Food & Coffee Pairing in Fine Dining: It’s Not Flavor Matching

By Stefany Dybeck and Margaret Winzeler

Listening to our fine dining customer is always the first step in creating and delivering an exceptional food pairing program. What do they want and what do they need to deliver it? Ultimately, we all want the same thing—-consistent, high quality taste in the cup. The program has to be operationally sound for us as the roaster and not too labor intensive for the restaurant. It also has to be a top notch experience for the diner. We need to go beyond a win-win scenario to obtain a win-win-win for Batdorf & Bronson, our fine dining customer and their customers.

Food pairing is not flavor matching. Our goal is not to bring out the vanilla in the crème brulee by pairing it with a vanilla-forward Colombian coffee. We really want to coax specific flavors to the spotlight. For instance a Kenya with upfront, over-the-top berry notes would fair really well alongside a buttery, cakey pear clafouti with crème anglaise. We need to know about combining flavors and textures to really hit the mark. We need to stretch and meet the demand of pairing head-on. Our roasters, cuppers and employees have excellent palates, but we need to reach out to the chefs as well.

We learn about the chef’s approach to seasonal flavors and how those flavors relate to the restaurant’s cuisine. This is the information we use to put a selection of coffees on the cupping table for the pairing selection. We need to be able to switch these coffees up depending on seasonality, yet insure that they will be available in the quantities that our customer needs. We also need to stay in tune with our customers needs regarding coffee preparation. It needs to fit with the service model of the restaurant. Then we begin the most important step of our collaboration, the training program.

For any brewing method, an effective training program needs to cover three broad areas: how the equipment works; how to keep it clean; and how to use it to deliver the highest quality taste in the cup. Coffee is often the “last act” of the meal, a finale that completes the fine dining experience. It is definitely worthy of training time. A trained staff is a confident staff, and a confident staff will sell more coffee.

Keeping the staff on your side is important. If the wait staff is not absolutely in love with the idea of dessert and table-side Chemex brewing, the pairing will not sell and you will not be the featured dessert and coffee item at the hottest restaurant in town. Be prepared to dedicate a lot of time and investment. This is not the place you will reap your highest financial return. What you get, however, is an amazing relationship with your fine dining customer, a great marketing opportunity and a wonderful coffee experience.

Stefany Dybeck is an independent consultant specializing in product and business development. Margaret Winzeler is with Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters.