Desserts from some of the best chefs in America are paired with Starbucks coffees in a new coffee-table-quality book, "The Colors of Dessert."

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I DON’T FALL too easily for coffee-table books full of pretty food pictures, but when I picked up “The Colors of Dessert,” photographed and published by Alan “Battman” Batt, I couldn’t help perusing it at length and going back again and again to some of the more innovative shots.

“Battman” is the producer of several other photo collections including “Sandwiches,” “Soup” and the ever-popular New York Firemen Calendar; he is known for his discerning eye and his knack for collaboration. For this book, he collaborated with Scott McMartin, the director of education at Starbucks, to pair specific coffee varietals and roasts with desserts from some of America’s best restaurants.

For West Coast cooks, the book is sadly New York-centric; almost all the 87 pastry chefs whose work is featured in “Colors” are from the Big Apple. But the coffee pairings make the Seattle connection. Relatively mild roasts like Starbucks Breakfast Blend are paired with desserts that feature equally mild flavors like the Rhubarb and White Chocolate Napoleon from Metropolitan Club. Medium-bodied blends like Guatemala Antigua get matched with desserts featuring nuts, caramel and cocoa, like the Chocolate Caramel Tart from Aquavit. Bolder blends and darker roasts marry well with darker flavors like cinnamon, toffee and dark chocolate. The Passion Tres Leches Cake from Gotham Bar and Grill is linked to Arabian Mocha Sanani. The more complex the dessert, the more robust the coffee.

This captured my imagination because when the book landed on my desk, I had recently attended a special “cupping” — that’s coffee talk for sampling — with Starbucks master blender Anthony Carroll, who manages green coffee quality for the company and has worked with celebrated chefs on exclusive blends. His latest creation was a Thanksgiving Blend, on which he collaborated with Seattle super chef Tom Douglas.

At the cupping, two tablespoons of each freshly roasted and ground coffees were scooped into individual glasses, then 6 ounces of boiling water were poured over the grounds and briefly stirred to release the aromas. After a minute or two, Carroll and I used spoons to push grounds off the surface and expose the liquid, then slurp the liquid off the spoon while incorporating as much air as possible. We promptly spit the liquid into spittoons.

“If we didn’t spit,” said Carroll, “we would drink a ridiculous amount of coffee.”

Sometimes Carroll and his colleagues will test hundreds of samples in a single day. “The first time through,” he said, “it’s important to taste quickly and get your initial impressions.” The second time, he said, “you can go more slowly and try and take note of your impressions.” After a couple of minutes we tasted again, and I was struck by the profound differences between blends.

I will never again think of coffee as a single flavor, and from now on, I’ll give considerable thought to what coffee I pair with what food.

For this panna cotta, bold Ethiopia Sidamo is recommended.

Greg Atkinson is a chef instructor at Seattle Culinary Academy. He can be reached at

Lemon Verbena Panna Cotta

Serves 6

Pastry chef Karen DeMasco of Craft in New York City created this vibrant variation on classic Italian cooked cream. According to Scott McMartin of Starbucks, the dessert pairs well with the bold Starbucks Ethiopia Sidamo. Plan to make the lemon verbena sauce a day ahead so the flavor of the herb will have time to infuse the sauce.

For the sauce

½ ounce fresh lemon verbena leaves, stems removed

¾ cup corn syrup

For the jelly

3 tablespoons cold water

¼ packet (½ teaspoon) powdered gelatin

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon sauce

For the panna cotta

1 cup milk

1 cup whipping cream

½ cup sugar

½ ounce lemon verbena leaves, stems removed

1 packet (2 teaspoons) powdered gelatin

½ cup buttermilk

To serve

Lemon verbena leaves, for garnish

Ground cherries, optional

1. To make the sauce: Blanch the lemon verbena leaves in a quart of rapidly boiling water just until they wilt and turn bright green. Wring all the water out of the leaves and pile them in a blender with the corn syrup. Purée the mixture, let it stand at room temperature for several hours or overnight, then strain it. Discard the solids and chill the sauce in the refrigerator.

2. To make the jelly: Soften the gelatin in the water in a small saucepan, then warm the mixture over low heat until the gelatin is dissolved. Stir in the sugar, lemon juice and verbena sauce and distribute the mixture evenly between six 4-ounce flexible molds or ramekins, and chill the molds until the jelly is set, about 30 minutes.

3. To make the panna cotta: Stir the milk, cream and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat until the mixture comes to a gentle boil, then stir in the lemon verbena leaves and remove the pan from the stove. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, soften the gelatin in the cold buttermilk. When the lemon verbena mixture has cooled, strain the liquid and discard the leaves. Reheat the strained milk mixture with the buttermilk and gelatin until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Let the mixture cool to room temperature then distribute it evenly between the molds with the jelly.

4. To serve: Dip each mold or ramekin in hot water and run a knife around the inside of the mold to loosen the panna cotta, turn the panna cotta out onto plates, jelly side up. Spoon about two tablespoons of Lemon Verbena Sauce around the base of each serving, then garnish with lemon verbena leaves and, if desired, fresh ground cherries.

— Adapted from “The Colors of Dessert,” Battman Studios, 2008