On Blending

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Blending coffee is a rather contentious issue, but it’s important, so I’m going to wade into the fray. As coffee sourcing becomes more transparent, and as more and more high-quality single origins become available, blending has been cast in an almost suspicious light—as if the only serious coffee is a rarified single origin. I beg to differ, for a number of reasons.

One of the elements that I feel gets lost when we talk about blends is that there are different reasons that people drink coffee—even the same person may be looking for a different experience depending on the day. For example, I, who have virtually unlimited access to high quality coffees from many countries, tend to desire novelty and interest in a cup. I want an Ethiopia Yirgacheffe more than I want a Colombia, pretty much any day of the week. My father desires the consistency and predictable profile of a dark-roasted blend. Neither of us is more correct.

So for the drinker who seeks a coffee that consistently fulfills what they believe a cup of coffee should be, a blend can be a great option.

But I really don’t want to imply that, like, blends are for boring people. There’s another really good reason to blend, that I also think gets lost, often, and it is that good blend can be greater than the sum of its parts.

Let’s say you like dark roasts, but what you don’t like is that they lack acidity and body. Add a light roast, and you get to enjoy the best of both world (Red Rock always blends post-roast. Otherwise, we would not have proper control over bean development, as different beans roast too differently. Some roasters blend green beans and then roast). Or let’s say we have one of those interesting, earthy Indonesians with fat body. But maybe if you added an African or a Central American coffee, you’d get brightness and fruit flavors. And then you’d have a coffee that was literally like no other coffee in the world, balanced and delicious beyond what the two original coffees could offer. It’s often worth blending even very high grade coffees in these cases.

Then, of course, there is espresso blending. Again, there is no correct answer to the question of whether or not to blend, but something to keep in mind is that the espresso brew process will highlight certain characteristics and mute others. For example, a dry-processed Brazil that is decent and nutty with good body in a pour-over can become deliciously chocolaty with suddenly impressive acidity and huge body in an espresso. Sometimes, because of this tendency, single origins can seem unbalanced in an espresso. A bright and fruity Colombia can become nothing but sour citrus with an espresso extraction. So blending can become even more of an aesthetic exercise when we blend for espresso.

As with anything coffee, I am passionately agnostic. It is wonderful to focus on single origins and the people who grow them. It’s the best tool in our tool box to fight poverty and ensure fair prices, and experiencing terroir through a specialty single origin is a delightful sensory experience.  That said, blending can also be a great experience on the palate, and blending does not actually preclude transparency. For example, every one of our blends is made of coffees we offer as single origins. So, you know…drink what makes you happy. 

Comments

  1. Jason Griffin says

    Well put. Bravo for bravely going against the trend. I could not agree more.

    I would go even farther to say that what most coffee aficionado’s think of as “how good coffee tastes” is based on the characteristics blends tend to have compared to single origin.

    Personally I far prefer blends for espresso. I’ve tried lots of delicious and intriguing single origin’s in espresso but consistently come back to blends for the complexity I look for in a good shot. It’s been disapointing to see other well established roasters with good reputations abandon blends.

    I also tend to prefer blends for french press, Turkish, traditional drip, and even many “exotic” methods such as the Costa Rican chorreador. It’s only with super trendy “cutting edge” Hario v60 pour-ouver that I prefer single origins with.

    What I think many current coffee fanatics don’t understand is how trendy and faddish the coffee world has always been. Theories, preferences, and equipment change. For example, the vacuum pot was for 30+ years looked down upon as an inferior method of brewing due to it being too hot and violent; now it’s looked upon as being one of the “best” methods. Turkish coffee has long been looked down on but is now becoming trendy in some circles. Single origins used to be considered boring and overly simple yet now are thought of as being exciting and sophisticated. Change happens and declaring anything as the “right” way to do coffee vs the “wrong way” is a statement that likely has an expiration date on it.

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