There’s no denying that today’s consumers are becoming increasingly informed about the products they purchase – we see this every day in specialty coffee. The same is also true of bread and other baked goods – which form an industry that is predicted to grow by 4.8% between 2019 and 2023.
Part of this growth can be attributed to increasing consumer awareness of the quality and health benefits of various different products.
In recent years, we’ve seen this drive in quality acknowledged by coffee businesses across the world. However, research has also found that some 47% of consumers are willing to pay more for products that are naturally prepared, healthier, and broadly of higher quality. As such, today, it’s not uncommon to find artisan breads served alongside delicious specialty coffee on menus.
And while the two can be enjoyed separately, there is actually a growing trend of consumers pairing these breads with different coffees. To learn more about how they can complement one another, I spoke with two bakery owners. Read on to find out what they said.
You may also like our article exploring Slow Food philosophy in the coffee sector.
How does bread complement coffee?
Steven Winter is the founder and owner of The Bread Source, an artisan bakery in Norfolk, UK. He says pairing bread with coffee has been a tradition for longer than one might think.
“I think a cup of coffee and a slice of toast in the morning have always been common here in the UK,” Steven says. “Brits are known internationally as being big toast lovers.”
This simple combination serves as a popular breakfast for many across the world – particularly in Europe and the US.
However, growing interest in a range of baking styles and bread types – such as sourdough and rye – have allowed cafés to add more options to their menus.
With these different styles of bread naturally come different flavours and textures. For example, sourdough bread has tart and tangy flavours from the lactic acids used in the starter (the active yeast and bacteria that enable bread to rise).
As such, comparisons can be drawn between the flavours in bread and coffee. Much like sourdough, a washed Kenyan coffee may also taste tart. This has naturally progressed to the point where some bakeries and coffee shops now offer bread and coffee pairings on their menus.
Steven offers advice on how to match coffee with bread: “Much like wine, it depends on the style of both the bread and the coffee.
“Pairing a highly acidic coffee with a dark rye would probably be too much of an assault on the palate, with lots of competing flavours, textures, and mouthfeel,” he says. “However, matching the same acidic coffee with a lighter and wheatier baguette could work well.”
Adding fruits, nuts, and seeds to bread can also help to highlight particular characteristics of coffee.
For example, a currant bun might pair well with a blend that has notes of chocolate and nuts, while an earthier, seeded rye bread could be enjoyed with a cleaner tasting washed coffee from Central America.
Beyond that, fruit-forward tasting notes in coffee may pair well with walnut bread; meanwhile, heavier breads (such as darker ryes) might require darker roasts to compete with the fuller, richer flavours of the dough.
Adding bread to your coffee shop menu
Consumer interest in experimenting with these flavours and textures has broadened as the range of breads and coffees on menus has grown.
Research from the US National Association for Specialty Food found that sales of artisan foods such as bread grew by 19% between 2009 and 2011. This has continued to increase in recent years, too. But how can coffee shops cater to the growing demand?
Steven tells me that The Bread Source includes a toast bar in its café. Here, customers pay a fixed price to enjoy unlimited specialty coffee and bread.
“The Bread Source is first and foremost a bakery, so it was important for us to have a toast bar,” Steven tells me. “We include all of our breads on the tasting menu – from seeded sourdough to rye – alongside a selection of our preserves, jams, and butter.”
He notes that the toast bar provides consumers with opportunities to try out breads they may not usually opt for – helping to further expand their tastes.
“The toast bar allows customers to sample our full range of breads that they otherwise might not buy as loaves without having a taste test!”
However, increasing the range of food options you offer should be a decision made carefully – especially when accounting for any increases in waste. With that said, Steven believes that bread presents a good opportunity to minimise waste while still maintaining quality.
“Any baker will tell you that toast is best with at least two-day old bread, rather than using a fresh loaf,” he says. “Reducing food waste has always been part of our mission, so creating a space for our two-day bread to shine works brilliantly for customers, as well as being more sustainable.”
Quality in both bread & coffee
Bread-making is a 10,000 year-old tradition, but it’s only been more recently that emphasis has shifted towards using higher-quality ingredients.
“When I started baking artisan bread over 20 years ago, the overwhelming majority of people – both in and out of the bakery industry – were not focused on the quality of ingredients,” Steven tells me.
“The real shift towards artisan bread was when mainstream consumers started asking questions about ingredients, nutrition, and the process of baking – rather than just picking up the same loaves during their weekly shopping trip.”
Mass-produced bread is readily available in supermarkets and commercial bakeries (particularly throughout Europe) for affordable prices. However, this is often made with lower quality flours, yeasts, and other ingredients.
Recognising the growing consumer demand for higher-quality products and a greater focus on ingredient provenance, both independent bakeries and third wave coffee shops have changed their focus.
Many are now gravitating towards more locally-sourced and seasonal ingredients, as well as the craft of preparing food and beverage products. In line with that, many coffee shops have actually come to bake their own goods – bread, pastries, or otherwise.
Zac Johnston is the owner of Bread and Butter Bakery in Atlanta, US. He says that if coffee shops opt to bake their own breads, learning the skills to do so should be a keen focus.
“It is a specialty craft. Bread-making is not something that can be trained overnight and is not something that can be done without passion,” he says. “If your heart is not truly in learning the craft, then it could be difficult to do successfully as a business.”
However, the work associated with quality bread-making has, perhaps surprisingly, not deterred consumers from trying it out themselves.
When stay-at-home orders were in place during the pandemic, almost a quarter of UK adults said they baked at home once a week. Along with more free time, Steven believes the rise in home baking was due to café-quality products being less readily available.
“We have noticed, especially over the last few years, that consumers have really taken to home artisan baking – trying to recreate their favourite products from the bakery,” he says.
The same can be said for coffee: sales of coffee equipment and bean subscription services soared during the Covid-19 pandemic as people attempted to brew café-quality coffee at home.
How will things evolve in the future?
Keeping in mind the ever-growing interest in specialty coffee, Zac believes consumer demand for artisanal breads will grow in coffee shops.
“We think that these two specialty crafts work so well together,” he explains.
He adds that his team at Bread and Butter often explores how its roast profiles can complement its different breads and baked goods.
“When we roast, we are thinking about how a specific coffee will go with some of our baked goods,” he says. “For us, it is a great way to enhance the experience and products.”
Developing specific roast profiles for coffees to pair with certain types of bread has the potential to create a whole new consumer tasting experience.
Steven agrees, noting that as the popularity of both artisanal breads and specialty coffee grows, there will be more and more potential.
“Both industries are becoming more accessible for one another. Roasters are dipping their toe into baking and bakeries are starting to roast coffee,” he tells me.
“This will likely drive more collaborations between the two industries, resulting in greater availability in coffee shops and bakeries on high streets.”
However, Zac has some advice for coffee shops looking to bake their own bread. He says: “It requires you to fully dive in and submerge yourself to get a good grasp of the skills needed. Once you get a full understanding, it is such a rewarding business to be in.”
He says staff should not only be trained on how to make bread, but also notes that commercial-grade baking equipment is necessary. This includes mixers, proofing baskets, and high-power ovens.
For coffee shops with smaller budgets, he says partnering with local bakeries is also a more viable option.
Ultimately, Steven thinks that the growing consumer interest in higher quality products will keep people pairing coffee and bread for a long time to come.
“Ultimately, the consumer appetite for great tasting products has never been stronger,” he says. “This particular pairing of bread and coffee has captured people’s imaginations.
“Sharing knowledge and maintaining transparency with our recipes and ingredients, as well as offering baking courses, helps to reinforce consumer interests and demands.”
Bread has been a staple for people across the globe for centuries, but continuous innovation means we are now seeing a rowing range of artisan baked goods available everywhere – including in specialty coffee shops.
As consumers continue to demand quality, it only seems natural that more cafés will include them on their menus. And with an ever-growing range of breads on offer, it seems fitting that people have started to pair them with coffee. The potential this has to reveal new worlds of flavour is exciting indeed.
Enjoyed this? Then read our article on serving food in specialty coffee shops.
Photo credits: Matthew Deyn, Rosie Mills-Smith, Lex Sirikiat on Unsplash
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