Coffee blends… what’s so great about them? With the sheer number of tasty single-origin coffees on the market, you would think there would be no need to blend coffees. Is it a marketing ploy or is there a reason for coffee roasters to make blends?
We’ll start with price. Blending coffees is a great way to make more affordable choices. For example, a large number of commercially available coffees in your local grocery store are blends. Many are blends of arabica and robusta. The addition of arabica gives robusta (a less expensive species) better flavor by dampening the bitterness. Other blends may take an expensive arabica bean, say Jamaica Blue Mountain, and mix it with a less expensive arabica bean of similar flavor profile to make a JBM that is more wallet-friendly.
The next reason for blending is to develop a desirable flavor profile or how it feels in your mouth by adjusting certain aspects of the coffees in the blend. For example, if you have a coffee with rich body and great flavor but it doesn’t have a great mouthfeel, you can blend in a bean that has a similar flavor profile that has a smooth or silky mouthfeel to create a delicious coffee with an ideal finish. Or a blend might bring out a sweet and fruity flavor.
Consistency is another reason for blending. Coffee beans can vary from harvest to harvest with inconsistent flavors or textures. Blending beans can help ensure each batch has the same flavor profile and mouthfeel every time. This is extremely important since consumers expect each batch of a certain coffee they purchase to be the same as the last.
As for marketing, sure, blends can be a way for a coffee house or roaster to market itself. These coffee blends are typically exclusive to the venue and often include the word “signature” in the name. This isn’t to say that these blends aren’t also delicious and designed to adjust the flavor or for the price, but at its core, this particular type of blend is to give the café or roaster a name for itself.
A fear of some consumers is that cafes or roasters blend coffees just to use up whatever is left over. This is extremely rare, however. We won’t say it never happens, but it not the usual reason for creating a blend.
Now we know the why of blending, let’s take a look at the how. Coffee roasters will have a cupping of the coffees they purchase to get a baseline for what each one tastes like. They try different roast profiles to see which one give the bean its best taste. They then begin the blending process. Using their knowledge of the flavor of each of the coffees, the roaster begins to combine different beans, tasting and adjusting along the way, until they find just the right mix.
This is a big job as blending coffees can backfire causing a blended coffee to be flavorless or bland. The purpose of blending is to make the coffee delicious and perk up your taste buds, not put them to sleep.
Though each roaster or café may have different blends from other roasters or cafes, but there are some that are common. You will typically see a Breakfast Blend or an After Dinner Blend. Other usual blends combine regional beans.