The Expert-Approved Coffee Pairings For Your Favorite Cafe Treats

Few things beat that first cup of coffee in the morning, but there is one thing that can make it better. Whether you're at home or a cafe, pastries and toast have long been considered a quintessential pairing for your brew because they carry the buttery, sweet flavors that balance out the drink's acidity. That's according to Lisa Gasparian, the Owner of Café Crèmerie in Chicago. The European-inspired cafe doubles as a pâtisserie, serving everything from fresh baked bread to cakes. According to Gasparian, some pastries go better with your coffee than others.

You've probably never thought twice about what treat to order with your coffee, nor the type of coffee you pair with said treat — but you should. Gasparian offered her expert insight to Tasting Table on what type of coffee drink you should be pairing with your favorite cafe treats and vice versa. Whether you like a cinnamon bun or a buttery croissant, a frothy cappuccino or an iced cold brew, Gasparian says there is a pastry and coffee pairing for you that will bring out the best flavors in each.

Flavorful breads go best with strong brews

It doesn't get much simpler than buttered toast and coffee for breakfast, but if you're not pairing them right, you're only going to complicate things flavor-wise. In this case, Gasparian says it all comes down to the variety of bread you prefer. More flavorful breads, such as rye, pumpernickel, sourdough, and anything with nuts or seeds, require a coffee drink that can stand up to their bold flavors without overpowering them. For that, Gasparian recommends cold brew.

"I actually think a cold brew or something more acidic and strong would balance well with these choices," she tells Tasting Table. Cold brew is a type of coffee drink that is made using an infusion process. It's distinct from iced coffee because the beans never undergo brewing and are instead steeped in room-temperature water for hours. In that period, the beans slowly release their flavors and oils. The process is what gives cold brew its signature bold flavor and allows it to go toe-to-toe with extra flavorful bread.

Pair lighter breads with lattes

On the other end of the bread, butter, and coffee spectrum are the lighter bread varieties: brioche, challah bread, and baguette to name just a few. Interestingly, when it comes to pairing coffee drinks with a serving of toast made from any of these types of bread, Gasparian recommends leaning toward a beverage that mimics their soft texture and mild flavor, but how do you do that with a liquid such as coffee? With milk, of course.

When asked about what coffees to pair with lighter breads, Gasparian's answer was to the point: "Lattes all day, smooth and delicious just like a brioche." The latte — which is slightly frothier than a flat white and slightly less so than a cappuccino — is just one style of coffee that plays on the textural effect of steamed milk. A shot of espresso is poured into a cup and topped with freshly steamed milk, leaving a nice layer of soft foam on the very top.

The addition of steamed milk also works to dilute the strong, acidic flavors of the espresso. The latte won't overpower the flavor of the lighter bread used to make your toast and will, in turn, give you more room to experiment with spreads and flavors. Lattes can easily take on flavors like vanilla, lavender, and even chocolate, so feel free to play on the salty and sweet combinations available with your toast spreads or indulge in your sweet tooth.

Cappuccinos pair with cake and quick breads

Aside from the flavorful bread and the lighter bread you'd use to make toast, there is the option of enjoying a slice of brown butter banana bread, pumpkin bread, or perhaps even a carrot loaf with your coffee. In this scenario, Gasparian's advice is to save the sugar for the quickbreads and opt for a coffee drink that feels luxurious and indulgent without competing with its flavors. For that, she says a cappuccino is the ideal pairing.

Made with equal parts espresso, milk, and foam, cappuccinos are slightly bolder in flavor than a latte but with that extra bit of froth. They provide even more of that creamy mouthfeel when you sip without going overboard and, in turn, over-diluting the drink. This way, the richness of the espresso still shines through and helps to offset the sugariness of the quickbread. As Gasparian put it, "Cappuccinos, minimal on the milk foam — enjoy the sweetness of your treats!"

Cardamom buns call for more cardamom

Cardamom buns, cinnamon rolls, and other spiced puff pastries are among the most beloved cafe treats out there. Pair any of them with coffee in the morning, and your day will be off to a good start — but it could be even better. When it comes to these pastries, Gasparian recommends pairing them with a coffee drink that complements the flavors of cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc., because it boasts many of the same spices. Because of this, Gasparian's recommendation isn't really coffee at all but rather chai.

Chai is a beverage of medicinal origins that dates back to thousands of years ago. The drink, which is technically a tea, evolved into its modern version during the 19th century, when Indian laborers began infusing the tea offered to them by their British employers with their traditional masala spices and milk. Those included ginger, clove, nutmeg, black peppercorn, and, of course, cinnamon and cardamom. A modern version was popularized by Starbucks, and masala chai has come to be a standard menu item at cafes in the West and around the world.

If you're craving the taste of coffee with your cardamom, however, there is a way you can have both. It's not uncommon to order chai lattes, whether they be iced or hot, with an added shot of espresso. You can also order a cinnamon latte, which gets a dash of cinnamon as a finishing touch.

Savory pastries lend well to cappuccinos

On the other side of the display counter are savory pastries. There, you'll find everything from cheddar and chive biscuits to ham and cheese bear claws, all of which have an ideal coffee pairing — not everyone has a sweet tooth in the morning, after all. As Gasparian told Tasting Table, the ideal coffee drink pairing for these savory options is a cappuccino. Why? Because "Cappuccino is robust and smooth to counterbalance the savory."

Much like the way that cappuccinos pair with quickbreads, these drinks work well when served alongside savory pastries because they offer a bit of everything: luxurious mouthfeel, rich coffee flavor, and just the right amount of butteriness from the milk. You get a coffee drink that's just balanced enough to provide that robust coffee flavor without overpowering the strong savory flavors of your pastries. Plus, you get that bit of foam to smooth it all out.

Americanos balance bold baked goods

There's savory and there's sweet, and then there's just plain bold. Bold baked goods take up space on most cafe counters and can include anything from currant scones to bourbon blondies and from rhubarb puff pastries to cayenne chocolate chip cookies. With these baked goods, there's no use in ordering a coffee drink with any extra funny business; that would only complicate things for your palate, which is why Gasparian's answer is clear.

When asked what coffee drink to pair with bold baked goods like these, Gasparian answered with emphatic clarity: "An Americano!" Made from just an espresso shot and water, these drinks are about as simple as it gets when it comes to coffee — aside from plain old drip, which could also suffice. Ordered hot or iced, Americanos have a pure, coffee flavor that will let the bold flavors in these baked goods shine the way they should.