February 26, 2016

The best coffee and food combinations according to experts


When you think ofaccompanying cheese with a drink, many people opt for wine. This established pairing is popular for a reason. Things are no different when it comes to coffee. There are many coffee and food combinations out there. For example, the intense flavours of a cheese are strengthened by the coffee, which cuts through the cheese’s saltiness as it cleanses the palate after each bite. Simply delicious.

I know I’m not the only one who craves a little food with my coffee. They’ve been paired together since the very beginning, and the long food menus in coffee shops show the trend hasn’t gone away.

SEE ALSO: The Quest to Find the World’s Best Food & Coffee Combination

Yet when we’re so concerned about the quality of our coffee, it seems strange to not be as exacting about our choice of food. Shouldn’t we be picking something to complement and enhance the aromas of that particular coffee bean and brew style that we took the time to choose?

We decided to get some expert help with selecting the perfect coffee and food combinations. Read on to discover their suggestions.

Coffee menu

Would you pair this coffee with sweet or savoury food? Credit: Coffeedrop

Meet the panel of experts

We spoke to three coffee experts about possible coffee and food combinations:

Joao Almeida, a Barista Competitor, Head of Coffee,  Nuvola Coffee and Chef.

Danilo Lodi of Brazil, a World Barista Championship judge.

Paweł Pav Murawski, a Barista and Coffee Blogger.

Together, they will bring us coffee and food insight from every area of the barista world: competitions, coffee shops, and blogs. And here’s what they had to say…

What’s your preferred style and brewing method of coffee?

Joao: Espresso, lots of espressos.

Danilo: I drink brewed coffee (V60 and Clever methods mostly). Espresso is my second choice; I drink it only if the coffee is excellent. 

Pav: My regular coffee is hand brewed, always black, and Hario V60 or Kalita. I drink espresso only when I either dial in the espresso grinder in the morning or evaluate espresso during the day. 

preparing pourover coffee

Should your choice of food vary with the brew method? Credit: Coffee Pav

How often do you combine coffee and food?

Joao: All the time. Every meal, I’ll finish with coffee. I can skip dessert but I can’t skip coffee.

Danilo: Not very often. Coffee is normally a ritual that I do by itself.  

Pav: To be honest, I don’t drink coffee with food. The only time I do is in the morning. 

What’s your idea of the perfect food and coffee combination?

Joao: It’s an unusual one! Malted bread toasted with cream cheese and strawberry jam and a brewed black coffee.

Jam cracker

Unusual? Yes. Delicious? Sounds it! Credit: Joao Almeida         

Danilo: Salty food in general is a better pairing, specifically cheeses and breads. Brew coffee goes well with a slice of bread with cream cheese, while an espresso goes with Parmigiano cheese.

Pav: For milky coffees, I would recommend sweets, caramel, and chocolate. With filter coffee, muesli bars, oats, sesame, avocado. They balance the acidity of coffee, but not with sugar. Filter coffee is very natural, which is why I match it with raw and natural food.

smashed avocado

Creamy avocado toast with black coffee. Credit: Becky Currier

What do you think of the selection and quality of food served alongside specialty coffee in coffee houses?

Joao: It has some way to go. 

Danilo: Coffee houses select their food based on quality, and most of the shops are doing a great job. Unfortunately, they do not think about how the food will match their own coffee flavours. 

Pav: Food at coffee houses is becoming a strong part of the menu. Not every customer who comes to the coffee shop is all about coffee. We can show our clients, by serving high-quality, fresh, and creative food, that we love what we do and that they would taste more interesting coffees. 

How do you think it could be improved?

Joao: By coffees having a more gastronomic pairing with food in cafés. Taking flavours from coffees on the menu and complementing the food (like an Earl Grey scone with blackcurrant jam to go with an Ethiopian coffee).

Danilo: A deeper investigation into the beverages served to match the food. Thinking about a whole experience for the customer, even if it is just a latte to go with a croissant. 

Pav: I don’t think we need to improve a lot in those places where you can find this outstanding food. I think places that decide to serve food should focus on freshness and creativity.

pourover coffee

Every coffee offers the chance of a food adventure. Credit: Coffee Pav

Digesting the interview

Our panel of experts gave a variety of answers, some of which were quite surprising. Particularly in the Western world, we’ve made pairing coffee with something sweet the norm. However, talking to the experts, natural and savoury food was at the forefront of their chosen pairings. Please note, there was no mention of cake or biscuits!

With many coffee houses taking the lead, yet still many more to follow on serving a variety of well-sourced delicious food, the link between food and coffee still needs to be strengthened. So here are three final pointers to start you off in your coffee and food exploration:

  1. As a coffee-lover and regular consumer, don’t be afraid to ask your barista what will complement your coffee – or what coffee they would pair with your food choice. Say your choice of coffee has floral or citrus notes, the café might have the perfect food to go with it. 
  2. Black coffee is the most versatile, whether drip or espresso. In particular, it’s the best style to combine with savoury or natural food – or, indeed, any food, sweet or salty, that has a stronger taste.
  3. Milk, we have to admit it, is not specialty coffee kosher – but we all love a flat white or frothy cappuccino once in a while. Adding milk softens the taste, meaning you should have something lighter in flavour, such as a pastry, to complement it. This helps explain the European tradition of drinking milky coffee in the morning.

What are your favourite food and coffee pairings? How will you change your coffee and food habits based on this expert insight? Let us know in the comments, on facebook, or on instagram!

Feature Photo Credit: stu_spivack, Flickr.

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