So why espresso blends? And why not?
COVID-19 is currently making some changes in how coffee roasters and coffee shops are operating – and among other things it means that we will see a lot of blends in the next year. Coffee blends can be made with different goals in mind – in order to move the stock of the green coffee, to present your clients with a more budget option, to create a sum of parts (blend components) that is tastier than simply each of the origins separately. Blending can be taken very seriously, to maintain the same taste throughout the year, or can be done to simply sell the coffee that is sitting in the warehouse. Let’s dive deeper into what are the coffee blends, and if there is a place for the in specialty segment.
This year most of the coffee roasters are gonna stay with some extra coffee in the warehouses – the wholesale orders dropped drastically, and therefore the sales goals are not being achieved. While in some countries the lockdown is gradually being lifted, the sales are still far from being “normal”, and more and more clients, coffee shops are looking for a cheaper options, in all the areas – and it includes roasted coffee.
Blends are happen to be a perfectly logical solution for this problem. Making a blend usually means using the coffee from 2-7 origins/farms (the recipes differ depending on the goal and idea of the blend) mixed together in a certain proportion to achieve a given result. Simply this allows the roaster to drop down the price per kilo combining coffees of different price range.
It may sound against the rules of specialty coffee at all, if you think about it – cause when we are buying specialty, we want to taste a specific variety, or processing, isn’t it like that? And it is indeed one of the reasons why blends sometimes are not so welcome in some coffee shops who have the policy of using just single origin.
Funny enough, sometimes blends, those done well, can do the opposite – can elevate the experience you get with the coffee. I owe you an explanation, right?
Well, sometimes one coffee lacks body, but has well developed acidity and pronounced sweetness. And another one is complex and elaborate, elegant, but not sweet enough. And you have a third one, that has nothing special on its own, except for the sweetness. Combining these three can result in a successful blend that unites all the strong sides of all of them. Or, the opposite – unites all the problems they may have. It all depends on the blending recipe and roasting profiles chosen for each coffee.
So – blending is not easy. It means that you have to get all the components right – roast profile, development, degree of roast. If roasted separately, of course – roast master is always free to choose if she want to do post-blending (blend the coffees after being roasted) or pre-blending (before being put into the drum).
Each one decides basing on the experience. There is no right or wrong, but much depends on the starting characteristics of each coffee – moisture content, density, bean size. Usually roasters may opt for roasting similar coffee beans together, if choosing pre-blending.
Recently I gained some respect for blends – after the blind cupping session, when the blend showed itself significantly better (sweeter, more complex) than its components. So I am ready to explore more of it, ready to be surprised one more time.
Usually it is recommended to do post-blending – this way you simply have more control over the proportions and get more reliable information from the probes when roasting.
Coffee blends in specialty coffee sometimes are being claimed guilty for not being that interesting as single origins. Yes, for sure, they are not so “clean” comparing to single variety blend from the same farm – but the purpose of them is also a different one. Not to showcase the beauty of one – but the synergy of various coffees.
Thinking about mixing – you can mix almost everything. Different varieties, countries, processes, even different coffee species – mixing arabica and robusta is not happening in specialty coffee (I would add “yet”, because there is simply not enough specialty robusta at the moment – so there is a chance it will happen in the future) but it is definitely a thing in a commercial coffee (check out the arabica/robusta percentage in famous italian brands).
Although you can mix everything, in terms of coffee, for me as a roaster the most important thing is to make sure that all the blend components are at the same or close level in terms of possible extraction. Or the extraction levels are corresponding. That’s one good reason to do post-blending, to have more control.
Blends are usually done having espresso coffee in mind – which is more of a rule, but you can also blend for filter coffee, and do it well. So the roast not necessarily has to be dark – it can be…well, whatever you prefer.
Therefore in the end of this post I would like to leave you with this one thought – 2020 is gonna be the year in specialty coffee when we’ll see lots of blending – first with the purpose of saving money and creating a cheaper alternative for espresso, and then – for other, more interesting reasons. It will be the year when coffee blends will come back – and we as coffee professionals will learn a ton about what makes a good one.