In a way, specialty coffee and craft beer grew up together. The history of both industries run parallel to one another, with both craft beer and specialty coffee emerging in the 1990s and becoming more and more popular in the 2000s. It’s unsurprising that cities early to embrace craft beer culture, like Seattle and San Francisco, were also the leaders of the early specialty coffee movement.
If you love coffee as much as we do at Trade, you’ve likely dipped your toes into the wild world of beer. With over 8,000 craft breweries in the United States alone and hundreds of different beer styles, it can feel intimidating to figure out what you like. But don’t worry — we’ve curated a list of eight beer styles, organized by coffee growing region, roast profile, and processing method that’ll help you choose a delicious beverage you’ll be excited to sip on after you finish your morning brew. We tried to pick beers that were recognizable and had national distribution, so you should be able to pick up most of these selections at your local beer store.
If you like: Ethiopian coffees
Ethiopian coffees are prized for their floral qualities, subtle fruit notes, and tea-like body. Because of the variety of varieties (say that five times fast), there’s a ton of diversity of flavors within the region. Grab an Ethiopian coffee if you’re looking for a slow sipping experience and a moment to enjoy the nuance of coffee.
Example: Onyx Hambela Buku ($25.90)
IPA and Ethiopian coffees are a dynamic pairing: IPAs, or India Pale Ales, are noted for their fruit characteristics like citrus and stone fruit and have a complex aroma. There’s also an array of different styles, but if you’re new to the category, try a classic IPA — something that doesn’t have a style marker in front of the word “IPA” like “West Coast” or “Double.” Once you experience a classic IPA, try branching out into other styles. The aforementioned West Coast-style IPAs tend to be piney and hoppy, while their counterpart, New England-style IPAs, tend to be more fruit-forward and not as bitter.
Suggested pairing: 3 Floyds Zombie Dust, Firestone Walker Union Jack
If you like: Cold brew with cream and sugar
When coffee is cold brewed, its chocolate notes are emphasized and its body becomes more pronounced. Many coffees, when cold brewed, take well to cream and sugar and the drink becomes more than the sum of its parts.
Example: Sparrows Coffee All-Seasons Blend ($17.35)
Try: Milk stouts
Stouts are dark beers made with roasted malts. Roasted malt tastes a lot like roasted coffee, and a lot of stouts use coffee either directly (coffee stouts are a very popular subcategory) or indirectly as a tasting note. Along with coffee, stouts are often flavored with things that go well in coffee, like vanilla or chocolate. Milk stouts specifically are made with lactose, a sugar found in milk that adds a hint of sweetness.
Suggested pairing: Left Hand Brewing Milk Stout
If you like: Costa Rican coffees
Coffees from Costa Rica tend to be bright and clean, full of citrus notes with a straightforward sweetness. Costa Rican coffees are wonderfully balanced while still presenting flavors that many people love.
Example: Huckleberry Santa Maria ($22.40)
Try: Belgian-style wheat beers
If you have a friend who wants to get into coffee, beans from Costa Rica would be a good place to start. If they were trying to get into craft beer, wheat beers would be it. Belgian-style wheat beers are great entry beers because they’re spiced with coriander and orange, familiar flavors that can act as a gateway into the craft beer world.
Suggested pairing: Allagash White
If you like: Sumatran coffees
Sumatran coffees are truly one of a kind. These coffees are wet-hulled, a processing method that is primarily practiced in Sumatra and Sulawesi, which imparts an earthy, herbaceous flavor with muted acidity.
Example: Highwire Batak ($22.95)
Saisons are yeast-driven beers, and tend to be funky, spicy, and sometimes unpredictable. Some folks describe these beers as having a “barnyard” flavor or a slight savory note, which can be divisive, much like Sumatran coffees. But if you’re ready to try something wild, these are the beers for you. Saisons are beers for drinking during hot days and quenching your thirst. They are also highly adaptable food beers and can go well with almost any meal.
Suggested pairing: Saison Dupont, Boulevard Tank 7
If you like: Blends
Blends are the ultimate crowd pleaser, although they require a lot more work than their extreme drinkability suggests: roasters usually work backwards from a flavor profile, and carefully choose coffees to fit that profile, often tinkering with the roast profile and ratios of each coffee to achieve a consistent blend.
Example: Portrait Founders ($17.35)
Even if you know nothing about beer, you’ve likely had a Lager in the past. Lagers are the pinnacle of drinkability: they’re generally lower in alcohol content than other beer styles and are clean in flavor and low in bitterness. Like blends, there’s much more work going on behind the scenes. A great lager takes weeks to make due to the lagering process (hence the name), where the beers are stowed away in cold storage for anywhere from ten days to six months. Lagers are mostly associated with commercial brewing, but many craft brewers are reclaiming the style. When lagers are done well, they shine.
Suggested pairing: Pilsner Urquell, Sixpoint The Crisp
If you like: Experimental processed coffees
Sometimes you’re just along for the ride. Experimental processes can yield a wide array of flavors — some that are impossible to pin down until you sit and brew. Right now, many farmers are experimenting with anaerobically-processed coffees, where, during processing, the coffee is deprived of oxygen for some period of time and yeasts are left to go wild, producing flavors that can be hard to predict. If you’re looking for something completely unexpected, this is the train to hop on.
Example: Steady State Kerchache Wush Wush ($27.00)
Try: Wild and sour beers
Brewing a great sour beer mirrors some of the struggles of processing an experimental coffee: they can be hard to figure out and replicating your results year after year can be tricky. But these beers are the ultimate celebration of experimentation and play. The flavors are usually refreshing and unexpected, much like experimentally-processed coffees. We included two distinct styles of wild and sour beers: a traditional Gueuze and a Gose.
Suggesting pairing: Cantillon, Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose
If you like: Naturally processed coffees
Naturally processed coffees involve keeping the fruit around the coffee bean on after the cherry has been picked and allowing the skin to dry and impart flavor. Naturally processed coffees can be tricky to execute well, but a beautifully processed natural is distinctly fruity with a heavy aroma and mouthfeel.
Example: Reanimator Divino Niño ($24.75)
Unlike milk stouts, which we covered earlier, a straightforward Stout is surprisingly complex. Stouts have big bold flavors that are hard to miss and are rich in texture. If you want to party a little, try a pastry stout, which combines a sweet element into the mix, but be careful! Pastry Stouts can easily veer towards the overly sweet. If you’re looking for a riff on the classic stout, try an Imperial Stout, which has a heavier body and higher ABV.
Suggested pairing: Rogue Ales Shakespeare Stout, North Coast Brewing Co. Old Rasputin
If you like: Brazilian coffees
Brazilian coffees are abundant: Brazil is the leading producer of coffees in the world and often sets our palates for what we expect from coffee: deep red-fruit sweetness (think cherries) caramel, and low acidity.
Example: Greater Goods Kickstart ($17.35)
Try: Brown ales
Brown ales encompass a few styles, but they’re noted for being smooth and round in flavor without the distinct heaviness of a Stout. The sweetness in a brown ale is similar to the sweetness developed during the roasting process: caramel and toasty without being too weighty. You might want to take a nap after drinking a stout, but you could probably stay for another after a brown ale.
Suggested pairing: Brooklyn Brewing Brown Ale
Special thanks to Jeni Green for their assistance and suggestions for this piece.