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Spice up your next gathering with a coffee tasting. Your guests will be impressed with this alternative to wine and cheese. A fun exploration of the complex flavors in coffee, a home tasting party is a great way to percolate conversation.

When pairing coffee with food, start by matching qualities in the coffee with corresponding qualities in food. For instance, a lemon cake will enhance the bright, tart qualities in Latin American coffees. Similarly, sturdy, complex coffees like Aged Sumatra complement the texture and flavor of rich cheeses. The resulting interplay is similar to the way that wine, beer and even single-malt scotch have traditionally related to food.

A "food match" occurs when the combined effect of coffee and food produces flavor sensations that surpass the experience of each one alone. In the best case, inherent qualities of single-origin coffees or coffee blends are enhanced or magnified by the foods.

There are many additional ways to experiment with coffee and food:

--Contrast flavors: Dark roast coffees, like French Roast, have a smoky characteristic that contrasts with something sweet.

--Experience acidity: Acidity is a palate-cleansing property of coffee, often experienced as a mouthwatering quality. Try higher acidity coffees, like Latin Americans, with lighter, crisper foods such as sorbet or fruit tarts.

--Explore body: Coffees with big body, like Indonesian coffees, are typically smooth and pair nicely with creamy foods. Aged Gouda cheese with Aged Sumatra is a terrific pairing.

Aged Sumatra and Gouda Cheeses

Serves 8

Coffee press or automatic drip coffee maker
1/2 pound Starbucks Aged Sumatra Lot 523 coffee
1/2 pound fresh Gouda and aged Gouda cheese
Small tasting cups or demitasse glasses

Brew coffee in coffee press or automatic drip coffee maker according to The Four Fundamentals:

  • Proportion: Two tablespoons ground coffee for each 6 ounces water. If this makes coffee too strong for your taste, add some hot water after brewing. For standard 12-cup coffee press or automatic drip coffee maker, add 16 tablespoons coffee (or 8 standard coffee measures).
  • Grind: Different brewing methods require different grinds. Automatic drip coffee makers require medium grind. Coffee presses require coarse grind.
  • Water: While it may not seem an important ingredient, coffee is 98 percent water. Always use clean, fresh water, filtered or free of impurities.
  • Freshness: Coffee's biggest enemies are oxygen, light, heat and moisture. Always store in airtight containers at room temperature. Coffee should be ground fresh each time it is made.

    Slice cheese into bite-sized pieces. Pour coffee and invite guests to follow three tasting steps:

    --Smell: Place nose directly over mouth of cup. Inhale coffee, evaluating aroma. Aged Sumatra should have an earthy quality, like freshly cut mushrooms, and some cedary aroma characteristics.

    --Slurp: In order to evaluate coffee's flavor, it is important to involve olfactory senses. Slurp coffee and make sure it covers entire tongue and palate.

    --Swish: Move coffee around in mouth, experiencing flavor and nuances on different parts of tongue.

    Taste cheeses: First fresh cheese, then aged cheese. Notice how taste changes from fresh to aged. Changes are similar to how Sumatra coffee changes when aged. Flavor intensifies and becomes spicier, fuller.

    Now taste coffee and cheese back and forth, discussing similarities in texture and flavor. Invite guests to join in.

    Just as it does for wine and cheese, time can do wonderful things for Indonesian coffees. Not all coffees can be aged. Aging coffees from Latin America tends to mute the crisp acidity so critical to their classic flavors. On the other hand, coffee from Sumatra develops a syrupy body and a wonderfully woody aroma when aged. This can only be achieved by storing unroasted--or green--beans in a tropical climate for at least three years.

    The origins of aged coffee date back to the 18th century, when Dutch Indonesian colonies shipped coffee in its green state back to Europe. The coffee spent months onboard ships, exposed to hardwoods, spices, ocean spray, sea breezes and fluctuating temperatures.

    Today, coffee is aged in warehouses. The beans, stored in burlap bags, are turned frequently over the years to ensure even and consistent aging.

    This winter, Starbucks launched an exceptional aged coffee: Aged Sumatra Lot 523, crop year 1998. Over the last five years, coffee tasters sampled this lot of coffee every six months to track its flavor development. The flavor that resulted from this careful aging is a smooth, heavy body and spicy, cedar-like notes. You can't find a flavor like this from any other coffee or blend.

    For more information on Black Apron Exclusives and Aged Sumatra Lot 523, visit www.starbucks.com.

    Indonesian coffees are sometimes aged before roasting in warehouses like this one to develop spicy flavors and a smooth, heavy body.


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