From Wine to Coffee pairings
Everything and anything can change with time, and the same can be said of coffee.
Coffee is turning into the wine of today. In other words, the importance in the making of coffee from seed to cup (a sustainable business model from farmers to customers) has become quite significant. The word terroir or micro-climate is now being used when referring to the climate that a particular coffee grows under.
Coffee has not only become significant in this sense. We now have terms such as ‘ coffee pairings ‘ and this concept is slowly taking over in the mainstream cafe and dining of Japan.
There are many ways to enjoy coffee, and today I’d like to introduce the art of pairing coffee and dessert, enjoying the unique combination and marriage of the two delights.
Using Roast Degrees To Pair Your Coffee
Understanding the roast degrees and using that to pair your coffee is one great way of enjoying your coffee pairing experience. To put it simply, darker roasts tend to produce a bitter-chocolatey, burnt sugar/charamely taste with a sweet and smokey fragrant while light roasts taste fruity/acidic with floral and fruit-like fragrance. Dark and light roasts are two ends of a pole. And the pairings that go well with them, that accompany well can differ to a certain extent.
Pairings with dark roasts
When it comes to dark roasts, somewhere in the full-city to italian roasts , cacao goes really well.
After trying quite a bit of combinations, one thing I can say is that the bitterness of cacao from chocolate cakes/gateau chocolats complements really well with dark roast coffee.
Perhaps it’s the fact that dark roast coffee has so much strength and personality that it usually overpowers the other. But when combined with chocolate – which contains cacao – the two strong personalities blend and harmonise in unity. It’s sort of like one plus one equals two. Perhaps it’s the fact that both carry strong personalities and keep feeding your palate with a wave of awesomeness. Or that they both share something similar, for example the bitter-chocolatey taste which means a marriage of taste.
The picture above is a pairing I tried at cafe MARUGO. A dark-roast Marugo Blend paired together with a rather bitter gateau chocolate.
The gateau chocolat/chocolate cake wasn’t too sweet. Kind of like the 75% ~ 85% chocolate bar you would find at the local super market. A simple, yet complex blend of various bitterness coming together, and finally a little sweetness to add another dimension to turn your coffee pairing experience into something special.
But of course, cacao is not the only option.
Cheese cakes also pair really well with dark roast coffee. Cheese is dairy product just like milk, and it has a strong personality. Of course, aged cheese and the ones used for cooking and pasta may be too strong. But cream cheese and mascarpone as well as cream is not too overpowering and can go phenomenally well with dark roast coffee.
There are many types of cheesecakes, but the heavy kinds like the New York style cheese cake may just be the perfect fit.
Pairings with light roasts
For light roasts (cinnamon to light ), something more light-textured and fruity-sour like a soufflé cheese cake or a chiffon cake can go really well.
The advent of specialty coffee has put a lot more emphasis on the bright fruity notes and acidities. Some of the common methods utilized to bring out this aspect of the coffee is lightly roasting the beans. The flavors and fragrance will be a lot more delicate, and desserts that don’t overpower the coffee is ideal.
The soufflé cheese cake or chiffon cake is ideal for this sort of pairing. These cakes are fluffy in general and don’t pack too much volume behind each bite. They are also different from the heavy types of cheese cakes or chocolate cakes in the sense that they don’t coat/smear your tongue. It’s more of a snowflake than a mud ball.
I’ve noticed that the soufflé cheese cakes made in Japan are more acidic and fruity in taste. Whether it’s because the cheese they use contains such characteristics or that they use more sour cream I don’t know. But it marries really well with light roast coffee.
The delicate touch gives you the chance to palate the coffee and cake simultaneously which enhances the pairing experience.
I’m pretty sure cheese cakes go well with light roast coffee. But it may be more ideal to pair with cheesecakes that aren’t overpowering and heavy. Something made with light cheese, ricotta or mascarpone may be ideal. Even better if it has some fruity and floral notes.
Pairings with medium roasts
For Medium Roasts(medium to city roast), and just about any roast, pound cakes go really well.
After trying various combinations of coffee and cakes, this is something that’s rung true for me. The pound cake, one of the simplest cake on the planet(I’m guessing), isn’t too light, nor too heavy. It’s just right, and can blend in really well with any type of coffee.
I prefer to have pound cakes with medium roasts to medium dark roasts. Since that’s where you tend to palate both the fruity acidity and chocolaty bitterness of the coffee, it’s ideal to have a pairing that doesn’t overwhelm any of the two characteristics.
The pound cake is rather plain and doesn’t have an overwhelming effect on the palate, so I feel that it’s quite the ideal cake to pair with. And the pound cake can go really well with any type of coffee. It’s this neutral medium that tends to enhance the flavor and characteristics of the coffee at hand.
Now that’s awesome.
So if you don’t quite know what to choose with your coffee, your safest bet would be the pound cake. Then you could experiment with other types of cake to see what works.
Another interesting thing I noticed. Depending on the cafes/roaster cafes, you can find pound cakes which are filled with chocolate chips, rum-soaked raisins, vanilla essence and other various ingredients. Having pound cakes with differing ingredients can also spice up your coffee pairings.
More than just cakes
Of course, your pairing experience doesn’t have to be limited to cakes. I’ve tried muffins, puddings, cookies, and other kinds of dessert.
Some work, and some don’t work. I guess it’s just a matter of trying the two together and finding harmony with your palate.
It’s not crazy science when it comes to pairing. But a little thought goes a long way. It’s really up to you with how you want to enjoy coffee.
And also, you don’t have to totally get absorbed into this whole coffee pairing business. Like seriously. Otherwise you may become like me when I was totally obsessed in finding the right pairing of every type of coffee and forgetting to just sit back and enjoy the coffee and cake at hand.
The rise of Specialty Coffee and the ever-changing ways to pair your coffee
I hope to talk a lot more about this in my future blog posts.
The ways you can pair your coffee are infinite and the method above is just one example.
The rise of specialty coffee, and the various features and characteristics they bring along – check out the flavour wheel by the SCAA(Specialty Coffee Association of America) – are simply amazing.
The many characteristics of flavours and aromas will definitely be a delightful treat as you get to try out a multitude of combinations (for example, a pairing of banana and walnut muffin with coffee from Guatemala El Injerto that tends to produce tropical aromas and fruitiness on the lighter side).
If you have any pairings that have worked well, or think of trying the next time you have coffee, leave a comment below. It’d be great to share and learn some new and delightful coffee pairings.
Also, if you run a roaster cafe/specialty cafe, do you usually recommend a certain variety of coffee to go with a certain dessert? It’d be interesting to hear your thoughts.