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Sweet and savoury: coffee-flavoured pairings

Pairing tips: sweet or savoury, coffee lends itself to delicious flavour combinations, let yourself be surprised!

Barbara Fassio
Barbara Fassio

Many coffee enthusiasts delight in trying new beans and new extraction methods; now more than ever, therefore, it is logical to look for the best possible combinations to highlight or complement the full range of flavours in a good cup of coffee. The complexity of coffee opens up a world of possibilities for excellent combinations with food, following a few basic rules.

The way coffee is paired with food varies greatly from region to region and, on a large scale, from country to country. Traditions, taste preferences and personal #Character add to the gastronomic history and socio-cultural context of each country. Moreover, thanks to different processing methods, customised roasting profiles and various preparation methods, coffees can offer a richer range of flavours and aromas than ever before, which means a potential for ever new combinations.

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WHEN IN ROME, DO AS THE ROMANS DO 

Not all coffees are cultivated and processed in the same way: where they come from has a major impact on flavour, mouthfeel and food pairing. 

Since the combinations are many, let’s try not to overcomplicate it, shall we? Let us try to give you a classification by very broad geographic areas, so that you have full freedom of choice as to which coffee to use and, with that, have some guidelines for your taste explorations.

AFRICA

Coffee, it is now well known, was born right here, in the cradle of humanity. So let us start with the wonderful coffees that this continent gives us: fruity and floral notes, high acidity and a delicate body characterise many of the world’s finest origins. The delicate combination of fresh flavours and light, sweet body goes well with all types of fruit. Coffees from Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda are exceptionally sweet and fruity, with high acidity. They are often enhanced by light roasting, which emphasises the natural aromas in the beans. 

Try pairing an African coffee with blueberries, raspberries, cherries, peaches, plums, apricots or citrus fruits: the fruity notes of the coffee particularly emphasise the flavours of the berries.

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ASIA

From large producing nations (such as India and Indonesia), to small areas from which exceptional single origin coffees come (think Papua New Guinea or Java), Asia is a continent that stands out for the production of very intense and full-bodied coffees. Earthy aromas, tobacco, wood, leather go perfectly with dairy and meat. Who has not immediately thought of the first, fundamental and universal pairing? Coffee with milk: cappuccino, cortado, macchiato or flat white are just a few of the many ways to sip a coffee, diluted and enhanced by a fluffy white foam.

Indian and Indonesian coffees tend to have darker taste profiles, with velvety textures and full body. They present notes of spices, tobacco, leather and wood. We recommend pairing these coffees with meats such as beef, lamb and pork, as they are intense enough not to be overpowered. In general, dark roasts are an excellent choice for pairing with meat. If drinking coffee while biting into a cut of meat seems too daring, you may consider using only the ground bean powder for a truly incredible rub!

CENTRO E SUD AMERICA

From the nations that produce most coffees, both commercial and Specialty, come beans characterised by intense notes of chocolate and nuts.

Brazilian and Colombian coffees are generally the most full-bodied and intense, presenting the strongest flavours of chocolate and nuts. Coffees from El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala are often rich in delicate nutty flavours and are usually less full-bodied than Brazilian or Colombian coffees. These coffees are excellent with chocolate, but also with cereals and bread. Being less acidic and more malty than the African ones, they go much better with baked goods.

If you are interested in a particular combination, consider using beans from Nicaragua or Costa Rica with poultry: the milder notes do not dominate the white meat flavours.

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FROM FOOD TO CUP

If you want to reverse the choice and therefore have your favourite food and are considering which coffee to pair with it, we give you some ideas. Then, as always, space for your imagination and creativity!

If berries in general are perfect with African coffees, blueberries stand out from their berry family: they go well with a slightly more substantial body, such as that of Yemenite and Jamaican coffees.

For peaches, plums or apricots, on the other hand, in addition to a single-origin from Tanzania, try the fruity aromas of Haitian beans. The drupe fruit notes that these coffees naturally possess will bring out the best in your fruit.

If the fruit, on the other hand, is part of a sweet and fragrant tart, then try combining it with Brazilian and Costa Rican coffees, preferably dark-roasted: the strong and intense flavour of the coffee will create a balance with the sourness of the fruit.

When one thinks of a perfect product match, the realm of Willy Wonka seems like heaven. In fact, chocolate, rich and varied in its nuances, goes perfectly with almost any product. You can pair dark chocolate with coffee from Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala or Mexico: both coffee and dark chocolate have intense, really complementary flavours.

If, on the other hand, you prefer the velvety sweetness of milk chocolate, you can enjoy it with Colombian, Kenyan, Sumatran, Yemeni and Ethiopian coffees. This chocolate goes well with fruitier coffee flavours.

When chocolate meets the art of pastry making, a combination for the sweet tooth is born: chocolate cake and coffee from Guatemala go great together!

Are you a bread lover? Heavy, savoury texture in this case goes well with the full-bodied coffee from Guatemala, Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru or Colombia.

But let us not forget a classic par excellence? Coffee (or rather, cappuccino) and croissant: the most typical and delicious breakfast for us Italians, a combination that goes well with everything, blends included!

Last but not least, no less interesting are the combinations of coffee and savoury products: try combining cheese, butter and cream with coffee from Sumatra, Java, India or Papua New Guinea. The full-bodied textures of dairy products require an equally bold and dominant coffee.

Spicy foods can also accompany coffee, but not just any coffee. It would be best if you always pair it with cold coffees, perhaps from Nicaragua or Honduras.

And finally, another great classic: the American-style savoury breakfast: eggs and bacon recall a good medium-roast Costa Rican coffee.

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Pairing coffees of different origins with certain foods enhances the enjoyment of both and we think it is worth the time and effort to experiment with different combinations. Finding the right combination will make your taste buds explode with joy for an unforgettable experience.