While coffee is an excellent stand alone drink, it doesn’t always have to be enjoyed by itself! In fact, coffee is often even better experienced with a companion. The right coffee and food pairings can bring out the best flavors in both the coffee and the sweet or savory treat for maximum culinary enjoyment.
In this guide, we cover all you need to know about coffee and food pairings: the guiding principles for formulating great pairings and the top sweet and savory coffee food combinations.
What general food pairing principles should you follow?
We’ll get to specific food and coffee pairing ideas in a bit, but first, let’s outline the general frameworks you should use to make food and coffee pairings. What’s the rationale behind what makes a good or bad pairing?
Find the dominant flavor. Strategic food pairings can’t be made unless you fully understand the flavors in your coffee and what you like and dislike. Pay attention to what flavors jump out for you as you drink your coffee and what you personally prefer.
Coffee beans are grown, harvested, roasted, and grinded differently depending on the goal flavor. Once you have this understanding, you can buy coffee that has the tastes you like.
Pair like with like. When starting out on your food pairing discovery journey, look for similarities. What flavors are most present in your coffee? Find other foods with these same flavors and pair them with your coffee.
Find the contrast. As you learn more about what pairings work well, you can begin to explore contrasts through finding complementary pairings. Perhaps you can use a contrasting flavor in a food to bring out your favorite flavor in your coffee.
Don’t forget the aesthetic. While flavor matching is important, you should take a comprehensive approach to food pairings. Think through the aesthetic, the variety, and of course, what you’re genuinely in the mood to eat!
What sweet foods are good compliments to coffee?
In the mood for something sweet? We’ve got you covered. Here are the top sweet foods that go super well with coffee. We go through what types of food specifically make great coffee companions, what types of coffee goes well with each, and why each pairing is great.
Who doesn’t love a warm baked good with some hot coffee? Pastries make excellent coffee pairings. Dip a cookie or biscotti in your coffee. Have a slice of pie or a croissant with your coffee. Enjoy a muffin alongside your coffee. If you’re feeling more casual, pair a doughnut with your coffee. And of course, we can’t forget the namesake pairing: coffee cake. Coffee cake actually doesn’t contain coffee, but it’s called “coffee cake” because it’s an excellent complement to coffee!
Specifically, you should pair full bodied coffee (rich, silky coffee) with creamier desserts, like coffee cakes. You should pair light bodied coffee with lighter desserts, such as biscottis and cookies.
If you’re not up for a full dessert, consider pairing your coffee with chocolate. Dark chocolate in particular can complement coffee bean’s natural flavors without overpowering the senses. More intense desserts can easily overpower lighter coffee’s flavor, so chocolate is perfect as a replacement pairing. Dark chocolate is generally a great coffee pairing because its slight bitterness interacts well with the bitterness of coffee.
Fruits offer a healthier but still sweet alternative to the aforementioned pastry coffee pairing. Fruit generally goes better with more light bodied coffee given fruit also has a light flavor and texture (as opposed to a thick, creamy one like those found in cakes).
In particular, you should pick fruits that aren’t too sweet or too sour. For example, blueberries, raspberries, apricots, peaches, and plums go well with most coffee.
But even tart fruits like kiwis, granny smith apples, lemons, and limes can go well with dark roasted coffee. In fact, if you have slightly bitter coffee with some sweet notes or an overall wine like taste, you can pair it with citrus fruits. The bitterness of the fruit complements the slightly bitterness of the coffee well, making your palate feel extra revitalized.
What savory foods compliment coffee well?
Feeling more savory foods at the moment? We’ve got a full list of ones that go well with your cup of coffee! Here are the different savory food and coffee pairings people enjoy most.
Coffee can often have a nutty flavor - you’ve likely had, for example, hazelnut flavored coffee. So, it’s no surprise that nuts are an excellent coffee companion. If you’re looking for a lighter, savory, portable, protein packed snack to go with your coffee, consider nuts. Pecans are an especially common coffee pairing but many other nuts would go well too, such as pistachios, walnuts, peanuts, cashews, and almonds.
Who says cheese only goes well with wine? While wine and cheese is the more common combination, cheese and coffee make a surprisingly excellent pairing as well. More mellow coffee can go nicely with the savory, slightly bitter cheese. Gouda and ricotta cheese are known to go particularly well with coffee.
Cucumber’s slightly bitter yet refreshing flavor goes well with coffee that mirrors its flavor profile. Cucumbers are an excellent light, healthy, and palate cleansing pairing for coffee. They go especially well with cold brew or iced coffee.
For those who like to turn up the dial on the spice level in their food, coffee can help. Drinking coffee while eating spicy food can help to bring out more of the spice’s intensity. This pairing definitely isn’t for everyone. If you’re not especially adventurous when it comes to spicy foods, we’d recommend steering clear of this one.
Who doesn’t love some bacon, scrambled eggs, and french toast with some hot coffee? It’s truly a dream breakfast and a real classic. There’s no real fancy culinary terminology to explain why this pairing works - it just feels natural and right. Consider adding or experimenting with other breakfast food pairings like coffee with omelets, crepes, oatmeal, or toast. In fact, coffee with earthy flavors is known to go particularly well with wheat based products, like cereal, oats, and bread.
Feeling hungry yet? ;)
We hope you’ve enjoyed this coffee and food pairings guide. Have other pairings you love? Let us know at @bottomless