To Blend or Not to Blend: The Debate

In the world of coffee, blending has always been a topic of much debate. For years, blending coffee was the norm, but now, opinions are divided. Some roasters still blend to create a consistent product, while others argue that blending masks the unique qualities of individual beans. Let’s dive into why some roasters choose to blend and why others avoid it.

For many businesses, blending coffee is tied to their size and operational needs. Large-scale roasters like Illy and Starbucks require a consistent product in large volumes. To achieve this, they blend multiple coffees together, buffering any seasonal changes in flavor. While this method ensures a stable product, it sacrifices the transparency and character of individual coffee components.

Medium-scale roasters, such as Intelligentsia and Blue Bottle, aim to maintain consistency while preserving the individuality of their coffee components. They might use fewer countries in their blends and select those with multiple harvests throughout the year, ensuring fresh coffee without significant flavor changes. For example, Sensory Lab’s ‘Steadfast’ blend always includes Brazilian and Colombian beans, utilizing varied harvest times to maintain consistency.

On the other hand, small-scale roasters like Heart Coffee and Square Mile often create blends that vary and change with the seasons. Some embrace this variability, offering ‘Seasonal Blends’ that showcase fresh, in-season beans. However, this approach can result in inconsistent products due to smaller buying volumes and economic pressures. Some roasters even use blends to sell off older or underperforming coffees, which can be commercially practical but may compromise their brand’s integrity.

Blending enthusiasts argue that it can make a coffee greater than its individual parts, allowing for a balanced and nuanced flavor profile. However, this is not always the case. Combining a thin, acidic coffee with a rich, sweet one doesn’t magically equal a perfectly balanced cup. Instead, the flavors dilute each other according to the blend’s ratio. Despite this, some skillfully crafted blends manage to exceed the quality of their individual components.

In contrast, some roasters completely avoid blending. Notable examples include Tim Wendelboe and The Barn, who believe that blending diminishes the unique qualities of their high-quality beans. They argue that single-origin coffees should be celebrated for their complexity and special characteristics. While this approach is admirable, it might not resonate with all coffee drinkers, many of whom are accustomed to blends as a gateway to exploring different offerings.

One major issue with blending is the differing solubility of coffee components. Coffees with varying solubilities extract at different rates, leading to an uneven brew. For instance, in a blend where one coffee extracts quickly and another slowly, the resulting cup will never showcase the best attributes of either coffee. Roasters who match the solubility of their blend components can create harmonious blends, where each component retains its individuality.

Ultimately, the decision to blend or not to blend comes down to a roaster’s philosophy and practical considerations. While some champion the art of blending, others prioritize transparency and the unique qualities of single-origin beans. It’s a complex topic with no one-size-fits-all answer, but understanding the intricacies of blending can enhance our appreciation for the diverse world of coffee.

Whether you prefer blends or single-origin coffees, the world of coffee offers something for everyone. Blends can provide a consistent, balanced cup, while single-origin coffees highlight unique flavors and characteristics. The choice ultimately lies with the roaster and the coffee enthusiast, each finding their own path to the perfect brew.