Boy do us Brits love a coffee shop - any excuse for a slice of cake and a pain au chocolat! But it's not just brekkie or post petit fours that coffee's served alongside any more. Accompanying anything from cheese boards to chocolate bars to burgers, the new way to drink coffee is like wine – pairing your blend to what's on your plate.
"People are becoming much more daring and explorative with their coffee choices and discovering that food can change the way you taste particular coffees," explains Liz Booker, Starbucks London Coffee Ambassador.
Slurping is good
We've always been told it's rude to slurp but not when it comes to coffee tasting. To get the most out of your mouthful, inhale the aroma first – this will be your first heads up as to whether the coffee you're about to receive is sweet, salty, bitter or sour.
Next, slurp it so it splashes all over your tongue and teeth to allow the aromas to burst onto your tastebuds, then you need to decipher whether it's a light, medium or full bodied roast - think hard about the notes you're picking up – is it a nutty flavor or something slightly fruity? At first you might just taste coffee but sample a few at a time and you'll soon get the knack.
The acid test
One of the reasons healthy eaters want us to quit the coffee is because it's high on the acidity chart but in official coffee terms when you're talking acidity, it relates to how tangy it is, not the pH balance.
"When we discuss acidity in a coffee we're referring to the brightness of the coffee not the PH - brewed black coffee is less than 5 calories a cup so from a diet perspective, choosing a coffee with lovely chocolate flavours can really help quell cravings!"
As an acidity rule, if your coffee tastes crisp and clean it will be high acidity, smooth and rich – low acidity. Once you've got the acidity nailed, it'll help you balance your coffee to your food but in general, foods that share similar flavours and aroma will taste good together so whittle down the dominant flavours in your food then look for similar notes in your coffee. For example...those Amaretti biscuits that are always for sale beside the tills in coffee shops will wow with a creamy, nutty blend that will bring out that toffee-esque tang!
Your bean origin can play a big part in suitability too. Generally most coffee is grown in line with the equator and is divided up into...
Latin/Central America – these tend to be nutty, chocolatey coffees with a hint of spice.
Africa – a little bit floral, a little bit fruity, these are well-seasoned beans.
Asia – full-bodied and smooth, these pack a punch and have earthy, solid flavours.
MORE: How to make iced coffee
You've slurped, you've sniffed, you've scrutinised Google maps, we hear you. What you really want to know is what goes with what...
A flaky croissant is best suited to a subtly sweet coffee to complement the richness of the pastry (continent clue – central America). In the same way sweet, flavoured coffees will wash down bread, crumpets and bagels a treat. Prefer savoury to start the day? Full bodied coffees are best (hello Asia). Espressos work a treat here too.
More cheese please
Fancy a cheese sarnie at lunch or just a fan of a good cheeseboard? Either way, cheese goes brilliantly with coffee and this time the coffee's pH balance does come into play. Because cheese is low in acidity and coffee is high, it settles those periodic scales so the flavours marry together as one. "A mild Cornish Brie will work well with a medium bodied Columbian coffee that has a walnuty finish while a blue cheese will suit a full bodied coffee from Asia or the Pacifics that has sweeter notes to cut through the savoury sharpness of Stilton," reveals Liz.
Coffee and chocolate = winning but some work better together than others. Dark chocolate should be nibbled on with full-bodied coffees (FYI Indonesian beans tick this box nicely) as they have a darker roast that's smooth and velvety. Milk chocolate however is less punchy as it contains less cocoa so a Latin American blend that's lighter in flavour is best.
Don't just play with cold food/hot drinks. The warmth with warmth factor can be delish. Some coffee connoisseurs have suggested that coffee washes down a burger just as well as beer as the sharp taste against something rich and meaty is an unusual but satisfying sensation! Even spicy foods can get in on the action – just tuck into your madras with a Central American blend that's mellow and unassuming and you can swap your lassai for a latte!
The barrista in the black apron!
Hooked on the new caffeine concept? Independent coffee shops are already starting to catch on to the trend so keep your eyes peeled for courses and in store events. Otherwise, hit up Starbucks! "Every store has a coffee master who has undertaken additional training in coffee to understand the growing, roasting and brewing of coffee – look out for the barrista in the black apron! They'll sometimes host regular coffee tasting's for customers and we do have special tasting sessions for our most loyal Starbucks card holders," advises Liz.
It's official then. Coffee pairing sessions are the 2015 equivalent of an Ann Summers' party, get in!
No living room would be complete without the perfect coffee table...