What restaurateurs and foodservice professionals have to say about pairing food with high-quality coffee.
BY YKER VALERIO
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Destroyer
It’s hard to imagine a world before coffee and sweets were served together. It’s a no-brainer why historians called those times the “Dark Ages.“
Inaccurate jokes aside, we’re so used to drinking coffee paired with some foods that we assume that is the only way to do it. For example, a coffee with a croissant is a pairing that has never been questioned or changed. In our previous article about the science behind food and coffee pairing, we realized it doesn’t need to be that way, though. Rather, it is uncharted territory.
But when it comes to the practical side of pairings sans science, chefs and coffee experts have started to explore this territory within the realm of high-quality dining. Interestingly, their ideas and sensory propositions can stimulate further academic research and develop new business opportunities.
Pairing the Best of Each Offering
Samuel Han of Destroyer in Los Angeles puts it simply. “Cafés are improving their food standards and restaurants are catching up (by) improving their coffee experience,” says Samuel. This thought begins to offer an explanation for the puzzling void that scientists found when they reviewed coffee and food pairing research.
Until recently, high-quality coffee was commonly served with everyday pastries and fine foods with regular coffee. Restaurants and cafés were catering mostly to what each specialized in within their own fields of expertise.
From a business perspective, food and coffee pairings are a great opportunity to reinforce branding and promote specific products.
According to Merlin Gessen, foodservice consultant and chef, food pairings create sensory harmony. From Merlin’s perspective, high-quality coffee is very powerful to launch premium chocolate and liquors. Cuppings and tastings are becoming a widespread tactic to increase awareness and elevate specialty coffee to the status of other premium drinks like fine wine and whiskey.
Major Cohen, a well-known coffee educator, says that food and coffee pairing works as a contrast or complement between the two offerings. To devise interesting pairings, Major recommends using the Specialty Coffee Flavor Wheel, which was recently updated for the Specialty Coffee Association Coffee Sensory and Cupping Handbook.
As an example, Major uses different coffee origins and aromatic notes to pair with foods, a reference he used in his most recent book, Coffee for Dummies. As Major explains, we can describe some African coffees as fruity, tart, and complex. Contrasting these can be shortbread and chocolate chips, while complementary can be lemony and fruity.
When asked about disrupting tradition in food and coffee pairings, Major says that “practice represents innovation and courage when it breaks through normalcy and habit.” For instance, “full gourmet meals where a chef pairs a coffee with each course, local foods with local coffee experiences.”
Elevating Familiar Food and Drinks
At Destroyer, innovation around food and coffee starts with high-quality products. According to Samuel, it’s crucial to offer coffee at the same quality standards as the food they serve at Destroyer.
From Samuel’s point of view, “Creativity comes from restraining yourself.” And based on this motto, Destroyer serves familiar dishes reinvented. “We don’t need someone to recommend pairing a coffee with a dish in our menu. Our customers explore dishes and want excellent coffee, particularly with their breakfast, or some familiar flavors like oatmeal,” says Samuel.
To offer coffee with the quality that Destroyer customers expect, Samuel works closely with the roaster Roseline Coffee; together they source and develop great coffee, tailored specifically for Destroyer.
It might seem picky, but it’s the standard many customers are expecting already from fine restaurants.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Yker Valerio (he/him) is a freelance content creator. After more than 10 years of working as a management consultant, he started his blog Bon Vivant Caffè to share his passion for specialty coffee.