About Our Blends
Sweet Maria's offers a few pre-blended coffees for use as espresso and dark roast. There are pros and cons to blending. We feel strongly that good coffee does not need to be blended; we want to discover the "origin taste" in the cup, the singular essence of the place the coffee is from. This is lost in blending. However, there are reasons to blend. Here are some excerpts from our Blending Article.
Our blends are made with our best coffees. We don't treat blends as a way to get rid of older coffees or ones we need to clear out! In many cases, our blend components are sourced just for the blend, based on test roasts and cupping. They are all comprised of coffees on our green coffee offering list.
While some roasters use blends as a way to reduce costs, to promote their name and enforce customer loyalty, let me also add that many good small roasters are like us; they are proud of their single farm, single origin offerings and they are proud of their blends! They too use great coffee in their blends. Whether a roaster adheres to the pre-roast or post-roast blend school, the cup cannot achieve excellence if average quality coffees are used.
Our blends are divided into Standards (blends we maintain throughout the year, like our Espresso Monkey Blend, and Espresso Workshop "editions." "Espresso Workshop?" The latter are blends that are only offered for as long as we have the specific lots of coffee we used to design the blend, and then it's gone. When we maintain an Espresso Standard blend, like Espresso Monkey Blend, we have to find new lots to maintain the flavors of the blend as the coffee crops change. That can be a tough job, to optimize the blend and, at the same time, to maintain the "spirit of the blend" ... its original intent. There will be shifts in the blend, inevitably. In a sense, Workshop Espresso editions are pure and uncompromising: specific coffees are found that inspire testing, and a new blend idea is born. Instead of maintaining the blend and making ingredient substitutions down the line, the Workshop editions follow the crop cycle of the coffee.
Coffees from different origins are blended together for several reasons. Presumably the goal is to make a coffee that is higher in cup quality than any of the ingredients individually. But high quality arabica coffee should be able to stand alone; it should have good clean flavor, good aromatics, body and aftertaste. So one reason coffees are blended in the commercial world might be the use of lower-quality coffee in the blend. Another reason might be to create a proprietary or signature blend that leads consumers to equate a particular coffee profile with a particular brand image. Consumers don't often call Starbucks by the origin names used in the coffee but simply as "a cup of Starbucks" as if the dark carbony roast tastes were somehow exclusive to that brand. Coffees are also blended to maintain consistency from crop year to year. This is done with major brands that do not want to be dependent on any specific origin flavor so they can source coffee from the least expensive sources. Such blends generally reduce all the coffees included to the lowest common denominator. But let's put aside the less-than-noble reasons that coffee is blended and focus on details that concern the quality-oriented roaster. Before blending any high-quality coffees you should know the flavors of the individual coffees and have some goal for an ideal cup that cannot be attained by a single origin or single degree of roast. It would be a shame to blend a fantastic Estate coffee; after all, you are supposedly trying to attain a cup that exceeds the components and it's not likely you can do this with top coffees. Given that you have both a reason to a blend and a logical process for doing it, there will be little need for more than around 5 coffees in the blend. Blends with more than 5 coffees are considered to be fanciful, or indulgent, or confused by more than a few expert coffee tradespeople I know.
The Case Not to Blend
While blending requires the expert skill of knowing each ingredient coffee, having a clear cup profile as the goal in mind, and knowing how to achieve it, blends should not be considered a "higher" form of coffee by any standard. As indicated above, the opposite case is often true. For me personally there is much more satisfaction in enjoying single-origin and estate coffees roasted to their peak of flavor. In my opinion, even a so-so single-farm coffee is more intriguing than a blended cup, even if the blend is admittedly superior! Why? Because when I taste an unblended coffee it is the end result of a long road from crop to cup, without any one person deciding what I will be experiencing. While I enjoy that cup, I like to think about that process, and it informs my opinion about that region or that specific farm. I enjoy feeling connected to the origin of the coffee and the process in this way.
Blending Before or After Roasting
I get a lot of questions about blending before or after roasting ...which is better? If you have an established blend it certainly is easier to blend the coffee green and roast it together. If you are experimenting with blend ingredients and percentages you will want to roast each separately so you can experiment with variations without having to make a new roast with each change. The case for roasting coffees individually is strong with the Melange-type blend, and with a handful of particular coffees, such as Robusta in espresso blends. Some coffees are more dense or have extreme size variations. These will roast differently than standard wet-processed arabicas. All dry-processed arabicas require roasting to a slightly higher degree of temperature. But in most cases the coffees can be roasted together and I would recommend this: roast the coffee together until you encounter a situation where the results are disappointing and for success you must roast them separately. Every coffee roasts a bit differently but there is a great deal of averaging that occurs between coffees in the roast chamber, especially in drum roast systems. And then there's the coffees that do not roast evenly as single origins either: Yemeni, Ethiopian DP coffees, etc. Uneven roast color is not a defect, and only when it occurs in a wet-processed arabica that should roast to an even color (and sometimes not even in this case) is it of any consequence.Please see the reviews of the blends below. We tend not to rate some blends with cupping scores,
especially with espresso. Espresso must be cupped as espresso and standard terms are undeveloped at this time.