Coffee and food pairing

Quizzing the Q grader

Ever wondered why devouring a slab of chocolate cake alongside your mid-morning coffee is so satisfying? Or found yourself agonising over which coffee will go best with your avo and feta smash? We asked Jan Komarek, Q grader and green bean buyer at Belfast’s Bailies Coffee Roasters for his view

Feature from the Ireland Independent Coffee Guide No 1 – buy your copy here.

Is there a reason why so many people enjoy a sweet treat with their coffee?

We are very sensitive to the bitterness that is present (to a certain extent) in every coffee. That’s because, for our ancestors living two million years ago, a bitter taste was closely associated with something poisonous. Nowadays we are much more accustomed to bitterness, but even relatively small amounts of bitter compounds can feel challenging to drink or difficult to enjoy. That’s why people like to complement it with comforting sweetness which, in the past, was mainly associated with foods that are ripe and nutritious.

What are the rules for pairing coffee with food?

For good food and coffee pairings you need to look for a harmonious balance in taste, and synergy of flavours at the same time. Although there are basic guides to pairing, some of the most beautiful combinations deny all of them. Every great coffee has unique characteristics and should be paired based on that. So I don’t believe in general rules and cheat sheets for pairing. Statements like ‘all Sumatran coffees pair well with brownies’ assume that all Sumatran coffees taste alike, which is true for commodity coffee, but not speciality.

Are we likely to see more food and coffee pairings on menus?

Maybe. I hope we’ll see even more people celebrating the different flavours in coffee. I feel that there are similarities with wine. The most widespread wine and food pairing took place when most people believed that there were a few simple rules to follow. Once this myth was debunked, a lot of people lost interest in it.

Are there any food and coffee pairings that everyone would agree with?

The only thing I know that pairs well with all coffees – regardless of flavour, body or acidity – is good company.


Barista pairings

The flavour profile of a coffee, when matched with similar notes in food, can become the gateway to appreciating speciality coffee, says Mark Byers (pictured), head barista at Bridewell in Donaghadee

Customers who are buying coffee often question what the purpose of the flavour notes is, some presuming that roasters have added dried fruit or chocolate to the coffee, or worse, artificial flavourings,’ Mark explains.

At Bridewell’s regular food and coffee pairing events, the team rustles up several delectable dishes, each one reflecting the flavour notes of a particular roast.

By consuming food and coffee at the same time, we’re indirectly training our palates to look out for particular flavours,’ says Mark, who first tried out the concept on his own staff.

‘The penny dropped and a real interest in a further understanding of speciality coffee was born,’ he says. ‘As for our customers, we’ve found that after our pairing events, they leave with a greater understanding of flavour notes and a confidence in purchasing coffee they’ll enjoy.


Check out a few of Mark’s favourite matches, which use food to distinguish flavours in different coffees …

Thunguri AA Kenya Climpson & Sons
Flavour notes pomegranate, plums and demerara sugar
Pairing plum and pomegranate sorbet

Musasa Rwanda Talor & Jørgen
Flavour notes lime and nectarine
Pairing lime and polenta cake with nectarine drizzle

Las Marias, Nicaragua Assembly
Flavour notes ripe cherries and hazelnut praline
Pairing dark cherry cheesecake with hazelnut praline base

Aramo Yirgacheffe Ethiopia Root & Branch
Flavour notes sloe gin, blackberries and blueberries
Pairing Aramo Bramble cocktail (Fresh blueberries, blackberry liqueur and Copeland spirits’ Rhuberry Gin)

El Limonar Guatemala Bailies Coffee Roasters
Flavour notes apple pie and pineapple
Pairing candied apple and pineapple tartlet

La Cristalina Colombia Maude Coffee Roasters
Flavour notes sweet orange, hibiscus and honey
Pairing honey infused hibiscus berry and orange iced tea


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