The Starbucks coffee pairing contest: The results
In April, I asked my readers to submit their best Starbucks coffee pairing ideas. Readers had approximately one month to submit an entry to me before the deadline of May 17, 2011. Here’s what I received (listed below in no particular order):
1. Espresso Roast paired with a peanut butter mini chocolate cupcake from Starbucks – Submitted by Denise R.
Here’s what she wrote:
I chose Starbucks Espresso roast with a chocolate peanut butter petite cupcake. My best people (baristas at my regular store) made a ‘pour-over’ for me. And, they’d just gotten the new logo ‘for here’ cups!
First of all, what could go wrong with this combination? The coffee was a little ‘roasty’, (not much) full bodied and seemed a little more acidic than sometimes. Rich, but not too rich (less sweet to me than say, Verona) to go with the chocolate and the peanut butter. As I said, what could be bad about such a combination?
I especially chose Espresso roast because I think it’s often looked over as a regular coffee. I think maybe there’s a fear that it will be like a straight shot, which it is totally not. So, that ‘s my story! A good cup of a bold brew combined with just a couple bites of peanut butter and chocolate!
2. Yukon Blend and Perfect Oatmeal – Submitted by Ethan
Here’s what he wrote:
One of my go-to coffees is Yukon Blend. I enjoy how balanced and bold Yukon Blend is, on the palette. Yukon isn’t the most exciting blend, but I don’t look to coffee for excitement. Coffee is the final step in getting my day started, unlike most people who make it their first step. I must admit, I don’t often pair my coffee with any food, as food is my first step in the morning routine. What to pair Yukon Blend with? Hrm. Oatmeal is most often my breakfast, and the Perfect Oatmeal contains all of the ingredients that are suggested for a perfect pairing, along side Yukon Blend.
I prepared a press and stirred in the Dried Fruit, Nut Medley and Brown sugar to form the Perfect Oatmeal. Much to my surprise, suddenly the Asian/Pacific spice, the Nutty flavor and acidity of Latin America burst on to the scene! I began to question whether the oatmeal complimented the Yukon or the Yukon complemented the oatmeal. Finally realizing that, a perfect pairing compliment each other! Partners who before never cared much for Yukon Blend suddenly grew fond of the coffee, while I formed a love for it WITH my oatmeal! Before, I had no idea where to find the Asian/Pacific spice or typical flavor and acidity of the Latin American coffee in this blend. Let it be written, that this bear yogis the best compliment from the Perfect Oatmeal’s basket!
3. Guatemala Antigua and vanilla shortbread cookies – Submitted by @Darkkatpouncing
Here’s what she wrote:
I chose to pair Two By Two Vanilla Biscuits with some Guatemala Antigua coffee.
The Guatemala Antigua has a very smooth earthy flavor without being acidic. I enjoy my french pressed coffee mixed with a bit of 2% milk and a little sweetener to give it a creamy body.
I pair my coffee with the vanilla biscuits because I love savoring the light yet rich butter vanilla flavor as it mingles with the creamy, earthy smooth warmth that is Guatemala Antigua.
My snack of choice when I have quiet time for myself.
4. Chipotle Hummus, pita crackers and Komodo Dragon coffee – Submitted by Nick
Here’s what he wrote:
Komodo Drago with Chipotle Hummus (preferably from Trader Joe’s with their sea salt pita crackers).
The flavors of the Komodo Dragon just explode and the hummus is taken to a whole new level. I know when you describe Komodo as a spicy coffee you don’t mean spicy like peppers (although I’m still trying to figure out a way to make a hot-spicy coffee), but the hot-spiciness of the Chipotle Hummus brings out the spicy qualities of the Komodo Dragon and vice versa. The hummus explodes with flavors that weren’t there before. It’s really an incredible pairing and all exist because I decided to something out of the normal for our standard coffee tastings. Before you know it you have finished both! It’s truly thrilling.
I remember when I did this tasting the first time for my managers I walked away to help the floor and get the customers served while we had a brief rush. When I returned about ten minutes later all the hummus and coffee had been consumed! It was hysterical. They both looked up at me with wide eyes…. they didn’t even realize they had been munching and sipping. It was hysterical!
5. Gold Coast Blend and Rocky Road Cake Pops – Submitted by Taylor
Here’s what he wrote:
Cake pops really should be for dipping in coffee, and what a better coffee to pair with the richness of the Rocky Road Cake Pop than the Starbucks’ Gold Coast Blend! Gold Coast goes extraordinarily well with chocolate and the nuts from the cake pop enhances the coffee’s nutty possibility. This pairing is a quick, on the fly type of pairing that one could enjoy just about anywhere from the table to the bus. Delicious and appropriate anytime. This one would be delicious even with a little bit of milk and sweetener in the coffee!
6. Italian Roast and Caramel Apple Cakes – Submitted by Linda
Here’s what she wrote:
I chose Italian Roast and a Caramel Apple Cake. I also tried it with the Espresso Roast.
The light sweetness of the Italian Roast pulls the sweetness of the caramel up. The smoky flavor in the coffee is a natural with the apples. There is a rich earthy flavor that blooms as the coffee and the cake combine. There is balance – sweetness (but not too), texture from the chunks of apple and moist cake, and the buttery caramel bring all the notes together. A slight flowery high note and a smoky base blend to create a simple treat.
Caramel Apple Cake
I made a couple changes to the recipe. I used half the oil and replaced it with applesauce (in my case homemade but store bought would be fine). I made cupcakes instead of a large cake. They took 20-25 minutes to bake. I added a teaspoon of vanilla to the caramel.
The process for this recipe is simple enough for even a non experienced cook.
7. African Kitamu coffee (a Starbucks grocery store only offering) and pineapple slices – Submitted by @Wildflower_eyes
Here’s what she wrote:
For my pairing I chose Africa Kitamu coffee. It is one of my favorite Starbucks coffees and is readily available in grocery stores. It is included in the core coffees on their website and it boasts having notes of subtle spice, floral and citrus. I decided to pair this coffee with fresh pineapple as it mentions to enjoy with citrus fruits and thought it might be an interesting one to try. (Arizona stores also have a great crop of pineapple right now)! In addition, I paired the Africa Kitamu with cinnamon bread (a common grocery store kind) and dark chocolate Pirouline wafers (also found in stores); so this pairing can be easily replicated.
I have only attended one tasting before, so I may not be very good at it, but it was fun to try! After brewing the coffee (leaving it black), I tried the pineapple first. I thought this was the best of the pairings, the citrus notes really made the coffee lively and sweet tasting. The coffee had a light and vibrant mouth feel. The cinnamon bread was next and the sweet taste was replaced with (what I think) a spiciness that was similar to what I found when I tried it with the wafer. The wafer cookie was sweeter than the bread, and the coffee now tasted much bolder against both the cinnamon bread and cookie than with the pineapple. The coffee had an enjoyable contrast with the cookie and bread, while the pineapple complimented it.
8. Cafe Verona and a salted caramel sweet square – Submitted by Ruth
Here’s what she wrote:
I decided to pair up starbucks espresso roast and creme brulee. Now, I’m not normally a dark roast person, so I figured this would be a great time to experiment a little and go outside my boundaries. I thought up this pairing, and then discovered that this is actually a recommended pairing on the packaging!
Being me, I experimented a bit with flavorings of the brulee, but for brevity, I will not go into that (there’s video!).
I used a cold brewer, which actually completely changed the flavor profile of the coffee. Still, it was a very fun pairing 🙂
I had picked espresso blend to try the caramel notes, which actually got completely dampened by the being method, which ended up more bitter, and a great counterpoint to the very sweet dessert.
So all in all, there were nine entries. I actually received ten entries but one arrived a day after the entry deadline. To be honest, I am SO thankful that I didn’t receive more than that. I totally bit off more than I can chew with this contest. I would have been overwhelmed with even 15 entries. It was really hard to figure out how to try all these things out, and some of them I simply did not try at all. As to Linda’s Caramel Apple Cakes, I didn’t try them at all. If I had to bake to figure out the entry, I just didn’t. I struggled with Nick’s entry which required Trader Joe’s Chipotle Hummus. I went to two different Trader Joe’s and couldn’t find that item. It ended up being a hummus just labeled “spicy” and decided that would have to work. I did find the exact sea salt pita chips for that entry. Lyracole made creme brulee and cold brew espresso roast. I bought some creme brulee from my neighborhood Crepe stand at 8th and Pike. They caramelize it for you too – that little crepe kiosk offers great creme brulee. And I had espresso roast hot from the Clover. Most of the contest entries were pretty easy to duplicate. There’s a previous blog post here where I was trying out most of the pairings. I wasn’t able to try the African Kitamu with pineapple slices either. That coffee is a “cpg” (consumer products group) meaning that it is sold in grocery stores, and not in the retail stores. Your local grocery store has slightly different Starbucks coffee bean offerings than your local company-operated retail store, and this is one example of that. Unfortunately, I simply couldn’t find the African Kitamu. I went to two different grocery stores and had no luck.
So from the previous blog post, here’s the photo of me trying five of the pairings at once:
Here’s the spicy hummus with Komodo Dragon coffee:
And some Espresso Roast from the Clover with Creme Brulee from my neighborhood Crepe kiosk at Eighth and Pike:
After trying seven pairings, I discovered that everyone had some good suggestions for coffee pairings. It was extremely difficult to pick out winners.
1. Espresso Roast and Petite Peanut Butter Chocolate cupcake – This was absolutely delicious. Espresso roast goes extremely well with rich foods. The cupcake made the coffee even seem sweeter. What a great suggestion.
2. Guatemala Antigua and the Vanilla Biscuits at Starbucks – Winner – Guatemala Antigua is a great coffee and it shines from the Clover or a press. The buttery notes in the Vanilla Biscuits are amazing with this coffee. The hint of nuttiness to the cookies are brought out by the coffee, and the two items perfectly complement each other. I love the simplicity of this pairing as well. It’s very easy to do, and surprisingly great.
3. Yukon Blend and Perfect Oatmeal – I’ve actually heard that this is a pairing that Starbucks recommends that people try. For me, this pairing didn’t really shine. Yukon Blend is pretty bold and to me it’s a bit overpowering with the oatmeal. I feel like the flavor of oats is drowned out by the flavor of the bear! Yukon Blend flavors even linger in your mouth for a moment after you’ve tried it.
4. Gold Coast Blend and a Rocky Road Cake Pop – This was a great pairing. It’s a very filling pairing and it feels like a meal nearly! Both Gold Coast Blend and Rocky Road cakepops are big flavors. Somehow I think this cakepop pairs best with something full-bodied and low acidity, and this works. The cake pop tastes even more chocolate-y when paired with Gold Coast Blend.
5. Verona and the petite salted caramel square – This was such an interesting pairing. The coffee and the salted caramel square work pretty well together because of the rich caramel and chocolate flavors in the treat. The funny thing is, I think this petite treat is a little bit challenging to really figure out what coffee it works best with. Salt is a very difficult flavor note to pair with coffee. Salt and coffee just don’t really mix. If you think about it, Starbucks has sugar and milk on the condiment bar, not salt. This is probably one of the best coffees out there for this treat, but because the mini salted caramel square is very complex in flavor, it goes with many things. On a previous occasion, I tried it with Guatemala Antigua, and the buttery, nutty bottom to the petite salted square really complements Guatemala Antigua.
6. Espresso Roast and creme brulee – This is a phenomenal pairing. The creme brulee just melts in your mouth when paired with Espresso Roast. Surprisingly to me, the coffee doesn’t overpower the flavor of the creme brulee. Surprisingly, there’s a lot of complexity to this pairing. The vanilla notes and the texture of the brulee give the coffee a certain smoothness to it. Note that Lyracole tried a cold brew Espresso Roast, and mine was hot. I think this would have been a less exciting pairing with cold brew – I just don’t think Espresso Roast is really the right coffee for a cold brew.
7. Komodo Dragon and Chipotle Hummus and Sea Salt Pita Chips – Winner – I went into this pairing kind of dreading it – I don’t like spicy foods. I substituted just “spicy” hummus for chipotle-flavored hummus. Much to my surprise, this was an amazing pairing. The pita chips don’t have much of a flavor at all, and so mostly you’re getting spicy hummus flavor with Komodo Dragon. I was worried this would be too spicy for me, but it was fine. The hummus only had a mild kick to it. If it had been much spicier, I think it would have overwhelmed the coffee. But this really was a pairing where all the spicy flavors of Komodo Dragon Blend just pop in your mouth! The full body of Komodo Dragon also goes well with all that spicy flavor. This is delicious!
Everyone who entered will get something in the mail from me. This was a ton of work for people to put together pairings, and then take photos and send them to me. Grand prize gift cards are being sent to “Nick” and “Darkkatpouncing.”
I have to say a big thank you to everyone for doing this. Hope you enjoyed reading what everyone came up with!