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The Ultimate Coffee and Dessert Pairings

woman holding fork in front table

How to Choose the Right After Dinner Coffee

Like wine, coffee comes in hundreds of varieties, each with its subtle flavor distinctions. Learn how to serve the perfect coffee to go with different kinds of dessert.

Coffee has come into its own as a beverage that has all of the nuance and subtlety of fine wine. While many coffee drinkers are content with a cup of brew from a supermarket tin, each year more and more coffee lovers are learning about the amazing variety of coffees that are available around the world. Coffee cuppers, those tasters with a fine nose and palate tuned to distinguish the various flavors found in coffees, have identified well over 500 individual flavor that may be found in coffee.

The rise of the coffee connoisseur has given rise to another skill set embraced by the culinary world – the ability to pair the right coffee with a meal much as a wine sommelier chooses the best wine to accent each course of a gourmet meal. While some gourmet chefs with a love of coffee focus on choosing coffees that accent the flavors of food in cooking, the everyday chef may find it easier to start developing a palate for coffee profiles by pairing specific coffee varietals with common desserts to create an uncommon ending for a special dinner.

Pairing Coffee and Dessert – Where to Start

Just as there are broad differences between red wine and white wine, coffee can be divided by flavor profiles along broad lines. The coffees grown in different regions of the world tend to have very specific, telling characteristics that mark them as being from that region. Those broad characteristics can help the novice coffee gourmet choose the right coffee for the dessert she plans to serve after dinner.

There’s more to pairing than just considering the origin of the beans, though. Coffee beans vary by roast as well, with lighter roasts having a brighter flavor, and darker roasts being richer and heavier on the tongue. A general rule of thumb for pairing coffee with desserts is this easy to remember one: the richer the dessert, the darker the roast you can serve to go with it.

Coffee Profiles – South American Coffees

Coffees from the South American continent are famed for their brightness and the high acidity that gives them their snap, a term that describes the way that Brazilian, Venezuelan and Colombian seem to wake up the tongue. They tend to be lighter in mouth feel, more fluid with less of an aftertaste than African and Indonesian coffees.

These characteristics make South American coffees ideal for mornings, and for pairing with light desserts like fruit tarts and pies. There are more subtle flavor profiles within the broader scope that can influence the selection further. For instance, a medium dark roast Brazilian coffee has the acidity and tang to balance the sweetness of apple pie, while lemon chiffon or key lime pie come alive when paired with light roast Colombian coffee’s light citrus-y notes.

Coffee Profiles – African Coffees

Africa, the birthplace of coffee, offers many different flavor profiles but most share common characteristics. African coffees tend to be fuller bodied than South American coffees, with smoky, chocolate-y and berry undertones. Many African coffees also have floral notes and a hint of citrus that lend depth to the flavor.

African coffees are ideal for pairing with richer desserts like carrot cake, tiramisu and trifle. They have both the acidity and body to offset creamy, sweet desserts, and the undertones of chocolate and spice tend to enhance the flavors of desserts like cheesecake and custard desserts.

Coffee Profiles – Indonesian Coffees

Of all the geographical coffee palates, the Indonesian coffee profile may be the most complex. Indonesian coffees like Sumatran tend to have deep, rich flavors with little acidity. While each region of Indonesia produces coffee with distinctive notes, most Indonesian coffees feature cocoa, nut and spice flavor notes.

Indonesian coffees are uniformly full-bodied with complex flavor profiles. That makes them the ideal coffees to pair with rich, heavy desserts like chocolate truffle pie or pecan pie.

Conclusion

The art of pairing coffees with desserts is a new and emerging one, but one well worth understanding and learning for any cook who takes pride in serving memorable meals. Choosing the right coffee to accent the flavors and texture of each specific dessert will make the ending to any meal one to remember with relish.