Single Origins versus Blends
Author: Head Roaster Date Posted:4 April 2016
After more than 30 years, I still think there is much to learn about the coffee universe - that's the simple joy of coffee and dealing with a volatile product that changes every day.
Whether it's something new or different, working with high grade fresh roasted coffees has it's fair share of challenges and problems. Sometimes they are minor like helping customers and other times major issues like sourcing raw coffees from difficult origins, logistics or packaging difficulties.
By far the most recurring theme in my coffee life is finding that utopian coffee that is perfectly suitable for every coffee drinker, every day. Of course, it's an impossible dream - people get bored and desire something new and interesting.
My life would be far easier if we held fewer coffees and those coffees were universally appealing to all coffee consumers. The reality is that coffee is diverse and so are the individual preference of coffee drinkers.
I've said it before many times - take what you may believe is an ideal, typical cafe style coffee and serve it up to 5 people - you are likely to get 3 or 4 different opinionated forms of feedback, or maybe more.
Too strong, too weak, too fruity, too much chocolate, not enough spice, not hot enough, too milky, not strong (bitter) enough after adding 2x regular sugars....no caramel notes, prefer a hint of nut in my coffee, I like vanilla tastes in coffee, etc.......on and on it goes.
Pleasing the broad majority with a coffee is ridiculously harder than you can imagine.
A coffee blend can be useful for 2 primary purposes - to augment and enhance the cup complexity by combining elements and for achieving greater consistency across changes in raw ingredients (coffee lots).
The harsh reality of the coffee world is that raw coffees are changing every 3 months and unless you are buying cheap, low-grade commodity rubbish and then roasting it dark for a homogenous product suited to the supermarket shelves, you are basically faced with the constant dilemma of new lots having varied cup profiles.
Quality coffees will never stay the same year round and for the reason we have noted above, the blender is faced with these constant changes. Many blends typically have 4 - 6 different raw coffees and when you enumerate the 2 seasons per year and 3 crop stages per harvest (early, mid and late), you are dealing with up to 24 step changes in a year - literally twice a month.
How do I decide upon selecting a blend or a single origin
Without doubt, this question arises every day - "should I choose a blend or a single origin".
There is no simple answer - much like you trying to guess what I might feel like eating for dinner tonight - it's personal and it.......depends.
Single origin coffees are best described as a roller-coaster - exuberant highs when you first encounter something amazing and then some unexpected lows when you have picked something that has flavors or characteristics that was not entirely to your liking or preferences.
Single origin coffees are not always going to be kicking goals - it's a journey of discovery and a process of elimination.
Blends are a safer option when you just want a balanced coffee that gives you a rewarding finish without the intensity of acid, fruit or body that may be apparent from some single origins.
When is the right time to experiment with Single Origin Coffees ?
My advice is simple - develop your techniques for preparing coffee and once you are skilled and consistent, with a solid understanding for how to adjust your equipment to suit various coffees, only then should you consider approaching single origins.
The reasons for this are due to the requirements of single origin coffees for more precise grinder and dose adjustments typically needed in espresso brewing.
For plunger, drip/filter, pour over, etc. single origins can provide amazing experiences and can out-gun and out-punch blends. These brew methods are less sensitive to the grind and dose precision of espresso machines.
Of course, if you are one of those wild spirited adventurous types that relish the opportunity to experience something amazing, then by all means just pursue your curiosity and explore the fascinating world of single origins.
Over the last 10 years we have seen customers discover certain single origin coffees that have perfectly suited their tastes and they have told us the reasons why they constantly buy these coffees. We think this us one of the most rewarding aspect of our business - facilitating the matching of a coffee with a customer need.