by Mary O'Brien

The caffeine revolution that is changing not only the way we drink but the way we eat as well.

It's a cold Monday night in July and there's a stream of well-dressed
people filing into the Little Press Club. Their mission is to eat on the
culinary edge — to take part in the latest hottest gourmet trend:
coffee and food pairing. Coffee is the "new wine" and Australia is at
the forefront of this growing global trend, matching specialty coffee
with fine cuisine. Over in South Melbourne, at pioneering cafe St Ali,
they are busy planning a gourmet night early next month when beans from
four expensive, award-winning Cup of Excellence coffees, which were
bought at auction, will be brewed at a dinner created by chef Ben

And at restaurant Vue de Monde, Shannon Bennett's kangaroo with coffee
and chocolate crumble is proving popular with diners. On a simpler
scale, the new kid on the block, funky coffee-roasting cafe Monk Bodhi
Dharma in Balaclava, is serving three-course vegetarian breakfasts with
choice of siphoned or pour-over single-origin coffees.

Growing interest in single-origin coffees means that coffee cognoscenti
want to draw attention to its many flavours, and what better way to
explore those tastes than with food. We have been teaming coffee with
food for decades — mostly with cakes and desserts. Or using it in
recipes — tiramisu, coffee cake or coffee and almond slice. Now
ground-breaking chefs are trying out bold recipes such as Joe Grbac's
king fish marinated in coffee at the Press Club or Ben Cooper's striking
country-of-origin dinners where coffee is matched with dishes from the
same region. Crucial to this development is the arrival of new methods
of making coffee, such as the siphon, which allows a more subtle version
of the beverage to be drunk at lower temperatures without milk or
sugar. This delicate coffee can be teamed with food successfully.
Nothing can beat a food and wine match, of course, and food pairings
with beer and tea have been around a while.

A coffee degustation dinner is certainly different but is it really a
gourmet experience with emphasis on enjoying the taste of the coffee
bean or a fad or a marketing ploy?

One of the first to serve coffee with food was Salvatore Malatesta, of
St Ali in South Melbourne. "We treat coffee with the same respect that
winemakers treat varietals," he says. "If you're drinking coffee from a
siphon, letting it cool for three minutes . . . the myriad flavour
profiles are 800-plus and therefore you can match it with food."
Originally a daytime cafe, St Ali now opens for dinner and chef Ben
Cooper is in charge. He enjoys the challenge of the country-of-origin
dinners. Cooper, who has worked at Ezard, Longrain and London's Nahm had
a eureka moment when he discovered that Balinese coffee went well with
Balinese food, hence country-of-origin dinners.

"You're forging new ground every time you do one of these dinners,"
Cooper says. "There's no reference to a set of guidelines. You're
completely open to challenge whichever boundaries you want and that
excites me."

Curiosity drew people to the first St Ali specialty dinner but they
enjoyed it, Cooper says. "Some of these coffees sit in the same price
range as some of the great wines of the world." Malatesta adds: "When
you make good champagne nearly everyone gets it, but when you roast a
special coffee to the right profile not as many people get it."

Cooper explains that a citrus characteristic in a coffee would
complement a dish with almonds. "We have a few dishes on the menu where
it's easy for the customer to understand the pairing and then we throw
in a few dishes that push the boundaries of flavour pairing and force
the diner to sit and think about it."

St Ali organises coffee degustations four or five times a year and
bookings are taken for nightly coffee pairings. Staff can also recommend
coffees to complement a dish on the night.

In July, BeanScene magazine editor Steve Agi teamed up with old friend
George Calombaris and head chef Joe Grbac to organise an inaugural cafe
and cuisine dinner at the Little Press Club. Seven complex courses were
matched to coffees by Jack and the Bean, Crivelli, Genovese, Australian
Independent Roasters, Gridlock, Vittoria and a final Greek coffee brewed
by Calombaris. This was the first time competing coffee companies had
co-operated for such an event. Adding to the excitement was the fact
that a new machine, Bunn-O-Matic's Trifecta single-cup filter brewer,
made its debut on the night.

Grbac designed the menu with dishes such as tortellini of mushroom and
coffee veloute; kingfish cured with coffee; and an almond and coffee
soil sprinkled over a roast leg of lamb with smoked yoghurt and baby
winter vegetables. Then the wines were chosen and, finally, the coffees.

"As humans we're always looking for something different," says Grbac.
"Like food ingredients, coffee has seasonal changes. It's akin to food
and it can change when you pick it and how you pick it."

Agi says that coffee is much more than a morning or dessert beverage.
"The whole event was pushing boundaries and that's how you make inroads
into a new dining experience. It's akin to going to the Fat Duck where
Heston Blumenthal creates a whole ambient environment."

At Vue de Monde, the kangaroo with coffee and chocolate crumble has been
a great success, according to head chef Cory Campbell. "Coffee has to
almost play the part of nostalgia in food, a sense of warmth on those
cold days or the last trip to Italy," he says. "Imagine a beautiful root
vegetable dish with some cinnamon and spice notes paired with a
specialty pour-over coffee."

He likes the idea of pairing coffee with food. "We can create a
wonderful dish to be paired with a specialty coffee. To find that right
balance for both to complement each other and to fit into the structure
of a menu is what we are all about as chefs, sommeliers and baristas."

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