Consistency and quality are some two attributes that customers look for in every product that they order regularly – and coffee is no exception.
High-quality blends don’t just provide the right flavour, they provide the same flavour again and again so customers can keep coming back. But how do you choose a coffee blend? Is it something that you can do in-house? And is it possible to make it a part of your business?
To answer these questions, I spoke to two people who work at Lincoln & York, a private label roaster and supplier who also focus on coffee sourcing and packaging. Read on to find out what they said.
You might also like A Roaster’s Guide To Creating Coffee Blends
What Is A Blend?
The phrases “blend” and “single origin” are often used in the coffee industry. Single origin coffees are those that are grown and produced in one specific region, while a blend is made up of several different coffees from various locations or farms.
By default, when coffee first started to be consumed several hundred years ago, it would have been single origin. However, as more and more countries around the world started to grow coffee, and to create a more consistent and distinct product, coffee house owners started creating blends.
The first recorded example of this was “Mocha-Java” – combining beans from Mocha (or al-Makha) in Yemen, and coffee from the island of Java in Indonesia.
Today, blends typically contain up to five coffees. Using any more will risk masking the underlying complexity, flavour, and texture of the blend. Furthermore, one of these will often be a “base” coffee from a single location that makes up a significant proportion of the blend to provide a stable underlying flavour – sometimes as much as 50%.
Rebekah Kettrick is the Coffee Buying Manager at Lincoln & York. She says that it isn’t just different varieties and origins that are used in blends; some even use two different species.
“Arabica and robusta are the two main species of coffee, and they have key flavour differences,” Rebekah says. “While arabica is popular for its [more] complex flavour, sometimes a small percentage of high quality robusta can add body and crema.”
Roasters have used robusta in blends for decades. After the Second World War, high-quality arabica coffee was difficult to find, so in Italy, roasters would often blend it with robusta to brew espresso. Robusta provides a thicker and heavier mouthfeel when added to a blend, as well as increasing the amount of crema and the caffeine content.
Creating An Espresso Blend
Before you choose a blend, you need to understand the market you’re selling to, and identify what they’re looking for. Do your customers look for more traditional flavours or something different? Do they often drink their coffee with or without milk? And how will your coffee be served – brewed in-house, or for people to enjoy at home?
“After establishing where your coffee is going to be consumed and who the customer is likely to be, [you should] decide whether 100% arabica or a blend of arabica and robusta is most suited to your customers,” Rebekah tells me. While arabica is more delicate and complex, robusta will add intensity to the blend and increase its caffeine content.
She also says it’s important to sample coffees that you’re interested in to understand different origins and appreciate the flavours that the consumer will ultimately end up tasting.
“We explore a range of flavour profiles available from different origins,” she says. “For sweet, caramel-like blends, we focus on Latin America, while for acidity and brightness, we might add coffees from Africa. For body and a ‘spicy’ flavour, Indonesian coffees might be added.”
Kieran Power is a Coffee Taster and Innovator at Lincoln & York. He says that after understanding the origin of your coffees you’re using, the next step is breaking down roast profiles. “Generally, espresso blends are roasted [darker],” he says. “This creates more body and sweetness, while toning down the acidity.”
And what about milk? Rebekah says: “For customers who will primarily drink ‘longer’ milk drinks, a [darker] roast profile will help the coffee flavour to kick through,” she says. “For more discerning coffee consumers, [I recommend] a lighter roast which enables the unique flavours of the coffee to shine through.”
Kieran agrees, and adds that it’s important to change the coffees you’re using if you anticipate that the blend will be predominantly used for milk-based beverages. “If a blend needs to really kick through milk, we will often add a natural Indian robusta, which provides a more intense coffee flavour, and adds body and crema.”
Creating A Filter Blend
Filter blends are built differently to espresso blends, as they are used to brew a lighter, less concentrated coffee that is often consumed without milk.
“[For filter blends], higher levels of washed milds, especially those that hold their acidity in darker roast profiles, will be used to make up the majority of the blend,” Kieran says. “
“We then add washed Africans, often Ethiopians or Kenyans, to push the complexity, while the Brazilian and washed milds add some body and sweetness,” he says.
The cleaner, brighter tastes that washed coffees normally provide are generally seen as more desirable among specialty filter coffee drinkers. “Filter blends are also usually roasted lighter to preserve acidity, increase complexity, and create a cleaner finish,” Kieran adds
However, just as with espresso blends, you need to ask yourself whether or not your customers are likely to enjoy their filter coffee with or without milk. “Milk drinks benefit from a heavy bodied, intense blend that can push through large amounts of milk without losing the flavour that consumers look for,” Kieran says.
“The same blend can sometimes be overpowering if drunk without milk, and it may lack the pleasing acidity and complexity that makes it ‘moreish’.”
For filter, Kieran says that Lincoln & York “start by using a 100% arabica blend, and aim for a medium, or medium-to-light roast profile”. This allows the inherent characteristics of the coffee to shine through in the cup, as opposed to the more traditional “roasty” flavours associated with darker coffees.
Using Private Label Roasters
No matter what you’re blending for, however, entering the coffee industry to create your own branded blend can be a daunting task – especially if you have limited knowledge of the wider coffee sector. Leveraging the expertise of a private label roaster is likely to improve your product and make it more successful.
Private label or white label products are those that are manufactured by a third-party company but sold with your branding, often through your own store or website. Rebekah tells me that by working with a private label roaster, such as Lincoln & York, brands have more control over the quality of the product and how it is marketed.
“Working with [Lincoln & York] means that we can tailor your coffee exactly to you and your customer,” she says. “We can source specifically for you based on a desired flavour profile, an ethical sourcing approach, and a quality-to-price ratio that works for your business.
“The ethical credentials of the coffee play a key role throughout the design of the blend, and we are also able to outline the certification and sourcing models that are most aligned to your business and customers,” she adds.
Using private label roasters also gives your business access to equipment and skills that you might not otherwise be able to leverage. Kieran explains that the professional equipment and experience that private label roasters have access to naturally improves the quality of a blend.
“By using drum roasters, we can control not only the temperature of the air going into the roaster, but the amount of fresh air that is added, as well as the speed the drum turns at.
“Controlling these variables allows us to dial in a roast profile to suit the origins and the [target] brewing method – whether that’s espresso, filter, capsule, or cold brew.”
Why Should You Create Your Own Blend?
Coffee blends can be a great way to secure the loyalty of your customers. By creating an in-house coffee blend, your customers will end up associating a certain flavour with your brand – one that only you can provide. By providing quality and consistency, you can make sure they keep coming back to buy a certain product.
As well as this, blends allow you to include coffees that cater to a wider audience, and ultimately create a more agreeable flavour. A light, floral, and complex single origin Ethiopian brewed as filter coffee, for example, might not appeal to every customer that walks through the door.
However, if you build a custom, in-house blend to exacting specifications, you can profile it to make sure it appeals to your existing customer base.
“When creating new blends for our customers, we look at how the coffee is brewed, how it’s served, who the target demographic is, what food is being served, and what level of training the staff have,” Kieran says.
Finally, using a blend can also reduce the issues you might face with quality and supply. As a result, you will be able to provide a consistent flavour all year round and make sure your stock never runs out.
Not all blends are created equal. When choosing one for your business, you’ll need to consider the tastes of your regular customers, as well as whether they generally prefer espresso or filter.
However, creating a custom blend for your business will give customers a flavour that they associate with your brand, providing you with the tools to keep them coming back for that unique taste and aroma.
Enjoyed this? Then read How To Build An Espresso Blend
Photo credits: Jack Gray, Lincoln & York
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