How to pair your coffees and foods

Coffee with our breakfast in Ethiopia

Coffee with our breakfast in Ethiopia

Did you know you can enhance your coffee experience by pairing different coffees with different foods?

People are beginning to realize that coffees are as nuanced as wines. You’ll continually find new favorite combinations of coffees and foods.

(Geek-note: the science behind taste parings was recently put forth by Fran├žois Benzi of the Swiss perfume and flavor company Firmenich, at an international workshop on molecular gastronomy in Erice.)

Start your coffee-pairing-journey by trying the following pairings. See if you can describe what’s happening in your mouth. The act of putting words to it helps you concentrate and differentiate.

Chocolate (of course we need to start with chocolate, duh).

  • Full-bodied coffees, like Indonesians, go great with darker chocolates. Try one with dark chocolate brownies, for instance, and see what you think.
  • Smoother/lighter coffees pair best with the lighter milk chocolates. Try some with an Ethiopia Yirga Cheffe or a very round Columbian.
  • Then try picking up the fruity notes in various Ethiopians and Kenyans with some chocolate-dipped fruit. You’ll see how the two resonate together.

Morning-starters (need those, don’t we?)

  • Sweet breakfasts (pancakes, donuts, etc.) resonate well with coffees that have higher-fruit notes.
  • Savory breakfasts (eggs & bacon, omelets, quiches) pair best with heavier bodied coffees.
  • Light breakfasts (toast, cereal, simple muffins) pair well with less-complex, smooth coffees. You don’t want intense coffee flavors to overpower your intentionally-light food.
Heftier Foods
  • Toasted nuts, seeds and anything caramelized — go with medium or darker roasts
  • Soup and salad — pair it with lighter and drier coffees
  • Chinese or Asian flavors — see how they are enhanced beautifully by Ethiopian coffees. Who knew there was that Asian-African thing going on??
  • Grilled chicken — try our bold Harrar
  • Meat and Potatoes — the smoky hints of a Sumatran brings out the savory flavors amazingly!
Try the above first steps and see what you learn. Make your own notes and see what you think.
What pairings have you discovered?
Written by Jeff Power

Jeff is the founder of Pangeo Coffee. He's been dedicated to full-time humanitarian development with poor villages in Africa, Asia and the Middle East since 2007. Follow Jeff's travels and work on his personal blog:, and on twitter at @jeffpower.