How can specialty coffee roasters use blends to drive brand identity?
There’s no denying the fact that specialty coffee blends are becoming more and more popular. Alongside offering a range of single origin coffees, developing blends allows roasters to create new but consistent products which cater to a range of taste preferences.
There is plenty of opportunity for coffee roasters to capitalise on the opportunity that blends present. One of these is using specialty coffee blends to drive their brand identity.
But how can roasters do this successfully? To find out, I spoke to Martin Mayorga, founder and CEO at Mayorga Coffee, and Eduardo Choza, Director of Coffee at Mayorga Coffee. Read on for more of their insight.
You may also like our article on roasting specialty coffee blends.
Why are specialty coffee blends becoming more popular?
Blends are renowned for their consistency and well-balanced flavour profiles. As a result, they have long been a staple of many coffee shops around the world. However, it’s also fair to say that traditionally, blends have sometimes unfairly received a poor reputation in the specialty coffee sector.
For many years now, both specialty coffee professionals and consumers have largely preferred single origin coffees. This has mostly been a result of growing demand for more traceable and transparent coffee. Alongside this, single origin beans tend to be more expressive of a coffee’s unique terroir. Ultimately, this mean they have more distinctive flavour profiles.
“There has been a narrative that blends are a way to mask low-quality coffee,” Martin tells me. “However, given the recent growing popularity of specialty coffee blends, this clearly isn’t true.”
This is especially apparent when we look at recent high-profile coffee competitions like the World Barista Championship (WBC) and World Brewers Cup (WBrC). At the 2021 WBC and WBrC, several competitors used blends, including:
- World Brewers Cup Champion Matt Winton, who used eugenioides – a “forgotten” species – and Catucai
- WBC Runner-up Andrea Allen, who used eugenioides and Gesha
- Hugh Kelly, who placed third at the WBC, and used eugenioides and liberica
At the 2022 WBC, Japanese competitor Takayuki Ishitani – who placed fourth – also used a blend of robusta and an anaerobic fermented Gesha. And at the 2023 WBC and WBrC, we’re likely to see more people using blends as part of their routines.
Why do roasters need to sell blends?
There are plenty of reasons for roasters to create and sell blends.
First and foremost, blends are one of the most effective ways for roasters to offer consistency across their products. Some consumers are looking for more repeatable and reliable flavour profiles, and blends are a great way to provide this.
“Mayorga Coffee has been roasting blends for over 24 years because they allow us to create flavour profiles which are unique to our brand,” Martin explains.
Eduardo agrees, saying: “In many cases, the focus was more on single origin coffees, but blends are a way to drive brand identity and highlight something unique about a particular roaster.”
When developing a blend, roasters must highlight the best characteristics of each coffee component to create a balanced and well-rounded product. Doing this requires skill and expert knowledge.
“A well-crafted blend showcases a mastery of the entire coffee supply chain, as well as the craft of roasting,” Martin says. “A blend is a roaster’s opportunity to show their talents, including selecting green coffee, understanding each component’s nuanced flavours, and roasting in a way that highlights each origin’s best attributes in tandem with the other coffees.”
Moreover, blending coffees is often more cost-effective and reliable than only offering single origins. Selling more blends ensures that roasters aren’t too reliant on one particular coffee or origin. This allows them to account for any seasonal variances in a coffee’s flavour profile.
Similarly, if a roaster experiences difficulties in sourcing a particular coffee for a blend, they can easily swap out a blend component for another coffee with a similar sensory profile.
Which types of blends are available?
Generally speaking, there are two main types of blends roasters offer: house or signature blends and seasonal blends.
“House or signature blends, like Mayorga’s Muy Macho or Inca blends, are typically available year-round,” Eduardo tells me.
These are often more consistent and dependable as they should provide a very specific flavour profile all throughout the year.
However, they should also be versatile. House or signature blends should be able to pair well with milk or sugar, as well as tasting great when drunk on their own. Moreover, they should work well as espresso or filter – depending on the roast profile.
On the other hand, seasonal blends are usually available during specific times during the year.
“Seasonal blends sometimes include coffees which are more difficult to source, or use coffees from smaller lots,” Eduardo tells me. “We currently have a Winter Blend, which has a sensory profile which is more suited to flavours associated with winter months.
“What’s more, Mayorga Coffee’s Winter Blend is only available about four or five months out of the year,” he adds.
As coffee is a seasonal crop, each harvest can taste different depending on a number of factors. These include changes in soil quality, more or less rainfall, differing levels of sunlight, and altitude.
As a result, seasonal blends are often marketed as limited-edition coffees. This helps to draw in interest from consumers who are looking for more exclusive coffees.
The importance of using blends to drive brand identity
Blends are an essential part of any roaster’s offerings. However, roasters need to pay great care when making sure that a new blend aligns with its branding and marketing.
“Buying and roasting coffee from a specific farm or farmer isn’t a point of differentiation – oftentimes it’s just procedural or even derivative,” Martin explains. “A high-quality blend can be a way to create profiles and flavours that show consumers that you’re truly a master of your craft.”
Eduardo explains that if roasters want to align a blend with their brand identity, they need to develop it with a target customer in mind.
“There’s no point including limited-edition micro lot coffees in a blend if your customers aren’t going to buy it, or if micro lots don’t interest your target audience,” he says.
Eduardo also tells me that it’s crucial that blends are consistent with a roaster’s values and ethical practices. For instance, Mayorga Coffee focuses on supporting and empowering smallholder producers in Latin America.
“A roaster needs to know how that blend will taste, how the customer will perceive the product, and how the blend components tell the story of the coffees,” he explains. “For Mayorga, it’s the story of our culture.”
So how can roasters align blends with branding?
Branding and marketing are essential parts of running a successful coffee business, and blends play an instrumental role in this.
“Ultimately, the only way to ensure that your blends align with your branding is to know the purpose of your brand,” Martin says.
Firstly, roasters need to know exactly what their brand identity is, as well as any wider messages or values that they must convey to their customers. For instance, roasters need to ask themselves a number of important questions, including:
- What is your purpose and mission?
- Who is your target market?
- Is your brand authentic and recognisable?
Eduardo says that roasters also have to consider packaging for their blends.
“Packaging is often overlooked,” he tells me. “A lot of smaller roasters prefer very simple packaging, but it can sometimes be ineffective in telling the brand’s story and messaging.”
In line with this, considering the use of imagery, colour scheme, typeface, and shape of coffee packaging is important.
“Mayorga Coffee uses very vibrant orange and yellow colours, which help the bags to pop and stand out,” Eduardo explains. “It’s a great way to add some ‘flavour’ to the brand, and include our identity and culture as well.”
Naming your blends
Roasters should also make sure the names of their blends align with their marketing, alongside increasing brand recognition. Blend names should tell a roaster’s story and be an effective way to share a brand’s ethos, vision, and mission.
Mayorga’s blends, for example, are all named after elements of Latino culture and heritage, including countries in Latin America and ancient Latin American civilisations.
Martin and Eduardo explain that this highlights Mayorga’s pride in being from Latin America, as well as empowering Latin American coffee producers.
Moreover, blend names are also an effective way to inform consumers about coffee, as well as recognising and celebrating the people who grow the coffee.
Similarly, if a roaster wants to highlight a particular producer, farm, or region, including an image of the farmer or map of the region can be especially useful.
Regardless of how a roaster chooses to name their blend, it must be consistent with their overall brand identity and marketing.
Blends are a key part of how roasters operate, and will surely continue to be so. However, despite how prevalent they are in specialty coffee, it’s important for roasters to use them as a vehicle for their wider branding and marketing strategies.
By doing so, roasters can more effectively communicate their values and business practices with consumers – strengthening brand loyalty and trust.
Enjoyed this? Then read our article on why relationship coffee is about more than paying a higher price.
Photo credits: Mayorga Coffee
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