Monday, April 18, 2011

Pairing Up

So often I find myself equating coffee tasting to wine tasting. This often earns me a funny look at first but after some quick explanation, most folks come to see the similarities.
Both coffee and wine engage the palate with mouth-feel, acidity, sweetness, saltiness, bouquet and aroma. The key to a great cup of coffee comes down to the same basic element as a great glass of wine: structure.

With so many similarities, it stands to reason that just like wine, coffee is at its best when paired with food.
Everyone knows that coffee and donuts (or pastry in general) is a natural pairing--this is the same principal behind adding cream and sugar to your brew. The natural fats and sugars of cream or pastry blend well with the natural oils and sugars in the coffee. There is certainly nothing wrong with the classic coffee pairings but allow me to challenge you to be more adventurous.

Here are some slightly off the cuff coffee and food pairings to try the next time you're feeling a bit daring!

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and Nectarines
Ethiopian coffees, in general, are full of bright acidity that lends to flavors and aromas of citrus. The Yirgacheffe, especially, had lots of tangerine and floral notes. The next time you're enjoying a cup of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, peel yourself a sweet nectarine, take a bite and then wash it down with a sip of your coffee. In this case, the acidity and natural citrus notes of the coffee are enhanced by the sweet citrus of the nectarine creating a flavor burst that almost transcends the coffee flavor completely.

Brazilian Cerrado and Strawberry Ice Cream
Ok, admittedly, it is nearly impossible for coffee and ice cream to pair poorly, but usually you find coffee paired with vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Brazillian coffees, though, have a distinct natural berry characteristic. The Cerrado has hints of sweet cherry on its own, but if you pair it with sweet, creamy strawberry ice cream it becomes a decadent strawberry coffee cake sensation and the flavors just fly!

Indian Monsoon Malabar and Mushrooms
For the truly adventurous coffee drinker, break out the fungus. The Indian Monsoon Malabar is an earthy, low acidity coffee that would likely be overpowered by an acidic pairing. Indian coffees and Indonesian coffees are notably earthy so it makes sense to pair them with other earthy flavors. Though mushrooms don't naturally come to mind when thinking of your coffee break, a plain, uncooked button mushroom is the perfect pairing for the Malabar. The slightly musky and earthy flavors of the mushroom capture and enhance the natural earthiness of the coffee and they work together to create a soft, palate washing effect that will have you coming back for another try.

The world of coffee and food pairings is limited only to your imagination and willingness to try something off the wall. Take a look in your pantry or your refrigerator and pick a few uncommon items to try. Brew up a pot of your favorite coffee and let us know what hidden tasting gems you find!

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