Coffee Talk: Blends


By Danny Pinnell, SCAA

As the resident “new guy” around the office, I have been asked to chronicle (no pun intended) some of the things I’ve been learning, whether it concerns staff trips to coffee plantations around the world or weekly “coffee talks” held in our staff meetings. The following focuses on the latter.

I worked the better part of the past year at a little coffee shop called Starbucks (ever heard of it?), but my first couple days with the SCAA has taught me that there is so much more to learn about coffee than I would have ever imagined.

One thing I’ve learned this week in our coffee talk held by Peter Giuliano, our Director of Symposium, concerned blends.

The question arises within the specialty coffee industry whether to embrace the the culinary aspect of blends or to hold tight onto single-origin values. Blending is an important skill set of the roaster, and blending different single-origin coffees can show the roasters’ understanding of coffee as well as a greater understanding of flavor profiles.

It seems to me that blends get a bad reputation because there has been history of temptation by companies to supplement their blends with lower quality coffee. However, blends can be useful for companies to develop consistent flavor profiles.

The Mocha-Java blend, referred to as the “mother-of-all-blends” in our coffee talk, consists of chocolatey, nutty Mokha of Yemen origin and fruity Java from Indonesia. Blending these different origins together not only helped create a new, complimentary flavor – it stabilized the availability of coffee. (If a harvest did not produce enough beans to produce a single-origin roast, there was now the possibility of a blend to provide to consumers).

In order to stay the same, blends must change.

For example, a coffee roaster may use a specific bean from a particular plantation in their blend. However, the taste of the bean may be subject to change for a variety of reasons. In order to keep producing the blend for loyal customers, the bean may have to be substituted in the blend for another one.

Perhaps the specialty coffee pendulum is swinging back to blends. If roasters embrace the spirit of transparency from the single origin ethos in their approach to blends rather than dilute their blends with inferior ingredients, what’s the issue?