By Chef Martin Lopez
When you are planning an event or a party, what do you visualize as the drink beside your meal? Wine? Beer? Perfectly understandable. However, I would like to propose something different; have you ever matched a meal with a really great cup of coffee?
Sure, everyone does wine and beer, but coffee can be a beautiful drink to balance and complement different dishes, due to its acidity and the unusual sensation of matching warmth with warmth. I’m not implying that it goes with everything. But as I have been discovering the essence of great roasted beans, and creating dishes using coffee, I thought it would be a great time to bring the “cup of Joe” into the spotlight. You can create an event or a meeting around it, and highlight a few really good choices in food-and-coffee pairings.
With the holidays and cold weather upon us, one of the first things I think about is coffee. I want meals that will act in stark contrast to the pomp of Christmas. Coffee is a staple of modern life for some, but I am surprised to see how many people don’t really know about its origins, roasting process and journey to your table.
Coffee is much more than “the best part of waking up” from your grocery store, or a “sugar-free hazelnut macchiato cappuccino with extra foam” from your hip local coffeehouse. Once you’ve discovered the history, roasting process, joy and true characteristics of a great cup of coffee, you’ll be unlikely to think of it in quite the same way again.
Verner Earls, known in St. Louis as “The Coffee Guy,” invited me to tour his roasting plant, helping me to discover and learn all about the Chauvin Coffee Co. It’s a fourth-generation coffee roasting business, with plant number five nearly ready to come on board. Earls’ company has been a member of the Specialty Coffee Association of America for many years, and recently joined the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe.
Chauvin, one of the oldest roasting houses in the midwest,continues a long tradition of preparing and shipping coffee to more than 30 states. Until the mid-1920s, St. Louis was the most prominent coffee roasting city in the world, with more than 75 major plants. In the 1800s, coffee was brought up the Mississippi River by steamboats from New Orleans. Brokers and roasters purchased it right off the boats on the levee. St. Louis earned its reputation as the “Gateway to the West” by fueling the westward expansion of the United States with staples such as coffee, sugar, salt, and other goods.
The magic of a good cup of coffee is all about the quality and blend of the beans, and the roasting process. Beans are imported from around the world, with “single origin” coffees coming from a particular country or region, e.g., Guatemala, Sumatra, Kenya, Colombia, or France. Coffee blends consist of two or more types of beans of different origins, mixed in varying quantities to produce a desired result. Beans of differing degrees of roast can be blended together too.
People in the midwest tend to favor a “medium roast,” but coffee drinkers everywhere are discovering new favorites these days. Roasters are making their own blends, and creating incredible world flavors that pair well with a variety of culinary creations.
Here are few basic steps to consider when pairing coffee with food.
−− Identify the dominant flavors in your coffee of choice.
−− Experiment with brew methods to bring out different values and characteristics of roasted beans.
−− Choose foods with similar and complementary flavors, just as you would with wine.
See below for a brief primer on types of roasts, levels of body, and foods that go well with them.
Roast: Highlights different flavors in coffee.
−− Light: Fruit, acidity, floral, spice
−− Medium: Nuts, muted fruits, floral, chocolate
−− Dark: Bittersweet, roast, wood
Body: Accents richness and acidity in food pairings.
−− Light: Fruits, hard cheeses, pastries
−− Medium: Light foods, poultry, heavy desserts and many other foods
−− Full: Creamy desserts, spicy foods, dark chocolate