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Single bean Vs Blends

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  • Single bean Vs Blends

    As some would know, I have only recently, (compared to some) embarked on my coffeesnob journey. As part of that journey I have been taking the advice of malachi on the Home Barista site who recommends the best way to learn technique, is to fix all the variables and vary one at a time to see the difference each change makes.

    As part of this exercise, I decided to start with making my shots using a single bean from Brazil. The exercise has been fascinating. Apart from learning the taste variation from longer and shorter pours, high and low temps, etc, it has been interesting to learn the how many different aspects there are to this one bean from Brazil. (Not to mention the differences between batches)

    The other day I went back to my roaster and he gave me a bean from New Guinea to try. Wow! what a difference. It was BEAUTTEYFULLL!!!!.

    There is one down side to all this however. I am finding that I am not enjoying drinking coffee blends, especially those served up in cafes which are mixed to enhanced being taken with milk. While I can appreciate better, what is a well made espresso, I am finding that blends are, on the whole, not as interesting as a single bean.

    Am I missing something about blends here?

    Is this a case of not seeing the forest for the trees?

    I now ask, what is it about blends that makes a ‘good’ blend?

  • #2
    Re: Single bean Vs Blends

    Originally posted by Franco link=1212409725/0#0 date=1212409725
    ... I now ask, what is it about blends that makes a ‘good’ blend?
    Complementarity of beans is the basis of blending, Franco ... are they team players.

    For example in a simple 2 bean blend, mixing a highly acidic bean (ie Tanzanian Tanganyika), with a lower acidic but fuller bodied bean (ie Sulawesi Toraja) depending on the ratio will give a balanced yet intense espresso - & in milk, will power through.

    Simple, good blending is easy with quality beans ... a memorable blend - : ahhh, thats a tad more difficult, but worth the effort of aiming at.

    Cheers Franco, keep exploring & enjoying mate


    • #3
      Re: Single bean Vs Blends

      Hi Franco,

      It takes a lot of discipline to stick to Chris Tacys advice, but it truly is the best way to go. Congratulations! Ill have to shout you a coffee some time.

      Different people blend to achieve different ends. Sometimes these ends are working within constraints; sometimes the ends are working towards a particular flavour profile.

      I think that most commercial roasters worth their salt will have a blend that they have created specifically to allow a wide range of extractions to achieve a similar taste profile so that the blend will perform well in a cafe, with a number of baristi of differing skill levels. This isnt necessarily a bad thing; in fact, Id go so far as to say that many of the blends that we read about as tasting fantastic are the sort of thing that roasters would put together for ease of use. Similarly, commercial roasters might need to blend to a price point for some customers, or they might need to blend to suit certain extraction parameters. For example, one of the AASCA judges, Bruno from C4 coffee, dropped by for Daves training session last Saturday and was kind enough to give me some of his coffee to taste. I dialled it in and the most polite thing that I could say about it was that it tasted as though the machine were too hot for it. Bruno told me that, in fact, he had blended that particular blend for a customer whose machine brewed at about five degrees colder than I had set my machine to. A quick fiddle with the PID and the espresso was immeasurably better.

      A more common and easily understood goal of blending is to achieve a specific flavour profile. As Tony suggests, often this will be achieved by adding together beans to "fill in the gaps" in a flavour profile. Sometimes, however, this is not the goal. Good examples are blending a thick, heavy and rich blend specifically for milk - as you mentioned - or creating a blend of washed coffees that is low in body, but quite bright and quite sweet.

      Im sure that you would find something blended specifically to produce an interesting espresso to be a very interesting experience, but such blends are usually pretty rare except for in barista competitions. SOs are a lot easier to manage, seeing as there is no need to do the experiments necessary to make sure that the resultant blend is successful. I think that theres also a bit of a perception that SOs are exotic and interesting, whereas any blend is, by definition, a compromise. I know that there was never really any interest in any of the impromptu blends that I created at First Pour; people either wanted SOs or standard blends. Unfortunately, I simply havent had time to do any blending at work lately. Barista competition espresso blends, on the other hand, seem to have the "wow factor" to attract people to try them out. I guess that the way to get such blends off the ground would be to simply name them after their constituent components. Klaus seemed to do quite well with his "Daterra and Minita" blend, though the fact that he won the WBC with it probably helped!

      I guess that Im not a good person to identify exactly what it is that makes a blend good, seeing as Im not a roaster, but I can tell you from experience that two SOs that are extraordinary by themselves will not necessarily play well together as a blend. In fact, I would go so far as to say that often coffees that will not achieve super-high cupping scores by themselves will probably make a better blend than a bunch of coffees that have higher cupping scores. I guess that the more one-dimensional a coffee is, the easier it is to manipulate into a blend. Theres also a certain art to picking beans that will extract well together; reuben did an experiment on this recently. If you start thinking about roasting everything together, it becomes pretty easy to appreciate how mindblowing the skills of some of Australias best roasters and cuppers really are!




      • #4
        Re: Single bean Vs Blends


        Marvellous post, thank you.

        Suppose with all such things, (wines, fashions, cuisine, song, etc) there is theory and then there is what tastes, looks and feels good.

        Saw an interview on the 7:30 report yesterday with Sonny Rollins, the 75 year old jazz sax player. This guy has been playing jazz all his life, has played with the biggest, is one of the biggest. The line that flawed me was when he said, he was still waiting to play the perfect performance. He said he knows how to almost get there, (I imagine he knows this from practise, experience and theory) but that perfect performance is something he is always looking for.

        I wonder if coffee is like that? You can play with all the variables using theory and know how, but only every now and then do you get all the variables lining up the right way. And as soon as you get it, you want to push it even further.

        I wonder if many rosters know the flavour they will get from beans and blends before they actually grind and extract it?



        • #5
          Re: Single bean Vs Blends

          I think of coffee like wine--most of the time I drink single origin or varietals because I like the specific flavours. Some blends are able to out-do the SO/varietals and I enjoy them as ready-made blends.

          And like with the wines, I havent yet started my own coffee blending, yet. I know what I like, but my education and palate (wine or coffee) isnt in the blending category yet.



          • #6
            Re: Single bean Vs Blends

            Originally posted by Franco link=1212409725/0#3 date=1212492746
            I wonder if many rosters know the flavour they will get from beans and blends before they actually grind and extract it?
            Im pretty sure Hazel can do it.

            Ive heard her talk with Renzo and Ofra from Di Bartoli, discussing changing a blend.
            The three of them seem to be able to taste the blend in their minds.
            From there its up to Hazel to bring it together.