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Complementing coffee with food: What flavours go well together?

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It's all very well enjoying a cup of coffee on its own – perhaps a quick espresso first thing in the morning before dashing out of the house or a soothing latte at the same time as a catch-up with an old friend.

However, another way to make the most of great coffee is to combine it with a complementary food.

Obviously, there are some more traditional pairings that spring instantly to mind, such as coffee with either vanilla or chocolate. But what if you want to try something a little different?

A surefire way to go about this is to consider the characteristics of the coffee itself and how these may sit alongside those of any given food. For example, a coffee with smoky overtones will likely taste delicious alongside a smoked food. Similarly, nuts are another popular complement, which isn't surprising given that some coffees exude such aromas. Likewise if you detect cereal and earthy aromas in your full-bodied coffee, think about different grains, cereals and wholewheat foods that may be the perfect accompaniment.

If you are enjoying a coffee with particularly subtle flavours, you don't want to offset this by eating something too overpowering, as the delicate aromas will be completely lost on your palate. A subtle coffee should be combined with a fresh and clean flavour combination that will keep your palate free to enjoy the delicacies of your drink.

Having teamed up with FoodPairing – "a source of inspiration that allows chefs, bartenders and others in the food industry to create new combinations of ingredients for dishes or drinks" – the Colombian Coffee Hub explains how to match a medium to high acidity coffee from Huila with a complementary dish.

Beans from this growing region in the south of Colombia, when cupped, boast a medium body, with sweet notes and suggestions of wine coming through. For this reason, such a coffee would go well with stronger, more bitter flavours, such as lemon, pecan, cucumber, gorgonzola cheese, dark chocolate and perhaps even lychee. Similarly, other citrus fruits would also work.

This is a perfect example of how the bitterness of food – such as that in dark chocolate and lemon – is used to sit alongside the slight bitterness of a medium to high acidity coffee, leaving your palate refreshed and revitalised.

For a more mellow coffee, a cheese such as a mild, young gouda would be more appropriate than a stronger, blue cheese. However, an older gouda will have slightly sweeter, caramelised overtones, meaning that when it comes to cheese, you may need to take into account how old it is. A milky mild Italian ricotta can also be the perfect complement to a delicate coffee – or a stronger, more full-bodied one, when piled onto a rich dessert!

At the end of the day, there isn't really a right and wrong when it comes to coffee and food combinations – as with all things when it comes to coffee, it is ultimately entirely subjective.

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