Announcer: “In this Corner, we have the Undisputed Heavy Weight Champion of the World, Biggly Blend! (Crowd roars!) And in this corner, we have the Light Middle Weight Challenger, Singlest Origin!”
When the so-called 3rd Wave of Coffee rolled onto the coffee scene, it brought with it some newer perspectives on what might constitute ‘proper coffee’ enjoyment (and/or assessment). Two of the pillars of this 3rd Wave ideological platform were: that coffee should be from a Single Origin (Estate/Region) and that these selected coffees should be Roasted Lightly to better taste the subtle nuances with which they were endowed with by the attributes of the particular set of circumstances in which they were grown (Roasting darker influences the taste by adding ‘roasting notes’).
Although this by itself was hardly ‘new,’ as the Specialty Coffee scene (2nd Wave) had been doing variations of this already for decades, but to Bolster their position and to make it ‘news-worthy’ (Marketing, please raise your hand…), these ‘new guys’ (full disclosure: I’m old & old skool) deemed it important to ‘hand craft’ each coffee as well. So, a ‘new style’ of Coffee Bar started popping up as the new kids on the block, and were distinguished by the absence (at first) of either an Espresso Machine, or the Bulk Batch Brewers. The Traditional methods of brewing Coffee (which varied by Country) were replaced with methods more associated with how regular people had been making coffee at home; devices like the Hario V60, Clever, Kalita Wave, the AeroPress, along with various other Brewing Devices, were employed to theoretically slow down the process and make a unique experience for their sought after customer base.
OK, was That another Blog, or a Rabbit Trail!? Let’s just call it a Foundation, k?
On the other side of this Timeframe was the Blending of Origins, and the ‘Why’ is the focus of this blog, and what I’m about to delve into now.
Have you heard of the coffee term Mocha-Java? Mocha (Moka/Mokha) was a Port City in Yemmen, while Java is an Island of Indonesia, and both produced Great Coffees. However, each had its own Song to Sing, and it was discovered that Together, their Harmony was more enjoyable than their Solo acts. This may have been the first ‘mashup’ and the beginning of some great times ahead!
The deal is this, it is Rare to find a coffee that is really well balanced, and in this regard, I’ve chosen to use Music as an analogy. You could have a Bass Note, represented by a Bass Guitar, a Baritone Singer, or in the Coffee World, a Sumatran Coffee perhaps. Nice sound, but sounds even better with a little Contrast, say with a Snare Drum, a Lead Guitarist, a Soprano Singer, or maybe an Ethiopian Coffee (close to Yemen).
The Work of Blending Coffee is to find Coffees that Pair well, that Complement each other in ways the other one doesn’t possess, and to Add Complexity that is generally not available in a coffee from a Single Origin. I’m not saying that there are not some Fabulous Single Origin Coffees, Heavens NO! There certainly Are, and I’ve been blessed to have had the honor of Roasting a bunch of these in my 43 years in this biz, but many times with very careful work, even these Great Coffees can be enhanced.
Now let’s tackle a REALLY Controversial topic: Robusta. Many coffee novices think of this species as just Junk Coffee, a filler, and Not to be used under any circumstances! If this were true, then why does Italy purchase so much of the Indian Robusta crop? Why has Vietnam risen in Coffee Production to be the 2nd Largest Coffee grower in the World while 90% of it is Robusta? My perspective is that Robustas have their rightful place in the Roaster’s Repertoire. For instance, in an Espresso Blend, Robustas are used for Structure and Body and to add a good solid Crema. Again, the job of the Blends creator is to find the right coffees to complement one another, and to make this happen is truly a LOT More work than merely finding the right Roast level for any one particular coffee lot. IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), it is worth the effort.