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Non-Alcoholic Pairings

Pair non-alcoholic drinks with food to increase your profits.

Mixing coffee and dessert

When it comes to purchasing, it pays to do more than just place orders. Take advantage of the many services that suppliers and distributors offer. Take coffee and dessert pairings; they’re a great way to bump up check averages. A recent iLab-Technomic survey showed 81 percent of operators reporting that adding dessert/ coffee pairings could increase sales, while 62 percent say they could charge more for such after-dinner matches.

Want to know more? Ask the experts.

Seattle’s Best Coffee suggests pairing particular desserts with certain coffee blends. Its Colombian Blend complements flavors like lemon, butter and nuts—and goes well with poppy seed muffins, nut scones, sticky buns and lemon bars. Organic French Roast, the company explains, goes well with its chocolate chip cookies and cinnamon rolls.

More help can be “dialed up” with a unique Coffee & Dessert Pairing Tool from Sara Lee Foodservice. The slide-rule-like tool matches coffee qualities such as bean origin, roast, acidity and body to dessert definitions like richness, texture and sweetness. Vetted by Certified Master Chefs and CIA instructors, the handy pairing guide helps you figure out your own coffee and dessert matches.

When purchasing coffee, it’s best to buy whole beans and grind as needed. Purchase only as much as you need for a few weeks and store it in an airtight container. Best-quality beans are even-sized, with no broken bits or blemishes. See if your distributor will set up a “cupping” or tasting of a range of coffees—and sample them with selections from your dessert menu.

Two pair takes it

Pairing wine and, more recently, beer, with dinner courses is a restaurant ritual. Not to ignore teetotalers, some operators have started exploring the frontiers of food and drink matches with non-alcoholic offerings. A number of restaurants now offer customers a full palette of bottled waters. Water sommeliers even guide customers through the subtle nuances of bottled waters and how they best pair with food. Nestle offers a resource for operators interested in this kind of program. Check out www.sellbottledwater.com for more information.

Even further afield, a few beverage directors are experimenting with soft drink and food pairings. At Green Zebra in Chicago, group beverage director Tim Lacy matches house-made concoctions like Carrot Ginger Ale and Pink Peppercorn Thyme Soda with a mostly vegetarian menu. In Napa Valley’s the French Laundry, Thomas Keller offers multi-course tasting menus with non-alcoholic pairings like Boylan’s Root Beer and GuS (Grown Up Soda).

Not surprisingly, a leader in promoting soft drink and food pairings is Coca-Cola. The company is partnering with the CIA to produce Coke’s Specialty Beverage Program, which encourages blending carbonated and non-carbonated beverages with flavored syrups, juices and even hot sauce. CIA chefs developed a flavor wheel to distinguish various characteristics. Using the wheel, operators can spin and discover appropriate flavor matches for their menu items.

Tea’s time

Everyone pairs food with wine or beer, but not with tea,” laments Carine Bourgeois, chef-owner of Roswell Teahouse in Roswell, Georgia. But that’s changing, she says, as restaurants want to offer their customers something different, more exclusive. And that something different is what customers look for at Roswell Teahouse, where the from-scratch menu includes dishes like Vol-au-Vent (Belgian-style pot pie, above). True to its name, Roswell Teahouse also carries 50 different teas brewed in cast-iron teapots.

As for mellow matches, Bourgeois advises pairing heavier foods, like steak or other meats, with black tea, like Assam from India. Seafood goes well with green tea. “Oolongs are fantastic with anything,” says the chef. “And white teas work with lighter dishes.”

Many of the teahouse’s dishes incorporate fresh seasonal fruits, which complement fruit-flavored black teas. Right now, three different peach-flavored teas are offered to pair with Georgia’s favorite fruit. Chocolate goes with chai tea—the dark Assam tea infused with Malabar spices.

Stored in a dark, airtight container, tea has a six-month shelf life; once opened, use it within three months. To embark on a tea program, Bourgeois suggests a basic selection of one black tea, one oolong, one rooibos (an African shrub), a green tea and a white tea. A flavored black tea and an herbal tea would round out the offerings. 

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