Coffee & Food: Pick the Perfect Pai

Food pairing is usually seen as something related to wine, but basically we can pair food with everything we consume: coffee, tea, wine etc.. We all from time to time crave a little food with our coffees as coffee and food are a match made in heaven and people discovered it long time ago.


Coffee and food pairing is not something new, they have been paired for a long time now almost since the very beginning of coffee drinking. At the very origin, Ethiopia, people tend to eat something sweet or something salty with coffee as well as just add sugar or salt. We all know Turkish coffee and Turkish sweets like rahat lokum, and it is no surprise that these two (and rest of Turkish delights) are paired to ease the bitterness of Turkish coffee. On the other hand, in Europe, traditionally, coffee has been always consumed with milk, sweets or pastries: French café au lait with croissant, Italian espresso with chocolate or cappuccino with buttery pastries, Dutch stroopwafel and Swedish kanelbule, both are sweet pastries perfectly suiting coffees.

Those traditional pairings are known and loved by lots of people, as they remind them of good old times and their culture. And that is exactly the case of traditional food pairings: they usually offer a combination of coffee and available, popular or socially accepted products in these regions, but do not really represent the whole variety of food pairings in those countries. As we all know, tradition does not welcome experiments.

For people seeking new combinations we suggest not to be scared and remember that food can be paired with anything that we consume and coffee is no exception here, but in addition you can use Flavor Wheel that will help you to differentiate coffee’s flavor. Especially as we are all into the third wave of coffee, which allows us to play with it as much as we want, pairing chocolate pastries or beef with beans from Guatemala, Columbia or Brazil.

All for One Perfect Cup of Coffee

However, talking about organs responsible for tasting and pairing food, only 20% of our flavor experience is due to an actual sense of taste, far more important is our sense of smell, according to As much as 80% of what we call taste is actually aroma. Once you understand this it will be much easier for you to pair coffee and food. Not to mention, coffee beans also have different flavors and it affects a final cup and its food pairing, of course. The rules are pretty simple: pick some food to complement and enhance the aromas of that particular coffee bean and brew style. But how can you do it without good old experiment? No reason to be scared, as Van Lin, founder of GABEE. coffee shop, told us, the worst pairing for coffee is green vegetables, as they will highlight the bitterness, and the rest of the coffee&food matches should be explored: so let your feelings work together to discover the beauty of food and coffee together.

Moreover, food at coffee houses is becoming a strong part of the menu as not every customer who comes to the coffee shop is all about coffee. And in fact we all know that coffee is seen as a daytime product, that is why Van Lin suggests café owners to think about pairing daytime kind of food (breakfast, lunch, brunch) with coffees to make it more suitable for consumers. What is more, nowadays consumers need to be surprised, that is why new coffee & food combinations should be on the menu of each coffee shop, which will make the competition between them even more interesting.

To step out of comfort zone as well as comfort-food zone and try new pairings you should focus on training your palate and use Flavor Wheel to complement your coffee with nice food: experts suggest that having similar or complementary flavors together helps to emphasize each flavor. If you have been wondering what to pair your coffee with, you should not stick to traditional pairings like breakfast or desserts; instead we suggest you to concentrate on tasting your coffee and pair it with matching flavors, for example, if you feel strong fruit notes and acidity in your coffee try to match it with some berries, fruits or even fruit pies; if your coffee has a light body then cheddar or any other type of hard cheese will be perfect for the pairing. At last, try your coffee with chocolate and pastries: dark chocolate will be perfect for dark roasted coffee as both flavors are strong, milk chocolate should be tried with every coffee, but the best combinations are with Kenyan, Ethiopian and Colombian coffees, and, finally, white chocolate goes better with coffees from South America as they have mild flavors.

Flavor Wheel: Understanding Your Coffee

Understanding Your Coffee Thanks to our parents and their parents, we can differentiate flavors in food, like that chicken tastes like chicken and milk is milk. Besides that, we can also say if the taste is good or bad and if a product is still fresh. Unfortunately, not everyone of us develops their palette to feel the whole range of flavors in one product, for example, coffee. For most of the people coffee tastes like just a coffee, while it can taste like peanuts, chocolate, coconut, grape, rose and even rubber and petroleum – depending on the quality, place of origin, plantations’ environment and so on.

To depict those flavors people from coffee business around the world needed some kind of lingua franca to be able to understand each others’ conclusions. For this reason the Coffee Flavor Wheel was created in 1995 (first flavor wheels were created for beers and wines) and updated almost 20 tears later, last year in 2016. Updated Flavor Wheel is the brainchild of coffee researchers and the Specialty Coffee Association of America (now SCA), more science went into the project than you might think: sensory scientists from Kansas State University created something called the World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon, a common language for people to describe different coffee attributes, while the flavors are based on identifiable chemicals in coffee .

Let me make a remark here: we are not talking about artificially sweetened or flavored coffees, most obvious reason for what is beans’ low quality. Two coffees might both earn 88 points but taste very different from each other. That’s I why it is especially important here to understand all the flavor “notes” or “attributives” to bring and use a new tool that can equally use everyone else as it is a common lexicon.

The reason for updating the flavor wheel is that a lot has changed in 20 years: climate change, that forced farmers to develop heat-, drought-, disease-resistant coffee varieties, and growth of coffee industry, that brought more attention and people into the field, and of course science development. Of course, there’s a subjective aspect to all of the senses, and how people report what they see, taste, feel, smell and hear is often influenced by different factors like culture and memory. But the more that researchers turn their attention toward the ways in which groups of people report and categorize those sensory experiences, the better sense scientists can make of them.

So next time you get a coffee, pause after you sip and think about what you taste: if it is sour, roasted, fruity, sweet or vegetative and here is a practical guide how to get even richer experience from your cup of joe.

How To:

1. Take a sip of your coffee.

2. Enjoy it.

3. Tyr to understand what does this coffee taste like. Do you like the flavor? Does the taste remind you of anything? Does it taste like anything else?

4. Take a look at the Flavor Wheel, start at the beginning with the biggest flavor groups, going to the sides as you discover more unique notes in your coffee. Is it sweet or sour? Fruity or floral? Does it remind you of tobacco or berries? Brown sugar or citrus fruit? Then we can go even deeper and name what our coffee tastes like. Is it hazelnut or almond? Or maybe or tastes more like whiskey or grapefruit? You cam also feel raspberry, coconut, pomegranate, lemon, cinnamon, maple syrup and many more flavors if you will just swirl your coffee all around your mouth for a moment and with time and practice you will be able to appreciate your coffee even more, just by itself, with no additives. But as any feeling is subjective you can use Flavor Wheel to practice, but it should not limit you as there are much more flavors your palate can feel.

When we talk about food and beverage pairings, first thing that comes to our minds is wine with fine food, but in reality it is not the only option. Coffee as anything else that we consume can be and should be paired to other food to bring out new flavors and sensations. As we are used to seeing coffee as a morning drink and pair it with pastries and breakfast, we could try to change the angle and pair it with whole range of dishes: meat, vegetables, fruits, chocolates, dairy etc.. And that is where we understand that coffee and food are meant to be together as they compliment and bring each other for a whole new level, making our taste buds sing out of pleasure.