Welcome to the next topic of our coffee story – Blending.
So far we’ve learned a lot about the different steps of producing coffee. But we’re not at the end yet. There are some more important steps to learn in order to have our coffee in the cup.
The step we’re talking about right now has a characteristic all following steps have in common: Opinion. What do I mean? Let’s recap first. Processing, farming, harvesting, grading and the knowledge about the coffee plant are fields a lot of theoretical knowledge is dominant, what means that there exist a lot scientifically proven facts you can not discuss.
Now we’re diving in fields where taste and opinion joins the playground and seem to be dominant. As you might know this is really hard to manage, there is no right or wrong, even sometimes neither good nor bad, that is taste. For this reason there are a lot of controversial discussion about blending, preparation and roasting. I strongly believe that a lot of experience is a key factor in beeing able to create a good blend or a good roast. Therefore I don’t hesitate to refer to experienced coffee evangelist who have a lot of experience for years which not always means that I totally agree with them but their opinions can give you an overview about the range of the current coffee culture.
Let’s start with the simple definition of Blending.
What is blending?
Blending means to mix things. Things are ingredients or components of the same kind. Blending is for example used for coffee, whiskey, brandy and wine.
Why is blending used?
The main reason is to be able to keep consistent quality and taste. The goal is to influence or better said fine tune the resulting taste by changing the ratio of the individual ingredients. By blending you can become a bit more independent of the crops’s success, you can even out differences in the raw material’s taste. Taste of course is subjectively but those who produce coffee want to create a desired taste mainly for special purposes like espresso preparation. For this reason blending is used to influence the body, acidity, bitterness or sweetness directly by choosing coffee beans from which you know that they contain ingredients which develop these characteristics you wish to enhance.
In the coffee industry blending is a tool to be able to use a bigger amount of cheaper coffee beans because you can cover their lower quality by adding a smaller amount of high quality beans, the result is a “quite good” coffee. This does not mean industrially produced coffee is bad in quality in general, it is only one of many use cases.
The main purpose is to increase quality and to create an outstanding coffee. This is the most interesting use case and the one creativity, experience and the knowledge about coffee are the most important “ingredients”.
There are two main approaches regarding blending:
- Blending before roasting
- Blending after roasting
The first approach is used when you roast smaller badges at once or you can ensure that the different beans have the same roast-behaviour. It is also possible to use different beans with different roast behaviour which complement each other.
The second approach in contrast is useful if you have larger badges to roast at once or you use beans with different roast behaviour which don’t complement each other. Then you are forced to use this approach.
In most cases blending is a long process until you get the result you wish. It should not just be experimenting and trying, rather it is an act of thinking about the desired result and the available beans, their characteristics and behaviour, with this in mind you can estimate the bean’s ratio and start your first tests. If the desired result occurs immediately, you are fine, if not you have to change the composition or check your assumptions regarding the bean’s characteristics or behaviour. This is repeated until the desired result occurs. The final recipe can then be used for the following roasts and ensures even quality. That’s what blending is for.
As mentioned above blending is not “blindly mixing”, there are some typical characteristics you should know (The characteristics have its source from my experience, so others may disagree.)
- Brightness and acidity: Costa Rica, Colombia, Guatemala, Dominican Republic.
- Body and richness: Dry-processed Brazil, Sumatra.
- Acidy: Yemen, Ethiopia, Kenya.
- Flavour and aroma: Kenya, Guatemala, New Guinea, Yemen Mocha, Zimbabwe.
- Aromatic peak: Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, Kenya.
- Complexity: Sumatra, Sulawesi.
- Body and sweetness: Dry-processed Brazil, high grade India.
Avoid combining two coffees that are distinctive or extreme in the same direction.
Now you have an idea what coffee blending is, why it is done and how creative this process is. Blending coffee is really interesting and challenging. If you have the possibility to try it out, do it.
If you’ve created your favourite blend, feel free to post it in the comment section.