March 1, 2022

Pairing food with specialty coffee around the world


Every single day, coffee is enjoyed by millions of people around the world, and paired with a range of food items. We’ve published articles and videos on this before.

However, how coffee is paired with food varies greatly from region to region, depending on the gastronomic history of each country and its sociocultural context. Furthermore, thanks to different processing methods, roast profiles, and a variety of brewing methods, specialty coffee can provide a richer range of flavours and aromas than ever before – meaning potential for other pairings.

To learn more about how coffee drinkers pair their cup with food around the world, I spoke to a few different coffee professionals. Read on to find out what they had to say.

You may also like our article exploring the iconic pairing of coffee and doughnuts.

coffee and cake

A few examples of food pairings from around the world

It’s no surprise that a region’s gastronomic and sociocultural traditions dictate how coffee is paired with food. To illustrate the sheer breadth around the world, we’ve put together a list of a few different countries and some of their common food pairings.

This list is of course limited by space, so please note that it is by no means exhaustive.

Kenya, Uganda & Tanzania

Peter Gakuo is a coffee professional from Kenya, and a writer for Perfect Daily Grind. He explains that while, historically, domestic consumption of coffee has been low in Kenya, interest has grown in recent years, especially among younger people.

Peter explains that Kenyan coffee and food pairings largely depend on a few factors: education, purchasing power, and geography.

“For instance, those with higher purchasing power in Nairobi usually drink coffee with buns or croissants,” he explains. “However, in villages and more rural areas, people often drink coffee with a dish called mandazi.” 

Mandazi is a kind of sweet fried bread which is prepared similarly to doughnuts, but served without frosting or a glaze. He explains that mandazi is also popular in Tanzania and Uganda.

In the villages, he says, coffee is often enjoyed black, and sweetened with sugar. However, more educated specialty coffee consumers tend not to pair it with anything.


Pedro Miguel Echavarría is the manager at Pergamino Café in Medellín, Colombia. 

He tells me that the traditional pairings in Colombia include buñuelo (cheese fritters), pan de bono (cheese bread), almojábanos (corn and cheese bread), and pastel de guayaba (guava pastries). More widely speaking, cheese and breads are common accompaniments, with some consumers dipping them in the coffee.

However, while Colombia has a rich culture and heritage of coffee consumption, Pedro says that in his experience, specialty coffee is treated differently as far as pairings are concerned.

“Specialty coffee, for better or worse, is closely linked to food items that aren’t traditional in Colombia,” he says. “For example, it is linked to artisan bakeries, as well as breakfast items.

“At Pergamino, we have tried to start a bakery that serves a lot of traditional food (like almojábanos and arequipe cakes. However, in the end what was most popular with our specialty coffee was things like almond croissants, red velvet cake, and so on.”


Vincent Wang is in charge of quality control at Black Gold Coffee Company in Taiwan. He says that Japan has had a major influence on Taiwanese coffee culture, and as such, locals enjoy combining coffee with Japanese desserts. 

“In our experience, many of our customers like to order coffee with their dessert,” he explains. “We like to pair coffee with desserts from Japan, but often a slightly more ‘westernised’ version, but something that still retains that Japanese style.

“Beyond that, we’ve also started baking specialty bread,” he adds. “Alongside desserts, it gives us something else to attract the attention of our customers and introduce them to coffee.”

coffee and breakfast


Jorge Chanis Barahona is a Panamanian gastronomy expert. He explains that in Panama, locals traditionally pair black coffee – with or without sugar – with cheese, bread, or with a tortilla. He tells me that it is also customary to throw the cheese into the coffee cup or dip the bread in the coffee.

Jorge believes that in his opinion, specialty coffee has more scope to be paired with different food items than wine. This is because it can be drunk hot or cold, and because there are so many different flavour profiles depending on how the coffee is processed, roasted, and brewed.

To this end, he has launched a pairing event called the Ritual of Panamanian Coffee, inviting hospitality businesses (including restaurants and coffee shops) from across the country. 

“This was a way to articulate how to pair Panama’s specialty coffee with food,” he says. “We used a structure designed and inspired by the origin, and Panama’s microclimates in Volcán, Boquete and Renacimiento.”

United States

Mehmet Sogan is the head roaster of Memli Coffee Lab, a roaster based in San Diego, California, US. He says that traditionally, people in the US pair coffee with sweet food items.

“In more classic cafés, you have cookies, as well as pastries with French influence, such as croissants or pain au chocolat,” he says.

One of the oldest examples of a food pairing in the country can be found in New Orleans, at Café du Monde. This is the beignet: a square doughnut-like pastry dusted with sugar and often paired with chicory coffee. 

“The reason why sweet foods and pastries are the most common is because of their chemical structure,” Mehmet explains. “Both in baking and coffee roasting, you have the Maillard reaction, where amino acids and sugar react… there is also a lot of crossover with the aromatic compounds released.”


Michael Rast is a barista trainer based in Australia. He mentions that coffee in Australia is often associated with (and subsequently paired with) breakfast foods.

“Typically, the most popular combination I’ve seen is a bacon and egg roll,” he says. “Pastries are also popular, as are full breakfast dishes.”

He adds that a typical breakfast paired with coffee might include sourdough bread, scrambled eggs, avocados, sausages, or bacon.


Dara Santana is a chemical engineer, a specialist on coffee brewing water, and the founder of Dart Caffeine in Spain.

She explains that in Spain, coffee is also typically enjoyed in the morning with something sweet, such as a churro, bread, or cookies. These are typically dipped in the coffee.

In the afternoon, Dara says that people often pair coffee with pastries such as croissants. She also notes that it is common for coffee to be paired with croissants in the afternoon.

Dara says that in modern Spain, deliberate coffee pairings are rare. However, the practice is on the up thanks to the growth of specialty coffee culture. Coffee pairing events have even been known to occur.

“The aim is to break down preconceptions about coffee being a drink just for the morning,” Dara explains. “In the future, we are going to give it a different concept in which we will realise that coffee pairs with any type of food.”

people enjoying coffee and food

How can food pairings create a better sensory experience for customers?

Mehmet tells me that food pairings can ultimately be used to highlight the unique characteristics of different coffees, and subsequently educate people about how diverse specialty coffee can be.

“To bring more people into specialty coffee, first I show them what good coffee is,” he says. “To do so, I try to associate coffee with different interests. 

“This could be through coffee cocktails, food pairings, or any other interests that involve taste.”

He admits that it can be difficult for newcomers to differentiate between flavours in coffee, but giving people subtle hints can move the process along. To that end, his first goal is always the same: getting consumers to understand the differences between two coffees. 

This might be washed vs natural, different origins, different varieties, or even something as simple as different roast profiles. 

“With a natural Ethiopian coffee, you sometimes have those berry notes, while a washed Ethiopian is often more bright and floral,” he explains. “If I give them a blackberry or raspberry to pair with the washed coffee it brings the sweetness to the palate. When you do the same with the natural, however, it brings on more acidity.”


The process of pairing food with coffee

Mehmet explains that alongside flavour, to pair food properly, you should think about the texture and richness of both the food item and the coffee. This means that you should pair espresso differently to pour over, for instance.

“It depends on the origin and the process, because that defines a lot of the flavour descriptors, as does the mouthfeel and body of the beverage,” he explains. “For example, if you make Ethiopian coffee in a dripper versus as a latte, you have a completely different mouthfeel.”

Like Mehmet, Michael believes that when it comes to specialty coffee, the processing method influences a lot of the decisions.

“Washed coffees are probably better with simple pastries, like croissants or cinnamon rolls,” he says. “Meanwhile, natural coffees are nicer with heavier things, with chocolate, fudge, or custard tarts.

“When it comes to pairing, there are two options,” he adds. “Either pair with notes that go well together, or with opposites, which creates a new and surprising flavour.”

Dara also notes that in her experience, using a scientific basis for pairing food and coffee is a good place to start. She notes that different acids are helpful in particular.

“If a coffee has certain chemical attributes, and you find a food that complements it, either by offering a contrasting or a similar flavour, you can create a sensory stimulus,” she says. “Start by looking at the chemicals contained in the food or the coffee.

“Let’s take acids, for example. If there’s acidity there, find out if it’s lactic acid, acetic acid, tannic acid, malic acid, citric acid, or so on… then create your pairing based on that.”

Interestingly, Mehmet adds that there are some instances where pairings simply do not work, in his experience.

“For example, seafood and spicy food are very hard to pair,” he adds. “You don’t want the food to overpower the coffee. You have to find the right balance, and in these cases, it’s almost impossible to do so.”

coffee and food

There’s no arguing that specialty coffee culture has changed the richness and breadth of the flavours we experience in our morning cup. As we see greater recognition of this differentiation, it’s only natural that coffee professionals around the world look to pair foods with a range of different high-quality coffees.

While coffee pairing doesn’t yet enjoy the same kind of prestige or reputation as wine pairing, there are clearly some cultural norms and traditions around the world which we can use as a precedent. Bread, pastries, cheese, desserts, and breakfast all appear to be staples, and going forward, these can be great starting points for the wider specialty coffee sector to leverage.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article exploring how artisan bread and specialty coffee are linked.

Photo credits: Dara Santana, Michael Rast, Jorge Chanis, Mehmet Sogan

Perfect Daily Grind

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