Coffee and dessert make a great duo— whether it be the timeless tiramisu or a simple coffee and cake— it’s become almost conventional wisdom that the two are a match made in heaven.
What’s sometimes overlooked (at least in here in the UK) is the use of coffee in savoury dishes. In barbecues across the Americas, meanwhile, it is frequently used as a spice rub, accentuating and enhancing the flavours of the meats without overpowering them. The trend has yet to fully catch on across the pond, but some London chefs have become aware of the pair’s potential: at Coal Rooms in Peckham, for example, head chef Sam Bryant has been using Old Spike Coffee to add layers of complexity to their meats, including in their coffee-infused bacon sandwich. Head chef Sam Bryant describes the creation in an recent article in The Independent: “We cure our bacon in coffee and treacle. The coffee adds richness, rather than a bitterness, and creates a dark crust on the fat when roasted with the treacle”. In the more opulent surroundings of Bibendum in Chelsea, two-michelin starred chef Claude Bosi prepares Galician fillet of beef inside a dough-sealed dutch oven, placed underneath a mound of Arabica coffee beans. Kang of popular food blog London Eater notes how the beans bring a gentle acidity to the dish, offsetting the neutral flavour of the fillet.
In good news for the non-carnivorous types, coffee works well with vegetables too, as it intensifies the natural sweetness and flavour of vegetables. Renowned Californian chef Daniel Patterson proposes a recipe in his cookbook Coi: Stories and Recipes which involves roasting carrots on a bed of whole coffee beans, before serving them in a tangy broth of mandarin and carrot juice, raw carrots for added crunch and roman mint scattered on top, adding the final flavour punch. The coffee showcases the sweetness of the carrot whilst also adding an unexpected smoky dimension.
Coffee, argues Sarah Lemanski of the award winning Noisette Bakery in Leeds in an interview with North Star Coffee Roasters, when paired with savoury food dishes, can also provide an interesting synergy and balancing of flavours. Such pairings can have a mutually beneficial effect: enhancing the flavours not only of the coffee but the food as well, making the overall taste experience more enjoyable than if either were enjoyed separately. She cites the example of pairing of a boiled egg seasoned with dukkah, toasted coriander seed and sea salt with washed coffees: “the salt balances acidity in coffee, whilst the woodsy coriander seed has both floral and citrus notes that easily mirror the clean profile of many washed coffees.”
Whether cooking meat or vegetables with coffee, or pairing brews with savoury dishes, coffee’s complexity and versatility means the possibilities are endless. So next time you’re having a meal or cooking one yourself, don’t be afraid to experiment with different roasts and brews— but remember, the key is always balance. Get that balance right, and there is no reason why coffee and savoury foods cannot coexist in perfect harmony.
Written by Thomas Cury