Exploring the Thrills of Specialty Coffee Blends

Vietnamese Coffee Exporter
Specialty Coffee Blends

In recent times, the specialty coffee scene has witnessed a noteworthy surge in the popularity of specialty coffee blends. This trend is evident as an increasing number of specialty coffee roasters are expanding their offerings to include various blends. Additionally, participants in the World Coffee Championships (WCC) are increasingly incorporating these blends into their routines.

Traditionally, the specialty coffee industry has shown a strong preference for single-origin coffees. This preference is rooted in the belief that single-origin coffees, known for their traceability and high quality, offer a purer coffee experience.

Yet, with the rising inclination towards blends within the sector, it prompts an intriguing question: What level of excitement and innovation can coffee blends bring to the specialty coffee world?

To delve deeper into this trend, I engaged in conversations with Cleia Junqueira, the Head of Coffee at Coffee Planet, and Tony Dreyfuss, the founder and co-owner of Metropolis Coffee. Here’s what they shared about the burgeoning role of specialty coffee blends.

Comparing single origin and specialty coffee blends

Before diving into the intricacies of coffee blends, it’s essential to grasp the concept of single-origin coffees. These coffees hail from a singular location, which might be as broad as an entire country or as precise as a specific section of a farm, sometimes referred to as micro or nano lots due to their small scale.

Such specificity in sourcing means that single-origin coffees often boast distinct flavor profiles that reflect the terroir of their origin, encapsulating factors like altitude, soil composition, and climate.

Specialty coffee roasters and cafes typically regard single origins as emblematic of quality, a perception bolstered by a growing consumer interest in coffee that is not only traceable but produced ethically.

On the other side of the spectrum, coffee blends are a tradition as old as the coffee industry itself. Historical accounts suggest early commercial blends combined beans from Yemen and Java, merging Yemen’s brighter, rounded flavors with the deeper, chocolate notes of Java beans for a harmonious taste profile.

Blends mix two or more types of coffee beans, which are often merged post-roasting to achieve consistent roast levels across the blend. The selection of beans for a blend is a thoughtful process, aiming to pair qualities that enhance each other. For instance, blending a vibrant, acidic coffee from Kenya with a sweeter, fruity coffee from Honduras can lead to a balanced cup.

The art of achieving balance in flavor is crucial, not just in coffee but across the culinary world. Prestigious culinary institutions like Cordon Bleu teach that mastering flavor balance is both a technical skill and an art, requiring a blend of training, instinct, and extensive experience.

Innovating through unique specialty coffee blends

The trend toward using blends in coffee competitions, traditionally the domain of single origin enthusiasts seeking to highlight distinct flavors and origin stories, has been gaining momentum. This shift became notably apparent at the World Barista Championship (WBC) and World Brewers Cup (WBrC) in 2021, where competitors showcased a preference for blends, diverging from the conventional choice of single origin coffees to underscore innovation and excellence in the industry.

For example, Matt Winton, who clinched the title at the 2021 World Brewers Cup, crafted a unique 60:40 blend comprising naturally processed Coffea eugenioides from Finca Inmaculada in Colombia and a washed Catucai from Hacienda La Florida in Peru. This blend was celebrated for its ability to harmonize distinct flavor notes such as guava and raspberry, offering a nuanced experience that balanced acidity, body, sweetness, and flavor seamlessly across temperatures.

In the same vein, Andrea Allen and Hugh Kelly, securing the second and third places at the 2021 WBC, integrated eugenioides into their blends. Allen paired eugenioides, known for its low acidity yet high complexity in sugars, with a Gesha for her espresso, aiming to accentuate its unique sugar profile. Kelly, meanwhile, chose a 50:50 blend of eugenioides and liberica for his milk-based drinks to highlight their tropical nuances.

In a continuation of this trend, Takayuki Ishitani, who finished fourth in the recent WBC, utilized a blend of robusta and an anaerobically fermented Gesha. Ishitani’s blend aimed to achieve a harmonious balance in flavor and texture between the two coffees, demonstrating the evolving creativity and experimentation within the competitive coffee brewing landscape.

The art behind coffee blends: why roasters embrace the complexity

Blends have long served as a crucial tool for roasters, enabling them to forge not only a sense of consistency and tradition in their flavour profiles but also to manage costs effectively. According to Tony, who shared his insights during a PRF Colombia panel on the significance of blends in the coffee industry, the creation of blends is a deliberate process aimed at catering to specific customer demographics. By intricately layering various flavours and textures, roasters can craft unique, tailor-made products that resonate with their brand’s values and identity.

Such bespoke blends become signature offerings, distinguishing a business with a product uniquely its own.

The dynamic nature of coffee’s availability, driven by its seasonality, poses both a challenge and an opportunity for roasters. Since coffee beans are harvested at different times across various origin countries, ensuring freshness and consistent quality becomes a complex task. Each harvest carries its unique sensory profile, influenced by that season’s specific conditions. Yet, it’s this very challenge that blends address, offering a solution for maintaining a consistent flavour experience year-round.

Cleia, with her experience managing over 70 blends annually at Coffee Planet, highlights the critical role of monitoring each coffee’s acidity, balance, body, and flavour nuances. These characteristics are prone to shifts within months, affecting the overall sensory profile. The art of blending, therefore, grants roasters the flexibility to adjust and refine, ensuring a stable and consistent product that doesn’t just taste great but also carries significant value.

In essence, the realm of coffee blends opens up limitless possibilities for roasters, allowing them to navigate the complexities of seasonality and variability with creativity and precision, ultimately offering consumers a consistently delightful coffee experience.

Guaranteeing traceability and promoting sustainability

When it comes to specialty blends, maintaining transparency across the supply chain is a top priority for both roasters and consumers. Today, consumers are more concerned than ever about knowing the origins of their coffee and the people behind its production.

Historically, achieving transparency with blends has been challenging compared to single origins. However, there are several strategies to address this issue. It starts with collecting traceability data at the source, and efforts should be made to support producers in storing and sharing this information easily with other players in the supply chain.

By enabling traceability down to individual plots of land, farmers could potentially command higher prices for coffees sold as part of blends, thereby adding more value to their produce. Tony explains, “Producers cultivate a variety of coffees, with the highest quality often sold as single origins, catering to a niche market. However, the majority of their coffee is blended, which deserves recognition and fair compensation.”

These blended coffees, if grown using best agricultural practices, can offer exceptional quality and desirable characteristics. Yet, there’s a need to improve recognition and transparency for farmers contributing to blends. “Labeling these coffees as inferior to specialty undermines their value and the efforts of the producers” Tony emphasizes.

Whether sold as single origins or blend components, traceability remains crucial. Roasters and green coffee buyers are now expected to gather, verify, and communicate this information effectively.

Cleia adds, “While the specialty sector thrives on high-end coffees, sustainability demands that we also support the production and sale of less exclusive coffees.”

Blends have been integral to the coffee industry for centuries and will continue to be so. They’re not just a tradition but also a platform for innovation in specialty coffee, with more exclusive coffees finding their way into blends. In the years ahead, the significance of blends in driving the specialty coffee industry forward will become increasingly evident.