Pairing Coffee with Pastries

Many times we hear quotes that life is all about finding balance. This generally applies to when one attempts to pair two separate entities such as pastries and coffee. We often ask ourselves, how do we begin to even understand such complex flavours and characteristics?


The key here is harmony. When pairing, we strive to create a balance of flavours. In Malaysia, it’s common to see the traditional “kopitiam or coffeehouse” serving hot coffee and a choice of pastries such as your all-time favorite “roti bakar”, better known as toasted bread. The philosophy practiced is simple; traditional wok roasters would roast their coffee with sugar, butter, margarine, barley or malt to create a dark, bittersweet and aromatic cup of coffee. That traditional black coffee paired with sweet kaya (coconut jam) on toast creates a harmonious balance of sweet, bitter and aromatic in our palates. This traditional pairing of pastry and coffee has worked well for generations.


Moving forward to the present day, we find that both the coffee and pastry industries have grown much more through the years. Today, with various techniques and ingredients to be played around with, many gastronomical pastries have been created. Some even include fresh watermelon in their layers. As mentioned in previous articles by Barista Guild Asia, the coffee growth is now in its third wave, moving into the traceability of coffee beans, transparency of information and quality of standards. Newer flavours are being introduced into the coffee flavour wheel each year. One method of coffee and pastry pairing can be accomplished by utilising coffee as an ingredient for pastry. Famous pastries include the Mexican coffee bun or the Italian Tiramisu.


Do note the stark contrast in which coffee is highlighted. The Mexican coffee bun has a rich buttery finish that goes well with the bold aromas of coffee. A Tiramisu should present a smooth and light finish that goes amazingly well with a lingering, smooth coffee aroma. Thus, we are able to see the same ingredient paired in many different ways, but still achieving a balance of harmonious flavours.


Another method of pairing coffee and pastry: via complementary food pairings. How it’s done is simple. The flavour spectrum ranges from lighter notes to heavier notes, and we are able to let opposites complement each other. For example, a rich, smoky and earthy coffee from Sumatra would be great in the morning when our senses are still dull. Pair that with a heavy pastry such as a sweet and strong sugar donut and we get to live through Monday blues with ease. How does it work? When we drink that strong, bitter Sumatran coffee, we condition our palate with a strong, bitter sensation; then, when we sink our teeth into that sweet donut, it suddenly tastes much sweeter!


Other similar flavours complement each other. An easy example would be Ethiopian Sidamo Coffee, which is very fruity and smooth. Some may describe it as possessing profiles similar to tea. A fruit-based pastry would complement it very well indeed.


So, whether you are biting into a sweet kaya toast dipped in a hot cup of traditional Malaysian coffee or indulging in a coffee-infused masterpiece of a pastry, remember that flavours are elusive and the possibilities are endless.

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Chong Hock Soon
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