Coffee and chocolate are a natural, pairing. Done right, this combination can make the finest chocolate taste richer and the best coffee feel like drops of sweet silk in your mouth. Done wrong, it can taste like a mouthful of dirt.
To get the best pairing, we have to understand the flavour, acidity, and textural components of both our coffee and our chocolate and how they play together . (For more on this, visit our pairing entry.) While there are many ways to approach coffee and chocolate pairing, we like to start with the coffee. Looking at the most dominant flavours in a coffee, the ones that most intensely interact with chocolate, we grouped coffees into four categories. The first three only include coffees that are light to dark full-city roasted; the fourth category is dark roast. While individual coffee notes are present in dark roasts, dark roasts, unlike lighter roasts, have their own taste profile.
Coffee is grown worldwide and can trace its heritage back centuries to the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau. There, legend says the goat herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of these beloved beans.
The story goes that that Kaldi discovered coffee after he noticed that after eating the berries from a certain tree, his goats became so energetic that they did not want to sleep at night.
Kaldi reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery, who made a drink with the berries and found that it kept him alert through the long hours of evening prayer.
The abbot shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and knowledge of the energizing berries began to spread.
As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian Peninsula, it began a journey which would bring these beans across the globe.
Dark chocolate is ideally paired with Indonesian, Brazilian, Ethiopian, Guatemalan, and dark roast coffees.
It's hard not to pair milk chocolate with all types of coffee, but Colombian, Kenyan, Sumatran, Yemeni, Ethiopian, and Kona work best.
White chocolate's milder flavour pairs better with Colombian, Costa Rican, and Yemeni coffees.
Brazilian, Colombian, Honduran, Indian, Mexican, and Peruvian
Coffees with strong nut tones taste exceptionally good with milk to slightly dark chocolates (less than 70% cocoa content). The dense, creamy nut base notes in the coffees add a nice balance to the sweetness in the chocolate. Fruity chocolates and chocolates with spice also pair nicely with nut-toned coffees, creating contrast and adding additional complexity to the chocolate.
Chocolate cakes, chocolate cookies, brownies, praline truffles, and chocolates with fruit or chili notes.
Fruity and floral coffees: Africans, Costa Rican, Guatemalan, Panamanian, and Salvadoran
Coffees with strong fruit and floral tones taste exceptionally good with light and milk chocolates (less than 55% cocoa content). Coffees with gentle, bright, delicate fruit and floral notes are easily overpowered so it is best to pair them with lighter, sweeter chocolates that complement the bean’s natural flavours without overpowering them. Chocolate covered nuts also work particularly well with these bright, elegant brews.
Milk chocolate with nuts, chocolate puddings, truffles with fruity liquors, chocolate-dipped fruits, and puff pastry with chocolate.
Earthy or spicy coffees:
Indonesian and Papua New Guinea
Coffees with dominant earth or spice notes taste exceptionally good with chocolates that contain a cocoa content between 50 and 70%. Earth and spice-toned coffees tend to be low in acidity and slightly heavier in mouthfeel making them wonderful compliments to slightly bitter chocolates. These coffees also provide a nice spicy contrast to chocolate with dried fruit.
Pairing ideas: Slightly bitter chocolates, chocolate with nuts / dried fruit, and salty chocolates.
Dark roasts have their own flavour profiles and while certain inherent bean attributes are always present (e.g., mouthfeel and acidity level), most of the bean’s flavour notes are muted as they begin to take on the characteristics of their roast shade. Dark roasts coffees taste exceptionally good with dark chocolates. Vienna roasts, the lightest of the dark roast shades, tend to be slightly sweeter while Italian roasts, the darkest of the dark roast shades, which tend towards bitterness. French roasts, which falls between Vienna and Italian roasts, possess a combination of sweet and bitter notes and works well with nearly all dark chocolates. Most espresso blends are roasted to a French Roast shade.
Sweet dark roast pairing ideas:
Chocolates with 70% or greater cocoa content, truffles, chocolates with sweet liquors, flourless chocolate cake, and chocolate brittle.
Bitter dark roast pairing ideas:
Chocolate with 60-85% cocoa content, brownies, and dense chocolate cake.