffee aficionados are experimenting which coffees work best with which foods.

There are two primary ways we can use to guide us in making these pairings, matching based on similarities, and matching based on differences in flavour. Of course, achieving this also requires an understanding of the coffees flavour profile. Which flavours stand out? Which are more subtle? Once we understand the coffee, we can start the process of pairing.

Matching based on similarities is about finding common flavours in coffee and food that complement each other well. For example, a dark Central American coffee with chocolatey notes will generally pair very well with a sweet chocolatey pastry. The similar flavours of each often work well with each other without one overpowering the other.

The second way we might try and pair coffee is by finding different flavours that work well. For example, black single-origin coffee can actually contain a lot of natural sweetness, especially when roasted lighter. This sweetness often goes well with savoury food, and we’ve got some suggestions below to get you started.

Finally, we talk about acidity a lot when it comes to coffee. The acidity of a coffee can also be used to guide food pairings. For example, a citrusy African coffee would generally pair well with a sweet lemony desert. 

Pairing Coffee with Sweet Food

We’ll start off with sweet food. Now we know that generally speaking it would be quite difficult to find a coffee that doesn’t pair well with most pastries and sweet treats and vice-versa. However, we thought we could do better than this. For example, to optimise the pairing try finding a coffee with a flavour profile that has similarities with your favourite pastry.

If you’re having an almond croissant, try pairing it with a medium-dark to dark roasted nutty coffee, such as our favourite Guatemala Antigua.  You can also do some research with contrasting flavours. We think sweet biscotti and a spicy Asian coffee such as Sumatra Mandheling compliment each other particularly well.

Of course, there is plenty of room for experimenting, and everyone’s palates are slightly different, but we’ve got some more suggestions below for pairing sweet food and coffee.

Fruit sorbet- Pairs well with light roasted African coffee with fruity tasting notes. We recommend Ethiopia Sidamo Medium Roast.

Doughnuts- Dark Central/South American coffee. We recommend Colombia Huila Dark Roast.

Dark Chocolate- Slightly sweeter coffee medium-dark coffee such as Guatemala Antigua.

Milk Chocolate- Very versatile and works with most coffee.

White Chocolate- Earthy Indonesian coffee such as Sumatra Mandheling

 Pairing Coffee with Savoury Food

Finding the right coffee for savoury food also offers plenty of opportunity for experimenting. We’re sure you’ll agree that a cooked breakfast is incomplete without a cup of coffee. Next time, try a medium-dark roasted single-origin black coffee (filter or cafetiere is best) with your fry-up. The saltiness of the food will help draw out the unique flavour of your brew.

Coffee and spicy food may not at first seem like a very good match. However, a sweet iced coffee can be the perfect caffeinated match for spicy food. This is a case of contrasting flavours that work well together. The sweetness of the coffee will help take the edge off the spiciness of the food. We recommend Old Brown Java Dark for this one, which will add an interesting smoky kick to the equation.

Experimenting at home

We hope the above has provided a good basis to get you started. Of course, there is plenty of scope for experimenting, and you might find that what you like differs from what we have suggested. If you are interested in doing some of your own research, we recommend trying the coffee first in order to understand all of its unique flavour characteristics. You can also check out other blog here on finding the right coffee for pancake toppings. From there you are free to experiment with different pairings, find what works well, and what doesn’t.




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