For some, coffee blends have gained a bit of a bad rep through the assumption that roasters do it to use up leftover and past-crop coffees, with the aim of obscuring undesirable flavours with other profiles. That’s not to say this doesn't happen, but focussing only on "bad" blending leaves little room to celebrate the art of creating a truly incredible blend. We sat down with our Head of Coffee, Ashlee Eastwood-Quinn to discuss the stigma around blending and discover what it takes to design and roast a blend and the challenges involved.
There are a few reasons. One is to create a flavour profile that you couldn’t achieve through using only one coffee. By blending two different tasting coffees you can create an entirely new flavour.
Another reason is for consistency. If you want to run a particular coffee over a longer period of time, as with our long-standing Original Espresso, and you want to retain a specific flavour, then the easiest way to do that is to bring 2-3 coffees together. This means if you need to change a blend component at some point, it’s easier to keep the flavour profile consistent. Coffee is a fruit, and a seasonal product (just like wine!), so if a coffee tastes different from one year to the next, a blend allows you some flexibility. You can change the component or amount of each component, or even the roast style to replicate your desired taste profile.
Price is also a factor for blending. You can blend a different coffees with distinctive profiles together to create something more exceptional. If you wanted to create that level of complexity with a single origin coffee, you would most likely need to spend more per kilo.
What this means for cafe owners, and for consumers, is that coffees with an interesting and complex flavour profile can be made at a much more accessible price point. We want to get everyone drinking incredible tasting coffees, so accessibility and affordability is massively important.
You could also say that roasting ‘Single Origin’ coffees showcases the farmer and blending showcases the roaster. There is an added skill to blending, that involves roasting skill and a good palette, so its nice to do a bit of both.
“We want to get everyone drinking incredible tasting coffees, so accessibility and affordability is massively important.”
It depends on your style. Personally, I think it can be quite risky as a business. We’re lucky in that our customers are savvy about their coffee, so we know that if in six months time we changed our Original Espresso, we can communicate that to a customer. For example, if we say, “We’re changing to a different farm…It’s going to change the flavour like this…You might change your brew recipe to be like this…”. Our customers are generally happy to jump on board.
For bigger companies, I imagine this could be seen as too big of a risk. So you’ll notice a lot of the high street coffee chains will have 6 or more components in their blend because their business model is built on consistency. This means you could have the exact same tasting coffee in New York as you would in London, which is impossible to achieve using single origins.
As a roaster, if you wanted to only showcase single origin coffees there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s just a different style. It also means that you can showcase your coffees that would be quite region specific which is an excellent educational tool. So, for instance, you could say, “We’re doing this Brazilian coffee” – and you can kind of get to know what Brazilian coffee does, versus the other single origins, which is quite cool.
There are some roasters that are quite happy to blend espresso but they won’t blend filter. You can make exactly the same arguments for filter coffee. For example, a blend would give you more consistency over a longer period, be more cost effective but on the whole, you don’t see filter blends.
“There are some roasters that are quite happy to blend espresso but they won’t blend filter.”
Our filter coffees are sold in such a way that showcases seasonality, so that when the coffee changes a little from year to year, be that because of climate changes, soil etc, our customers are ready and excited to explore and enjoy those changes.
On the other hand our espresso coffees are now built around recognisable brands – Original, Rocket, Organic. As we offer these all year round, our customers expect consistency, so blending is the perfect way to achieve this.
Most speciality coffee roasters offer espresso blended coffees in their range, but zero filter blends. This is not for any particular reason other than that the perception of blending is that it cheapens the coffee, and another perception is that it is the more discerning coffee drinker that chooses to drink filter coffee.
However, we don’t necessarily agree with either of these, and we are currently looking at whether a filter blend could work for us.
You want to find flavours that complement each other. Equally, you want to also find flavours that are different from one another because that’s why you’re creating your blend. With our Original Espresso, for example, the Colombian coffee from La Marianela farm adds a nice fruity note. Then you’ve got the El Fogon from Guatemala, and this tends to generally be quite a nutty coffee. Lastly, the honey process from Urrutias in El Salvador has a bit more of the fermented note to it and quite a lot of sweetness as well. As you can imagine, those flavour characteristics fit perfectly together – so you have a balance of nuts, fruit and sweetness. I always imagine a pudding, if those things sound delicious, then that’s a good base for creating a blend.
There’s definitely a case for experimenting with blends beyond a house espresso too. A carefully crafted blend can also take a limited edition coffee to the next level in terms of complex flavours and an interesting roasting story.
Our 2018 Strong Man espresso was a natural processed coffee – something that can produce quite a divisive flavour – Funky, floral, very fruity and a bit boozy as well. We decided to blend it with something a little more balanced, and therefore more accessible. We took those big fruit notes, and muted them which a honey processed coffee that created exceptional sweetness and a whole new dynamic to the final cup.
This was the first time we did a blend for Strong Man giving us a bit more room to play around to find a component that’s maybe a little bit more exclusive and which, we were only able to get a hold of a certain amount. It also meant we could pay a little bit more for one of the components and find some slightly more unusual flavours.
Once you go beyond three or four you start to lose something, or some of those coffees become a bit of a background flavour, so you wouldn’t necessarily even know they were there. Likewise if you have too many components in your blend, and you’ve got your 20g or 18g dose for your espresso, if you have 10 different coffees, there is a high chance that one of those components won’t even be present in your single dose, which kind of defeats the purpose of the blend…
“I always imagine a pudding, if those things sound delicious, then that’s a good base for creating a blend.”
If you’re a business owner and you want a house coffee you probably want to choose something that is going to be consistent for a longer period of time. For this reason, I suggest a blend is the right way to go. Generally speaking, a blend is going to be a more consistent house coffee for you over a longer period of time. A single origin coffee would be a more appropriate guest – a bit more exclusive and limited edition. Think of it as a wine menu – your blend is your house wine – and your ‘Single Origins’ are more distinctive and region specific.
For home users, it depends on your personal preference. Our blends tend to be a more medium roast profile which can work black, or with milk. These appeal to a wide range of coffee drinkers, from long-time coffee enthusiasts to who those who are relatively new to speciality coffee. If you want to explore regional tastes and the influence of processing – I would recommend trying our ‘Single Origin’ coffees.
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