Defined as a combination of two or more single origin coffees, blends are a permanent fixture in the product range of many specialty roasters. Not only do they often appeal to a broad range of tastes, they also offer a consistent, predictable, and economic option around which roasters can build their brands.
However, while the concept may seem simple, achieving a good blend requires a lot of work. Each coffee that goes into it must be carefully evaluated to obtain the desired characteristics, while the ratios and roast profiles are usually determined through a laboured process of trial and error.
To find out more about creating coffee blends, I spoke with three-time South Africa National Barista Champion, Ishan Natalie, and South Africa Cup Tasters Champion, Donovan Mclagan.
Read next: Understanding The Difference Between Filter And Espresso Roast
Why roasters should create coffee blends
Put simply, a coffee blend is two or more single origin coffees that have been combined with the goal of creating a product greater than the sum of its parts. They typically comprise no more than five different coffees, with one coffee making up a significant proportion of the blend, known as the “base”.
Although single origin coffees are often considered “superior” to blends due to their complexity and boldness, blends are generally more well-balanced and have greater widespread appeal.
“Every single origin has its own complexity and unique character,” says Ishan Natalie, three-time National Barista Champion and Starbucks South Africa consultant. “From my experience, most single origin coffee tends to work best with brewing methods like filter brewing style because you get to showcase the natural characters and flavours of the coffee, but they tend to be too light or too acidic to be delivered as espresso.
“A blend, on the other hand, helps to create balance. You find coffees that have beautiful individual characteristics, which when put together with other coffees, create a beautiful well-rounded, smooth, and easy-to-drink coffee.”
Besides creating a balance in coffee flavours, blends also help meet consumers’ demand for consistency. While single origin coffees can attract consumers who like novelty and enjoy trying new coffees, coffee blends appeal better to consumers who prefer consistency and a repeatable experience.
This is because blends consist of coffees from several origins, which gives roasters leeway to rebalance flavour profile by using substitute components should any supply issues arise.
Moreover, creating blends is a channel for roasters to exercise their creativity. It allows them to experiment with different coffee beans and ratios until a desired flavour profile is achieved.
Through this creative process, roasters can have their own signature blend where they bring their unique flavour to the table. This helps roasters distinguish themselves in the market and encourages customers to come back for more.
A key example of this is Square Mile Coffee’s “Red Brick Blend”. For the company, it’s become a signature product that customers can return to time and again. Through this blend, Square Mile celebrates the seasonality of coffee by changing its components depending on harvests, while continuing to offer the “same” coffee all-year-round.
Blend components, ratios, and post-blending
Before creating a blend there are various points to consider, from ratios to roast profiles.
Donovan Mclagan is an SCA roast trainer and four-time South African Cup Tasters Champion. He tells me that when he chooses the components and ratios of a blend he doesn’t follow any particular rules, but rather allows his sensory abilities to guide him through the process.
He explains that for him, creating a blend starts at the cupping table. “When I approach a cupping table, one of the most obvious goals is to test the coffee to make purchasing decisions,” he says.
“At the same time, I let my mind wander and think about which coffees will work well together. Sometimes at a cupping table, you might find a coffee that has a special element, but you know that it might not be great in a milk-based beverage or as a single origin on its own.
“Whenever this is the case, I’ll look on the cupping table or try to recall from memory specific coffees that I can match it with and I know will work well together.”
Donovan says that as you begin mixing coffees, you should take note of the process and ratios you’re testing. When you think of coffee in terms of body, acidity, mouthfeel, sweetness, and other flavour characteristics, you can slowly develop your blend by adjusting the components and ratio according to the cup quality you desire.
“From there, you then go back to your roastery and change the individual roast profiles to complement what you’re trying to achieve and highlight in the blend,” he adds.
Another big decision is whether to pre-blend or post-blend. Pre-blending is when beans from different origins are roasted together in one batch, whereas post-blending involves roasting each origin separately and combining them afterwards.
“If you put a few origins in a roaster, you will have different bean densities, moisture levels, screen size, and processing methods,” Donovan says. “Each of those coffee will roast and develop at different rates, and therefore, you are not going to get the optimal flavor out of those coffee just because of those four variables working against you.”
The choice between pre-blending or post-blending typically depends on the size of your roaster’s operation. Donovan explains that it’s not commercially viable for big roasteries to individually roast each component, which means these roasteries tend to choose pre-blending. For smaller roasteries, he recommends post-blending.
What to consider when creating a blend
One important point to keep in mind when crafting a coffee blend is the potential clashes that may arise when mixing coffee from multiple origins. For example, if you have two coffees with high levels of acidity, it’s not advisable to blend them together.
“Too much of something can also be a problem, so having an intimate understanding of the individual characters of the coffee and how they might come together can be helpful,” Donovan says.
As well as blending coffee from different origins, another not-so-common method is mixing the same origin coffee but roasted to different roast profiles. This can also produce interesting results.
Ishan recalls his experience when working with Donovan in one of his barista competitions.
“Donovan roasted a Burundi coffee to ten different profiles for me,” he says. “At the time, I was struggling to choose between two coffees that had a one degree difference in development time. He then suggested that I mix them both together and the result was mind-blowing as both coffees came together amazingly. In fact, that is one of my favourite blends.”
Once the hard work of finding the perfect blend recipe is done, roasters should not overlook the final step: packaging. While the most obvious role of coffee packaging is to protect the coffee inside, it also plays a role as a powerful marketing tool to attract consumers.
In particular, the use of colours can shape consumers’ perception and influence their buying decision. For example, roasters may choose red to promote a sense of urgency, or blue to create a sense of tranquility.
Furthermore, as appreciation for coffee and its “story” grows, many consumers have started demanding more and more information about factors such as processing methods.
Featuring information on the different origins within a blend can help promote traceability, while a story of how and why the blend was developed may help consumers feel more connected to your product.
All in all, creating a blend is about having a deep understanding of the coffees that you work with, being creative and having fun with the whole process, and then topping it off with great packaging.
At MTPak coffee, we recognise the hard work and careful process that roasters go through when crafting a coffee blend. We can work with you to design coffee packaging that best tells the story of your blend, coupled with our high quality packaging options that allows your customers to enjoy a fresh and consistent cup of coffee no matter the time of the year.
For information about our sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team here.
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