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Definitive Guide to Coffee Pairings

coffee and slice of cake

Many coffee enthusiasts delight in trying new beans and new brewing methods, but relatively few give any thought to what food they pair their coffee with. Grabbing a quick cup from your favorite café on the way to work most likely means pairing your ultra-specialty pour over with a bagel or some kind of pastry. Now, we’re not knocking bagels or pastries, but there are so many interesting ways to pair coffee and food that limiting ourselves to whatever the local shop has for sale would be a shame.

In this guide, we’ll introduce you to the wonderful world of coffee pairings. We’ll start with an overview of some general principles before giving you an easy-to-digest list of what foods to pair with which coffee origins. We’ll also touch on brewing methods and how they affect the pairings. Grab your palate cleanser, and let’s begin!

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General Rules and Overall Picture

Not all coffee is created equally. Where your coffee is from has a dramatic impact on its flavor, mouthfeel, and what foods it will pair well with. Certain origins also lend themselves to a particular brewing method, and choosing the right brew method for your coffee’s origin will help you get the most out of it.

To keep things simple, we’re going to sort origins into broad categories and recommend using either a pour over or a French press to brew them. This is only meant to be an introduction, so bear in mind that the rabbit hole goes much deeper than this surface level. However, using these guidelines as a starting point will help you form a reference point for future exploration.


Coffee Pairing Guide

African Coffee

strawberries and coffee
Image Credit: Pixabay

  • Fruity, floral tasting notes, high acidity, mid-body
  • Best brewed with a pour over
  • Pairs well with fruit

Coffees from Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Uganda are generally exceptionally sweet and fruity with high acidity. They are often best when they’re lightly roasted, emphasizing the bean’s natural flavors. Light-roast African coffees shine in pour overs, where baristas have finer control over the extraction process.

Since African coffee is usually light-bodied, delicate, and sweet, they pair well with all kinds of fruit. Try pairing an African pour over with blueberries, raspberries, cherries, peaches, plums, apricots, or citrus fruits.


Central and South American Coffee

coffee and croissant
Image Credit: Pixabay

  • Earthy tasting notes with chocolate and nutty overtones
  • Best brewed with a French press
  • Pairs well with chocolate, bread, and poultry

Lumping Central and South American coffee together makes it a little more difficult to make recommendations, but the broad characteristics of central and South American coffee are similar enough to treat as one in a general guide.

Brazilian and Colombian coffees are typically the fullest bodied and boldest and have the strongest chocolate and earthy flavors. El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemalan coffees are often full of smooth nutty flavors and usually less full-bodied than Brazilian or Colombian coffee.

We prefer brewing Central and South American coffee in a French press because we find immersion brewing better extracts the malty flavors present in these origins. Using a French press also embraces fuller-bodied beans and gives you the biggest, most mouth-filling texture.

These coffees are excellent with chocolate, which brings out the latent chocolatey flavors in the coffee and works well with grains and bread. Since these coffees are less acidic and maltier than African coffees, they complement baked goods much better.

If you’re interested in pairing coffee with poultry, consider using Nicaraguan or Costa Rican beans since they are more muted and won’t dominate the subtler flavors in poultry the same way a bold Brazilian coffee might.


Indian and Indonesian Coffee

beef and coffee
Image Credit: Pixabay

  • Earthy flavors, tobacco, wood, leather
  • Best Brewed with a French press
  • Pairs well with dairy and meat
 

Indian and Indonesian coffees tend to have darker flavor profiles with bold textures and full bodies. They predominantly feature spice, tobacco, leather, and wood-tasting notes and hints of mustiness and earthy flavors.

These coffees do best in a French press, thanks to their dark flavor profiles and full bodies. The most popular origins from this region are Sumatra, India, Papua New Guinea, and Java.

We recommend pairing these coffees with meat like beef, lamb, and pork because they’re robust enough so that they won’t get overpowered. In general, dark roasts are an excellent choice to pair with meat, so look for roasters that favor darker roasts when buying Indian and Indonesian coffee to pair with meat. French press coffee also works well with dark roasts, so choosing a dark roast Indonesian coffee to pair with meat and preparing it in a French press checks all the boxes and will give you the most harmonious pairing.

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Conclusion

We’ve barely scratched the surface on the topic of coffee pairings, but hopefully, this general overview will get you started thinking about what coffee you drink with your food. Much attention is paid to pairing wine and beer with food, but coffee often gets overlooked.

Pairing coffee from different regions and origins with certain foods enhances the enjoyment of both, and we think it’s worth the time and effort to experiment with different combinations. Finding the right pairing that makes your taste buds explode with joy is an unforgettable experience and will keep you coming back for more. We hope this guide will help you get there!


Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

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Sean Brennan

Sean’s obsession with coffee started when he received his first French press as a gift almost ten years ago. Since then, his love of coffee – and the number of coffee gadgets he owns – has grown considerably. A scientist by training, there is no stone he has left unturned in the never-ending quest for the perfect cup of coffee. He has spent many hours tuning his pour-over technique, thinking about how to best compare grind quality, and worrying about whether the Nicaraguan or Kenyan beans will make the best cold brew. These days he favors the Hario V60, and starts each day by hand grinding his coffee before enjoying a cup prepared with care and attention to detail.

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