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How to Pair Coffee with Food

Posted by Stori Coffee on
How to Pair Coffee with Food

One of the first coffee experiences I had with my friend and co-founder Joel was showing him how pairing his coffee with the right food resulted in a whole new coffee experience. We’d wandered up to a hole in the wall coffee shop on Ballard Ave. I ordered a muffin for myself. Joel went to place his order when I said,"No, you're not having that, you're having this." He was a little taken aback, but went along with it. And when he tried the pairing he said "Whoa, I've had this coffee every time and I've never tasted this." And ever since that day, he texts me when he tries a pairing and tastes something new.

Being intentional about the food you eat with your coffee can open up a whole new world of flavors, just like that pastry did for Joel. When you look at the flavor wheel of coffee, there are many underlying compounds that are only revealed through pairing.

What flavors does coffee naturally have?

From fruity to sour, to sweet, to spicy, to nutty, to floral, all these flavors can be extracted from the coffee you enjoy everyday. While I would like to one day have a resource to help you pair your coffee with just the right food, today I want to help you have some tools so that you can start to pair things on your own. This isn’t a list of step-by-step instructions to pair your coffee, but it will provide some guiding principles so that you can start to make intentional mindful choices about the foods you eat with your coffee. I think that, like Joel, you’ll really enjoy what you discover.

What masks coffee’s natural flavors

Before we talk about extracting the natural flavors through pairing coffee and food, let’s talk about the ways we do this artificially. People add sugar, milk, cream, and syrups to their coffee for all sorts of reasons. I've heard some say they're trying to reduce the amount of caffeine by putting in a creamer, or milk. While others say they're trying to sweeten their coffee. But, when you put in those additives, they will mask some of the proponents of coffee that could be exposed or heightened by a certain pairing that you may try. If you like chocolatey notes in your coffee, you don’t have to add chocolate syrup. By pairing the right coffee with the right food, you’ll be able to taste the chocolaty notes the farmers have captured at origin, the flavors that have been so carefully preserved through processing and roasting.

Where the flavors of coffee come from 

Pairing coffee with food is all about extracting all the flavors that coffee has to offer. If you remember, we talked about the flavors captured at origin. Then we talked about how different processing methods impact flavor. As we went on to talk about roasting, we discussed how a lot of the flavors are extracted here and really come alive when you freshly grind your coffee. The brew method, type of water you use, and proportion of water to coffee all play a part in creating the flavors in your cup. This final part of the journey is where a cup of coffee transforms from a functional means to an end (caffeine into system) to an experience you can create and enjoy. While all of the flavors in coffee come from origin, the roaster has the ability to express or enhance these flavors. There are over 300 compounds, and a roaster is able to tease out different compounds, based on his approach. That’s why you may try one coffee from Kenya and love it, and try another Kenya coffee from a different roaster, and not enjoy it.

Chocolate Mouse

How to pair coffee with food

Before you choose your coffee, look at your pantry, rather than the other way around. Then you'll notice what sort of pairing opportunities you have. You may have an opportunity to pair chocolate, a breakfast food pairing opportunity, or even a fruit and cheese pairing opportunity. That's when then you go to your coffee counter and find the right coffee to pair with that food. Below are some general guidelines to help you start to pair your coffee. Often, coffees will have pairing suggestions, but that’s not always the case. For example, we recommend pairing our Founder's Series Coffee with either

  • Lemon Bars 
  • Sourdough Toast with Apricot Jam 
  • A square of medium-dark chocolate

A Beginners Guide to Start Pairing Coffee with Food  

Food Type   Suggested Pairing 




Fruit Tarts

Medium to dark roast Brazil
Costa Rica

Chocolate Cake or  Brownies


Milk Chocolate

Medium roast Rwandan
Medium roast Ethiopian
Medium Roast Kenyan
Medium Roast Colombian
Medium Roast Kona

Baked Goods: Biscotti, Lemon pound cake, muffin

Milk-based Espresso Drinks (latte’s, cappuccinos, macchiatos)

Pancakes (Sweet Breakfast foods)

Costa Rica

Savory Breakfast Foods (except Bacon, which is so salty you’ll lose the taste of your coffee)

Dark Roasts

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