A few days ago our first blend was released, Lucero Blend , a 50/50 combination of two lots of South American coffees: a Peru from the Cajamarca region, and our Brasil Chapadao de Ferro.
Making a blend of different origins has always been a topic that has generated a lot of curiosity in us. It is a common practice in mature specialty coffee markets such as the US, UK or Australia and, obviously, in the world of commercial coffee, but it is not as common in new markets like the one we find in Spain. We wanted to make a post on this topic to fully understand what a blend is and what differentiates it from a Single Origin , as well as to share with you the reasons that led us to make our first blend.
Most of the products sold in the food industry are the result of different mixed batches, unless we are talking about very limited editions of a manufacture. As soon as that lot or “unique element” has a demand that exceeds a very limited market, it is normally necessary to combine different lots to have a sufficient volume to make its commercialization viable. This mixing of lots can occur at the origin or at a more advanced point in the chain. The definition of this product or “unique element” is very difficult to define, since it can occur at many points in your life.
The blend in the history of commercial coffee.
Coffee is a product that became fundamentally popular in an industrialized society and when its consumption became widespread, it did not take long for blends to appear. The first one of which there are records is attributed to Luigi Lavazza, in 1895, although they surely had already been made before with less commercial success. Its subsequent popularity is perfectly understood by the numerous advantages it has both from the point of view of the roaster and the consumer:
- You can have a specific flavor that lasts over time and does not suffer seasonal changes. In a blend where different origins are combined, you more easily replace the flavor changes that you may suffer in certain vintages.
- You can create a product with your own brand, designing a specific flavor that satisfies certain market demands.
- It is easier to find a balance in the price of a blend since if a certain country or region suffers specific imbalances in the price of its coffee, it is easier to replace it with another similar one.
Obviously, it also has its disadvantages, especially for the consumer:
- You lose traceability, since commercial roasters normally do not include information related to the different farms or regions that make up their blend. Furthermore, when purchased in larger volumes, there is a tendency not to purchase batches from specific farms but rather regional blends, so generally the product has already been a blend from origin.
- It is easier to manipulate the consumer by introducing mediocre coffees or coffees with some problems into the mix and covering them with others.
- Part of the fun of discovering flavors specific to an area, farm or grain is lost when combined with one or several other coffees.
In an industrialized market, blends were gaining popularity until they became almost the only option on the street, both on supermarket shelves and in the hospitality industry. Only in small traditional neighborhood roasters was this option of being able to buy single origins maintained, although in reality they were regional blends (or from a certain country) and did not sell as much as blends. In fact, they could not be defined as single origin as is, but rather as a mixture of grains from a certain region, something like appellations of origin in the world of wine, but which does not differentiate estates. So how do we define a single origin ?
The single origin or unique origins.
Towards the end of the 1990s, with the birth of specialty coffee and thanks to events such as the Cup of Excellence , a global project designed to help coffee producers receive greater income from high-quality coffees, it was re-established. put the focus on unique coffee lots. But at that time, the concept of single origin was not something that was used as is, and could mean something like all the coffee produced by a specific farm, regardless of its size, varietal or processing of the bean.
As you can imagine, defining the limits of what a single origin is is very complex. Where do we put the barrier? On a single farm we can find different varietals, elevations, harvests, etc., but not only that, in the case of small producers, to be able to market at least a few bags of coffee, grain is needed from several neighbors who leave their cherries in a municipal or regional benefit. To give an example, what we have traditionally considered single origins from Ethiopia were the combination of crops that different families contribute to a benefit. Then, in each place they create batches according to their own criteria or directly mix what they receive, which makes traceability complicated. In 2018, with the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange (ECX), stricter batching protocols began to be implemented, so traceability to producer has improved significantly.
This not only happens there, but with the particularities of each area it is repeated throughout the world, which makes it very difficult to define a closed concept.
In 2005, Doug Zell, founder of Intelligentsia Coffee, brought the micro-lot concept to the industry with the Colombia Cauca Almaguer Micro Lot, produced by Alciabiades Garcia, further reducing the limits of what was then called single origin . We consider a micro-lot to be the production of a part of a farm, which has specific characteristics and whose volume is small compared to what is produced as a whole.
Returning to reality, the specialty market has favored the popularization of single origin, especially because they give us greater traceability and stories to tell and there is a much broader framework of flavors. However, in countries where this market is more mature, specialty coffee blends occupy a very important position since they provide a series of advantages different from those that the traditional industry valued. A very important one is stability in flavor for consumers who are not experienced baristas, restaurants or establishments where they cannot afford to have a professional trained specifically in coffee and in calibrating coffees that change every few months. In the same way it can happen with final consumers at home, there will always be a more specialized audience that likes to play with origins and another more passive one that wants a delicious coffee that does not complicate their mornings.
Another very important nuance of specialized blends is that they are more accessible to the consumer, first of all due to price, since by being able to buy larger volumes they can be sold cheaper, but above all for their own concept. When a consumer is starting to buy specialty coffee, they have to face a shelf full of strange names and it is likely that they will choose a coffee that they do not like, or they will be scared by the unknown and give up on buying. On the other hand, blends tend to have easier flavors and the customer who is already in your cafe will trust your proposal since they will understand it as the “house coffee.” This way it will be easier for you to enter the world of specialty and be able to enjoy new experiences such as single origin in the future.
This last reason has been one of the main reasons that led us to launch our Lucero Blend. On the one hand we want to facilitate access to this world and on the other, we believe that it is a good idea to have our own flavor profile that helps us sell to specific hospitality clients. For example, we had a couple of clients on online delivery platforms for whom it was a great effort to change the single origin they offered in their system every few months. On the other hand, with the blend, they have a photo, flavor and description that can last much longer although later in the bag the origins may vary. The same happens with hospitality clients who seek quality but cannot be as specialized due to their size, such as luxury hotels or gastronomic restaurants; Now they can serve great coffee without having to have an expert barista calibrating the machinery every time a coffee is rotated.
Reaching this combination of 50% of these two origins has been the result of many tests, both roasting and extraction. You have to adjust roasting profiles to play with a similar solubility in the two beans and that when extracting you do not have one origin under-extracted and another over-extracted.
So far the reception has been very good, so we are encouraged to continue testing with other blend profiles, perhaps another more fruity or funky one for more advanced clients or those who are not so specific to drink with milk. On the other hand, we do not rule out making a filter blend, to help with all of the above for all of you who are beginning to enter that world.
In conclusion we want to make several things clear. The blend is an idea that by itself is neither good nor bad, you have to explore it and see its advantages and disadvantages. We still love single origins , just like when we discovered this world more than 10 years ago, and they will continue to be our bet in the cafeteria, but we want to open the doors and make quality coffee accessible to other markets and surely the blend will help us. help.