Caffeine Queen: Beginner’s guide to pairing coffee, food

Colleen Kelly

Not unlike with wines, pairing coffees with foods which complement their unique flavor profiles is an art.

There is a plethora of coffee options available to consumers – everything from flavored lattes to brewed coffee. The easiest way to pair a food option is through a simple technique called mirroring. What you are essentially doing is identifying a dominant flavor in the drink and picking out a food that features similar notes. When doing so, ask yourself if the coffee tastes sweet, bitter, nutty, fruity, smoky, earthy or citrusy.

Brewed coffee comes in three types of roasts: blonde, medium and dark. Blondes are typically have a lighter body and more mellow flavors, making them easy to pair with savor or subtly sweet options such as lemon cake, avocado toast or almond croissants. Medium roasts are balanced, smooth and the easiest to pair with a bacon breakfast sandwich, butter croissants or a sesame bagel. Dark roasts have a fuller body and bolder flavors, making them ideal to pair with chocolate croissants, cinnamon oatmeal or cheesy breakfast sandwich.

There are thousands of coffee blends out there, and some will break these general rules based upon the country the beans originate from and the company which produced it. Latin American blends are known for their nuttiness, acidity and hints of cocoa; African blends are citrusy and floral; Kenyan blends are fruity; Asian/Pacific blends are herbal and acidic; Guatemalan blends have strong hints of cocoa, caramel and dried fruit. To wit, a typical Guatemalan dark roast will likely feature strong notes of dark cocoa and dried fruit, making a chocolate brownie or a blueberry scone equally good choices. Luckily, most bags of coffee beans advertise their unique flavor profiles.

The guess work is already done for you when ordering a flavored latte, as you already know what the drink will taste like and just need to pick a pastry to compliment your syrup of choice. The inherent milkiness of a latte lends itself to sweeter choices rather than savory ones. If you select vanilla, caramel, irish cream, mocha or white mocha, the sweetest options on any menu, you’re more likely to enjoy a cookie, a brownies or cake with your latte. Nutty flavors such as hazelnut or toffee nut are best paired with savory or salty-sweet pastries, such as cheese danishes almond croissants. Spicy syrups or teas such as cinnamon, brown sugar or chai are best paired with foods one might associate with fall, such as apple fritter, pumpkin bread or cinnamon rolls.

If all else fails, never hesitate to ask your local barista for a sample and their insight. As a barista myself, one of the best parts of working in a cafe is getting to experience endless coffee flavor profiles and getting to experiment with pairings. Helping you make informed decisions is just part of the job. I love it when I talk a customer that usually clings to white mochas into a blonde roast with honey and seeing their face light up. Know your parameters (like whether or not you prefer certain flavors over others) and be open to experimentation – you may just find your new favorite morning drink.