As our coffee choices -- and palates -- expand beyond light roast/dark roast and one-lump-or-two, foodies and baristas are starting to pay attention to how the flavors in coffee complement dessert and pastry choices. Unlike wine pairings, though, there are no hard and fast rules for pairing coffee with food. There are, however, some guidelines to help you choose the perfect coffee to pair with your favorite desserts. We touched a little bit on those a few weeks ago when we talked about dressing up your after dinner coffee, but these general guidelines for coffee pairings can help you develop your own palate, preferences and instincts for which coffees work with which foods.
The basic theory behind pairing coffee with particular types of desserts is a simple one: choose coffees with flavors that complement the flavors and qualities of your foods. If, for example, you're serving apple pie with vanilla ice cream, choose a light- to medium-bodied coffee with flavors that taste good with both vanilla and applesauce, like caramel, honey, cinnamon and nutmeg. (We'd suggest Laguna Las Ranas from Cuvee Coffee in this case.) Likewise, a sumptuous, heavy, creamy dessert like classic New York cheesecake needs a full-bodied coffee with bold flavors that will stand up to the cream without clashing with it. Wild Rooster Espresso blend from Thrive Farmers, a full-bodied, darker roast with bitter dark chocolate and sweet cherry flavors is the perfectly balanced foil to cut the creamy richness of cheesecake or tiramisu. When deciding on a coffee to serve with your dessert, consider these factors:
Body: When tasters talk about a coffee's body, they're referring to how heavy the coffee feels in your mouth. A full-bodied coffee feels silky, almost buttery. Light-bodied coffees go well with lighter desserts, like meringues, crisp cookies and fresh fruits. Fuller-bodied coffees work well with creamy desserts, rich chocolate dishes and desserts that are sweet and rich, like pecan pie or baklava.
Roast Level: It's not a hard and fast rule, but as a general guideline, lighter roasts go well with fruity desserts, or light, crisp cookies, while darker roasts complement richer desserts like chocolate cake, cheesecake and tiramisu. That's largely because shorter roasting times emphasize the the brighter citrus, berry and fruit flavors that are inherent in the coffee bean. Lighter roasts are frequently lighter in body and brighter in flavor than dark roasts. The medium to medium-dark range tends to bring out the chocolate, earthy, spicy and nutty flavor nuances in coffees, making darker roasts more complementary to richer, creamier and savory flavors.
Flavors: We could talk about terroir and country of origin here, but pinpointing flavor nuances in coffee has become far more complicated than it used to be. Once, it was pretty much a given that South American coffees were bright, citrus-y and acidic and Asian Pacific coffees were spicy and earthy. These days, as growers experiment with different coffee varieties, growing methods and processing styles, it's not unusual to find Mexican coffees that are redolent of spice and chocolate and Guatemalan coffees that are fruit bombs remniscent of Kenyan beans. The old regional standards do still apply to most coffees grown in specific areas, but tasting notes on coffee packages are a far truer guide to choosing coffee dessert pairings that complement each other perfectly.
- Edlyna Lot, Guatemala from Sweet Bloom Coffee Roasters
Rich, creamy desserts
- Papua New Guinea Purosa from The West Bean
Brownies, Chocolate cake
- South Central Espresso from Portola Coffee Labs
Custard and cream-based desserts
- El Meridiano from 1000 Faces Coffee
Photo credits: (heading photo) Chocolate cake with espresso: nuttakit | freedigitalphotos.net