When we think about a truly exceptional specialty coffee, it’s always a single origin that comes to mind. Often it’s even those tiny little micro lots that come from one small section of the farm. It’s almost never a blend.
But blends deserve to be more than just single origin’s less popular cousin. They too can represent an excellent coffee, great skill on the part of the roaster, and – most importantly of all – a delicious taste experience for the consumer.
Let me make my case for specialty blends. After reading this, you might just choose to order one next time you’re in a café.
Versión en Español: En Defensa de los Blends: La Oferta Más Subestimada en el Café
Freshly roasted coffee. Credit: Atomic Coffee Roasters
Why Are Blends So Unpopular?
We know we’ll never drink the same coffee twice. Every country, region, and farm has different coffee. The diversity of varieties and processing methods available means that two coffees from the same region or even farm can still taste different. Year after year, different weather conditions can affect the coffee’s taste. And then there’s the impact of roasting and minute changes in brew recipes…
And maybe this is why single origins have become synonymous with excellence. By narrowing down the variables to one farm, one variety, and one processing method, we hope to drink a “purer” type of coffee: one where its distinctive flavors and aromas are really able to shine.
Barista Renata Martin tells me, “I don’t understand why, but there’s a brainwashing going on that leads people to over-rate single origins.”
On the other hand, blending has become associated with mass production, poor-quality coffee, and “boring” cup profiles. We think that low-quality coffees are being blended to reduce the costs or hide defects in the beans. When we do drink blends, we assume that they’re only suitable for espresso – not pour over coffees, with their complexity and clarity.
But not all blends are the same.
Coffee cooling down after being roasted. Credit: Bo Smith
Two Types of Blends
There are two different types of blends. We have the poor-quality ones used to mask defects, save money, and achieve a standardized flavor. And then we have those where roasters have brought together diverse flavors to create an even better taste experience. They’ve experimented with different beans in the pursuit of the best possible coffee for us consumers to enjoy.
Roger Bacoom of Fazenda Cachoeira in Sul de Minas, Brazil, is passionate about the potential of blends. “A classic! Coffee should be explored. The beans density is the only limit, and that depends on a good roaster,” he says. “With a blend, you complete the flavors, right? Put a natural with a washed, or pulped, and it creates totally different characteristics. This purism of speaking only of single origins is unnecessary. We have the tools to do whatever we want with coffee, to blend it as long it maintains its quality. The universe of coffee is here for us to explore different flavors!”
So let’s retell the story of blends. They don’t deserve to sit in the background when they’re a widely consumed beverage with the potential for excellent quality.
As Ivan Heyden, Q Grader and roaster at Academia do Café in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, says, “The advantage of working with blend is a balanced cup, for sure. A better and complete sensory experience.”
Coffee cools after roasting. Credit: Yanapi Senaud
Blending: A Complex Skill
What’s more, blends represent complex skill on the part of the roaster. Leandro Lee, instructor and barista at CoffeeLab in São Paulo, Brazil, explains, “Making blends is a science that depends heavily on knowing the main material: the coffee bean itself and how different coffees behave together. It’s not a simple math, there are ‘n’ factors that influence the composition.”
If you have two coffees, one with more herbal notes and the other with sugar-cane sweetness, it doesn’t mean you can just combine them to sync flavors. If you want to capture all the different notes and make sure they work well together, you need to understand the chemistry behind the coffee – how the bean size and structure will react to heat, which flavors are enhanced at various points in the roast or extracted at various points in the brew, the solubility of the beans…
An Ethiopian-Sumatran blend. Credit: Roast House Coffee
So, Why Should You Choose a Blend?
Drinking a specialty blend can be an amazing experience. It’s the combination of exceptional coffee, roast mastery, and a lot of experience that leads to a well-balanced, complex, and often exceptional beverage.
So next time you buy a coffee, why not order a blend?
Perfect Daily Grind
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