For some of us, blending coffee is a regular part of our production schedule. Whether blending for espresso, drip or full immersion it calls for some thought and strategy. It can be a challenge to use coffees that are available in stock, choose new ones, and decide how to showcase them in a blend. What do we do when coffees are no longer available for the blends that we want to produce? Should we pre-blend or post-blend? Can this blend also work for espresso? It comes down to what our intentions are with the blend and if we can succeed in fulfilling those intentions. It's not a secret that coffee blends were once--and may still be for some--a way to get rid of coffees quickly. Perhaps a coffee wasn't selling as fast as we thought and is showing age. Maybe you realized that your customer base prefers a blend to a single origin coffee they can't pronounce. While some roasters don't practice blending within their lineup, others revel in it.
One can't deny that coffees continue to improve with the quality and dynamics they can offer. This improvement in quality begs for a revisit with blending and the possibilities in creating a blend.
A warehouse full of Bay Area (and beyond) coffee roasters shared an open discussion about blending on November 14th here in Oakland. Chris Schooley and Danny Goot of Sweet Maria's/Coffee Shrub headed up the event by talking about common concerns and issues with blending. Not only was it a fun topic that doesn't get much attention, but also an excellent excuse to get us all together.
Everything was cupped blind, with the first round between two different angles of producing a blend: pre-blending vs. post-blending. Danny set out a blend that was created as a dual-purpose blend (batch or pour over and espresso). The blend consisted of 1 part Guatemala, 2 parts washed Western Ethiopia and 1 part dry-processed Southern Ethiopia. This also gave the opportunity to throw another curve ball in the mix with two different types of processing methods. Although there were differences between the two approaches, there was agreement that the two had a lot in common. The pre-blend showed heftier body, a well-rounded chocolate finish, while the post-blend was a little brighter but thinner. They were both sweet and represented the individual coffees well. This blend obviously had dynamics that could be approached in several different ways.
First round cupping set up. Pre vs. Post blending.
Joe and Nicholas. Get up in there Joe!
The second round of blind cupping was a lineup of 5 different blends brought by 5 different roasters. The objective here was to cup each coffee, critique, and talk about what we found in each cup. We discussed one coffee at a time and after everyone gave feedback the roaster was revealed. They spoke of their intention behind the blend and answered any questions that came up. This exercise was very helpful in inspiring new ways to approach blends and gave some fresh perspectives on blending.
The exclusive yellow cupping table.
Having open discussions like this is such an instrumental way to learn. We can tend to get caught up in the way we do things and often forget why we started doing them in the first place. It might also be time for a change and this kind of forum is a great way to develop different ideas.