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Coffee has nearly as many flavor nuances as fine wine and like fine wine, the right coffee can pair with food to create a memorable taste experience. The right coffee and dessert pairing can really finish off a meal with style. The trick, of course, is learning how to choose the right coffee – or the right dessert to show off that excellent new coffee. Pairing coffee with desserts is an emerging art, but there are some basics that can help you decide the best coffees to serve with different kinds of desserts.
Flavor Profiles in Coffee
First, it helps to know something about coffee’s flavor profiles and how to judge them. Coffee cuppers use several terms to describe how coffee tastes, smells and feels in your mouth. These are the most important coffee terms to know.
Acidity is a measure of the dryness you feel at the sides and the back of your tongue. It is the factor that gives coffee its brightness, or snap. To get a feel for tasting acidity, taste the difference between a Brazilian coffee, usually high in acidity, and a Sumatran coffee, generally very low on the acidity scale.
Aroma is important in coffee as it is in wine. Without the aroma, you’d lose all the subtle notes to flavor and only taste sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Aroma adds in nutty, floral, woody and other subtle distinctions of flavor.
Body describes the way the coffee feels in your mouth. It’s like the difference in feeling between drinking whole milk and drinking water. Coffees with a lot of body feel heavier or thicker in your mouth than those with little body.
Flavor is a combination of all three of the above characteristics.
Choosing Coffees for Different Types of Desserts
Choosing the perfect coffee to go with your after dinner treat can be a complex undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be. Just like choosing the right wine with dinner, coffee pairings can be simplified to the same level as “red wine with beef, white wine with poultry or fish”. These basics are a good starting point for pairing coffees with types of desserts.
Light desserts like fresh fruit or a fruit tart goes well with light-bodied, acidic coffees. Try pairing a light roast Brazilian or Colombian coffee with strawberry shortcake or apple pie.
Creamy desserts like tiramisu or custard pie are at their best when paired with medium roasted Central American or African coffees that offer a contrast in body and acidity to the dessert. Pair tiramisu with a medium roast Costa Rican coffee or Kenyan AA.
Rich, heavy desserts like cheesecake go well with more robust, darker roasts. Serve cheesecake with dark roast Ethiopian or Tanzanian coffee. For even more contrast in flavor, make the coffee as espresso.
Decadent desserts like chocolate torte or pecan pie can really stand up to the rich, smooth, mellow flavor of East Indian coffees. Enjoy a Sumatran or Javanese coffee with a slice of rich, chocolate ganache or pecan pie.
As you start pairing desserts with different kinds of coffee, you’ll learn to choose coffees whose more subtle flavor notes set off specific desserts, but even the most basic knowledge will help you make your dinner parties more memorable.