Tips on Pairing Pumpkin Pie and Coffee

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

When it comes to dessert this holiday season, what do you plan on putting on the table? I am not talking about the actual dessert – let’s be honest, we all know you’re going to make at least one pumpkin pie in the coming weeks – I’m talking about the coffee.

Coffee-lovers, what’s the best way to pair coffee with pumpkin pie? Let’s get geeky.

If you want to put the focus on both the dessert in front of you (that you have so painstakingly baked), as well as the coffee you’ll pour into the cup next to it, you’ll want to think about pairing the two together.

Why even consider coffee pairing? Think about a well-paired wine and cheese; each is good on its own, but together, you can take the tasting experience to another level. Not surprisingly, the same can be done with coffee.

The Basics of Coffee Pairing

I turned to coffee-savvy friend Daniel Warburton of Honor Café for some help in better understanding how to pair coffee and food (whether you’re talking pumpkin pie or otherwise). He notes that pairing comes down to some main components: complementing and layering.

Complementing is probably the most simple to understand, and is probably something you already do in your cooking. It means finding flavors that pair well with other flavors, like cinnamon and nutmeg. So if you’re serving up a pumpkin pie, you will want to find a coffee that has some spicier notes.

Layering is a little different. “Layering suggests adding a similar or the same flavor,” says Warburton. “For example, different varietals of the same fruit (like red and green apples), or perhaps different chocolates.” This means identifying specific flavors in what you are serving, and finding coffees that have similar ones.

Kendon Shaw of Victrola Coffee Roasters adds in another important aspect to think about when pairing: contrasting. “Complementing versus contrasting is similar to wine pairing. For pumpkin pie you might reach for a Sumatra, which typically expresses earthy and spicy flavors similar to the nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove in the pie,” says Shaw. “Or you could go the contrast route and select something from Central or South America. A chocolaty Guatemala would contrast well with pumpkin, as would a caramel-y Brazil.”

Consider a Blend

Want to take the guesswork out of coffee pairing? You’re in luck. This time of year, it’s not uncommon to see roasters put out holiday blends, usually developed to pair well with the sweet and spicy dishes that the season is known for. “Blends like these are designed to fit in with the season and are usually roasted slightly darker than a single-origin coffee to give it a well-balanced toasted flavor without overpowering the natural flavors in the bean itself,” says Shaw. “Find a roaster who creates it seasonally and you’ll be a holiday hero.”

What Will Your Guests Like?

As any host knows, it’s important to not just think about what you want to serve, but what your guests want to consume. “Do your eaters like comfort or adventure?” says Shaw. “Serving a natural-process Ethiopia blueberry bomb to Uncle Hank who normally drinks coffee from a can is a losing situation. So consider their expectations of what coffee should be and offer something in line with that. Maybe a slightly darker blend for Hank, and a unique single-origin for cousin Bryce and his slouchie beanie.”

Which Brew Method?

When serving coffee for a crowd, taste is important, but as with any holiday entertaining tips, so is simplicity. If you’re a big coffee fan and like the process of brewing it, a pour-over in your Chemex can be fun, but don’t forget that a simple French press is an excellent holiday staple.

When it comes to the dessert course, the French press also wins in taste points, according to Shaw. “French press produces a brew with thicker body and mouthfeel because of the suspended solids and oils that normally get pulled out in a paper filter,” says Shaw. “This would fit well with rich pumpkin pie.”