The Basics of Blending Coffee
Why would you blend different varieties of coffee together? Well, have you ever sipped a Costa Rican coffee and wished that it had just a little more body and richness to it? Do you love the deep, rich notes of a traditional Sulawesi but miss the bright citrus acidity of a Kenyan coffee? When you blend single-origin coffees together, you can tailor the cup to precisely match your preferences by choosing coffees that complement and enhance each other.
There are three major reasons that coffee roasters—and we’re talking about everyone, including the huge commercial enterprises whose products grace supermarket shelves—create coffee blends: to reduce costs, to provide a consistent cup profile and to create unique, signature coffees.
Economically, blending coffees makes sense for large commercial roasters, who frequently combine cheaper coffees with more expensive specialty beans to reduce the cost of their offerings. Consistency is also of particular importance to large roasters and distributors. Customers expect a brand of coffee to taste the same from one cup to the next. Since qualities like body and flavor can differ markedly between farms, regions and even harvests from the same farms, the only way to ensure consistent flavor is to blend coffees from several different regions in order to minimize the differences among them. The result is often a bland (though they’ll call it balanced) cup of coffee with no predominant flavor notes. While consistency may be one of the factors considered when specialty and artisan roasters blend coffees as well, their main goal in blending is to create a specific flavor profile. This is where the true artistry of coffee blending lies—in discovering and melding the unique qualities of two or more coffees to create a new coffee that is more than the sum of its parts.
Artisan roasters aren’t the only ones experimenting with signature coffee blends these days. As more and more coffee aficionados delve into coffee cupping and roasting their own coffees at home, it’s becoming common for them to try their hands at creating their own coffee blends. If you’re interested in creating your own signature coffee blends, you’ll need a basic understanding of coffee flavors and cup qualities as well as an intimate knowledge of your own likes and preferences in coffee.
How to Choose Blends
Even if you don’t want to create your own blends, it’s helpful to know what flavors you like and how they work together. Many specialty roasters list the origins of the coffees they incorporate into their blends. Understanding the typical cup profiles of the various origins, and how these are affected by roast, can help you make an informed choice among them. If you’re not sure which coffees produce the flavors that you prefer, check out our articles on coffee botany and coffee qualities.
If you’re a little more adventurous, you can try building your own signature blends at home.
What Coffee to Blend
If you frequent coffee forums and discussion groups, you’ll find dozens of “recipes” for blending coffee, especially for espresso. Consider trying these blends to get a feel for coffee blending before devising your own blends.
1. Mocha-Java: A classic combination that may be one of the oldest blends known. One-third Yemen Mocha to two-thirds Sumatra Mandheling, all at Full City roast, for a smooth, rich coffee with full body and deep cocoa flavor.
2. Black and Tan: Blend equal proportions of dark-roasted Colombian and light-roasted Colombian to take advantage of the qualities brought out at different roast levels. This approach works with other single-origin coffees as well.
3. Filter Drip Melange: Blend 60% Colombian at Full City with 40% Kenya at City for a drip coffee that has balanced body, bittersweet flavors and bright acidity.
To Robusta or not to Robusta, that is the question. At least, that’s one of the burning questions facing coffee roasters who offer espresso blends. The traditional wisdom is that coffee blends made expressly for espresso benefit from a bit of Robusta, mainly because it provides bite, bitterness and crema. Many artisan roasters disagree with this, and point out that most dry-processed coffees will provide all one needs in terms of these qualities. If you want to attempt your own espresso blends, you might start by sampling the blends offered by the best specialty roasters and then trying to approximate them.
Creating Your Own Blends: An Artistic Approach
Don’t let the idea of creating your own signature blend intimidate you. Think of it as customizing your coffee to your own liking, which is really not much different than varying the amount of coffee and water you use when brewing. You can easily drive yourself crazy if you try to follow some of the more technical conversations about which coffee to blend with which beans, how long to roast the beans, how to measure precisely so that you can duplicate your results consistently and other topics. The best advice of all is to have fun with it—approach it from the perspective of an artist experimenting with a new medium.
1. Start with a base coffee that you like, brewed the way you typically brew your coffee.
2. Think about what you would add to make it “better.” More body? A hint of cocoa? More sweetness? Choose a second coffee that has those qualities.
3. If you’re really daring, choose a third coffee and a fourth—up to five coffees. Beyond that, most experts agree that you’ll start canceling out the benefits of blending.
4. Brew a cup of each coffee and transfer them to insulated, covered vessels to keep the coffee hot.
5. Once you have all of your coffee samples brewed, start mixing and keep a running list of the ratios you use. For example, pour 3 ounces of one coffee into a cup and add 1 ounce of a second coffee into the same cup. Taste. Adjust the proportions to highlight the qualities you want to accent.
6. When you get a blend ratio you like, mix roasted beans in the same ratio and brew to see if it retains the qualities that set it apart.
Blending coffee is a fine art that marries coffee beans from different origins to enhance the best qualities of each. Roasters choose coffees that complement each other with a delicate, matching, say, a coffee with high citrus acidity and light body to one with smooth chocolate notes and full, velvety mouth feel. A talent for choosing complementary coffees and pairing them in the right proportions is one that is highly sought after in the coffee world, but you don’t have to be an expert to create your own signature blends. You just need an adventurous spirit and love of coffee.