Why You Always Want Coffee And Dessert Together, According To Science

Coffee may be a breakfast staple, but there's no denying it pairs well with desserts too. Espresso powder intensifies the richness of chocolate cake, coffee somehow always tastes better with a doughnut, and, of course, there's tiramisu, the coffee-layered Italian cake. Though the bitterness in coffee naturally balances out the sweetness of a sugary dessert, the reason you crave both together has more to do with caffeine than the complementary flavors.

As Reader's Digest explains, caffeine works by blocking nerve cell membrane receptors. This process not only deters tiredness, but also decreases your sensitivity to certain tastes, including sweetness. Because the sweetness becomes harder to pick up, you end up reaching for more and more to satisfy your taste buds. Decaffeinated coffee, however, doesn't have the same effect. Research conducted by Cornell University shows that regardless of how much sugar you add, it's much harder to detect sweetness in regular coffee. That means you're less likely to indulge in dessert if you're drinking decaf.

Which desserts go best with coffee?

Just as there are many types of desserts, there are also different kinds of coffee, and because caffeine changes the way you taste sweetness, some go together better than others. 

Espresso, for example, is best paired with desserts that are equally bold and intense in flavor, according to Food & Wine. Ingredients like dark chocolate and fruit ensure that the flavor of the espresso doesn't overpower your palate to the point that you can't taste anything other than coffee. Cappuccinos and lattes, on the other hand, due to their milk content, work well with desserts with more subtle flavors, such as those in tarts and cookies. 

Black coffee, though you'd assume would be similar to espresso, is actually the most versatile when it comes to desserts. With black coffee, Food & Wine says any sweet treat will do, but strongly recommends desserts with chocolate or nuts, and advised against cheesecake. Even the slightest savory notes in a cheesecake won't mesh well with coffee.