Someone once told me that the difference between a single origin coffee and a blend is like the difference between a single color and a detailed painting. A single origin is beautiful and lovely, but it’s ultimately one-dimensional and lacks depth. A blend is like a gorgeous painting, taking many single origin colors to create a picture that has depth and story. I’m still not sure if this is insightful or glib eloquence, but I want to find out.
I’ve had a torrid history with blends. I began what has become a career in coffee at a roasting company that offered more blends than single origin coffees. There was a blend for every mood, every day, and every person – so long as they liked their coffee burnt beyond recognition. The blend was a secret, but the roasters and blendmaster assured us that it was the same all year long, every year. I smelled a fish. A super burnt fish.
A couple years later, at a new job, I was the roaster and blendmaster. And I killed the blend. I stopped blending, stopped mixing, stopped scooping a bit of this and little more of that. No more blend. It was all about single origins. The smaller the farm, the smaller the tree, the smaller the bean, the better. If I couldn’t tell you the astrological sign of the family dog or the type of fruit juice I was offered during my visit, I wasn’t doing my job properly.
And it was pretty great. I got to visit a bunch of coffee producing countries, see the farms producing the best beans in the world, and experience the spectrum of coffee flavors. And through all of this exploration, I got pretty intimate with the varying ways that coffee manifests itself in our cups, and I had the pleasurable task of presenting these to coffee drinkers. I had become an active participant in the exercise of showcasing the possibilities of coffee flavors and had much to say about what we think about when we think about coffee. And I enjoyed it.
While I believe that there are single origin beans that can hold their own against the majority of blends in the world, it’s impossible to deny that a carefully considered blend of choice coffees can achieve the unachievable. It can pair the brown sugar character of a Guatemala Antigua with the ginger and florals of an Ethiopia Sidamo, the winey character of a Burundi Kayanza with the vanilla notes from a Costa Rica Tarrazú.
One of my favorite hacked-together blends is to take a Colombia coffee, with its syrupy body, flavors of molasses and cherry, and mix it with a bright citrus burst of Kenya Nyeri, with its grapefruit and raisin flavors. On their own, each is delicious, but together they unite like a superhero team, hellbent on destroying your modest notions of what a cup of coffee is capable of, each picking up where the other left off, finishing each others sentences. No individual can accomplish on their own what a well-crafted team is capable of, and a well-crafted blend is no different.
Our first blend was meant to be a mere nod to this, but I’m afraid we’ve outdone ourselves. A floral, citrusy bean; a sweet, syrupy bean; a full-bodied, soft-spoken bean, a chocolaty, rich bean. Together, they create a blend so complete, so balanced and complementary, it lacks the edges to deconstruct or even fully understand it. Giving up their multivariate descriptors and assuming the cloak of a cup that is at once the flavor of coffee and unlike any coffee I’ve had.
It’s our Beta Blend v.1, and it is spectacular.