The Art of Blending: Colombian, Guatemalan and Brazilian Coffee Beans
Occasionally considered something of a “dark art” in the coffee world, blending is often misunderstood. What is blending? Why is it done? And how do the experts know how to do it? Here, we look at some of these questions and more to explain the basics of how blending works.
What is blending?
In its simplest terms, blending is a very simple concept. It involves combining coffee beans from two or more different origins or sometimes different roast levels to produce something that is different from each of the individual types of bean used.
The idea is not a new one; coffee has been blended for almost as long as it has been produced commercially. One of the earliest examples – and one of the most famous – is a blend that consists of Mocha beans from Yemen and beans grown on the Indonesian island of Java.
(Here, Mocha refers to the name of a place and the beans grown there rather than the popular drink made with espresso and chocolate.)
It was realized early on that by combining these two types of beans, a coffee could be produced that was more satisfying than one made from either of these types of beans alone.
Nor is the idea restricted to the world of coffee. Many wines are blends of different types of grape. By combining different grape varieties, wine growers are able to produce more rounded wines with more complex flavors than wines made from just a single type of grape.
Why do we blend coffees? – Large-scale roasters
There are several reasons for blending coffees, and this depends to a great extent on the scale of the operation.
For large-scale roasters, it is often a matter of producing a consistent flavor. Remember, coffee beans are a natural product that is affected by environmental factors such as rainfall, sunlight, temperature and so on.
This means that beans harvested from the same farm may taste significantly different from one year to the next. Yet when customers buy a packet of coffee in the supermarket, this obvious fact tends to be forgotten: people expect their favorite coffee to taste exactly the same every time they buy it.
By incorporating different beans grown in different parts of the world into a blend, coffee companies can mitigate this variation, consistently offering a coffee that displays the same flavor profile year after year. This is because one bean will have less effect on the overall flavor when part of a blend.
Another very practical reason is simply a question of economics. By blending, it is possible to produce a decent-tasting coffee by using a less expensive bean for volume combined with another more expensive bean to improve the overall flavor.
In this case, the more expensive bean might not be economically viable alone since the price would be too high. By combining it with slightly cheaper beans, the blend becomes more affordable for consumers while also helping the profit margins of the company selling the blend.
Exactly the same practices occur in the world of wine.
For smaller-scale roasters, the picture might be different. For these roasters, the seasonally-changing flavor profiles may be seen as a positive aspect, with knowledgeable customers keen to taste the differences between each year – again, similar to different vintages of the same wine.
At this level, respectable roasters are genuinely trying to improve on a single-origin bean by combining it with something else. In effect, they are trying to come up with a blend that is more than the sum of its parts.
Imagine drinking a single-origin coffee and enjoying the flavor but thinking it could do with slightly more acidity or that the chocolatey tones would be complemented by a hint of strawberry. This is the aim of blenders who are hoping to create something new and unique.
And again, this is exactly what happens with wine.
A perfect example of how this works in practice would be the extremely popular Signature Blend from Don Pablo Coffee Growers & Roasters, which consists of a combination of Colombian, Guatemalan and Brazilian beans.
The result is three types of bean with very distinct flavor profiles. However, when they are combined and roasted to a medium-dark level, the result is a complex flavor profile that is rich and smooth with a clean, satisfying finish and displaying notes of chocolate and caramel.
In other words, the result is more than the sum of the individual parts. Taken alone, each of the three ingredients would be far less inspiring than the result of the blend; together, they become something altogether superior.
How to blend at home
You don’t need to be a coffee professional to try blending at home. You may or may not come up with a world-class blend, but as a coffee lover, you are sure to have fun trying.
The key is to start out with a clear idea of what you want to achieve and then to choose beans accordingly. To begin with, start with a base bean that makes up about 50% of the mix and add others to achieve the desired effect.
You might not hit upon the perfect combination first time – but take notes and keep trying and you are sure to improve.
You can even take it a step further and start experimenting with different roast levels blended together. How will the delicate flavors of a light-roasted bean combine with a stronger, bolder dark roast?
You could start by looking up recipes online, but after a while, you should feel more confident to experiment for yourself.
When you reach this stage, you might also consider investing in a reliable home roasting machine. From there, you are free to experiment; the only limit is your own creativity!
Several reasons for blending – with some admirable results
As we have seen, there are several reasons for blending. Sometimes it is merely for economic reasons, but sometimes – as with Don Pablo Coffee Growers & Roasters’ blend – the goal is to produce an improvement over any of the individual components by combining them with other, complementary coffees.
For any dedicated coffee fan, the chance to try this process at home should sound like an intriguing and highly enjoyable proposition!
Kathy Gallo is a long-time coffee lover who enjoys tracking down and sampling unusual coffees from around the world. She takes great pleasure in writing about her coffee experiences in the hope that others may find the same pleasure that she does in this magical drink.