The espresso is the cornerstone of any coffee shop. It is the foundation on which many other drinks are based: the Americano, cappuccino, latte and flat white to name but a few. Needless to say, when choosing the perfect offering, there is a lot to consider. Chief among these is the simple question: single origin or blend?
The coffee industry, like any other, is subject to trends and patterns. For some time now, all eyes, particularly when it comes to the espresso, have been on single origin with blends, unfairly we think, taking something of a back seat.
We grabbed 10 minutes with our newest coffee trader, Henry Clifford, to find out why blends are still important in terms of flavour, consistency of product, and your bottom line.
Blends for flavour
Blends, for speciality coffee roasters, can be a touchy subject. Purists will fight the corner for single origin beans, arguing its ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’; its clarity of flavour; its complexity. And we agree: a good single origin is hard to match.
However, we have a soft spot for a great espresso blend, and believe blends still have a part to play, even in this third wave.
“If you are buying a top quality specialty coffee, and paying a lot of money for it, many would argue that it should be complex enough: it should already give you the right body, the right acidity, the right flavour, and you shouldn't need to blend it with other varietals,” Henry explains. “But a great blend can be more than the sum of its parts and deliver a breadth and intensity that can be difficult to deliver in a single-origin. Some single origins, while very complex, might not offer the balance you’re looking for in an espresso and would benefit from blending.”
“If you have a specific profile in mind – a coffee with a creamy body, sparkling acidity with floral and raspberry flavour notes and hints of chocolate, for instance – a single origin may not be able to hit all those touchpoints. However, a skilfull blend of an Ethiopian and Colombian or Brazilian might achieve that balance of flavours you’re after.
“A 100% Guatemalan coffee, for an espresso, is undoubtedly fantastic. But a 50/50 Honduras Guatemala works brilliantly too. This huge weighting towards single origin is no bad thing, but blends certainly should have a part to play.”
“One of the joys of blending is the creativity, and you can really have fun, be ambitious and experimental when creating your espresso. Like a chef, you can play around with different combinations and come up with exciting new flavours.”
But it’s not just flavour, from a business perspective, knowing your cost is hugely important. You need to balance the great flavours with coffees that give you a good margin.
No two roasters are the same, and the needs and requirements for each are very different. While one may want the cheapest blend possible, others may be looking to match a specific profile based on their customer, the seasons or even personal preference. We would argue everyone, from huge multinationals to one-man bands, can benefit from devising a great blend.
For large-scale roasters, blends can be used to create a consistent product all year round in huge volumes: seasonality and traceability, for these larger roasters, might not be a major concern.
For small and medium-scale roasters, blends can be used to create a consistent offering whilst showcasing some of the individual qualities of the components. Whereas large scale roasters can use any number of coffees to create the desired flavour profile, the smaller roasters can use beans from as few as 2-4 countries, meaning the blend can contain fresh coffees all year round without changing in flavour too drastically.
Blends with (business) benefits
Let’s talk realities. Yes, coffee is for connoisseurs, but it’s also a business. A big business. After oil, coffee is the single most traded commodity in the world. And for coffee businesses, there has to be a consideration for the bottom line. If there wasn’t, you’d all be roasting Colombian Honey Pacamara without a second thought. Blends, like it or not, can still offer a fantastic brew, but also benefit the bank balance too.
Traceability is undoubtedly the single origin’s trump card, for blends it is flexibility: both in price and stock. “If you have a coffee that isn't selling very well, you might be able to put a little bit of it into a blend without compromising its flavour. And as long as it’s not compromising the flavour, you can use more price-competitive coffees, which will allow you to bring the cost of your espresso offering down.
“If you’re able to design a blend which hits the right flavour profile at the right price, you’re on to a winner. While everyone wants coffee, price is always important and using a percentage of your blend (30% of a cheap Brazil for example) which is more competitive on price, is a way of enabling you to offer a coffee that is both tasty and good for business—that can be key to future growth.”
We know blends are not fashionable at the moment, but it’s important to recognise their merits. Single origin is going nowhere, but the art of blending should be celebrated too – for flavour, fun and financials.
What’s on your blends menu? We’d love to know. Get in touch on Twitter or Instagram and show us what yours are made of.
And if you would like to learn more about blending and the options available or would like to find out what great single origin coffees we have, please call us on 020 7202 2620.