Despite being a common offering in the past, blends quickly fell out of favour with specialty coffee shop owners and roasters.
This is largely due to the poor practices of some roasters who tend to offer coffee blends as a way to mask unfavourable flavours or reduce costs by using lower-quality beans.
On the other hand, single origin coffees are favoured thanks to the growing interest in transparency and traceability along the supply chain.
Recently, there have been signs that coffee blends have evolved and are ready to appear in today’s specialty market – in higher quality, more traceable form. This may be because sweetness is one of the most appreciated attributes to coffee.
A person’s basic tastes are sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. However, none of these exists in isolation: they work together to create an overall balanced and harmonious flavour experience.
As sweetness is a highly desired quality, many roasters strive to develop and achieve it, and coffee blends can be an effective way to do so.
To understand how to add sweetness to a coffee blend, I spoke with the founder of MABO Coffee Roastery, Bogdan Georgescu.
What is a coffee blend?
In essence, a coffee blend is a mixture of two or more single origin coffees.
Usually, a blend comprises no more than five different types of coffee, and has a “base” component which makes up the majority of the blend.
A coffee blend typically highlights the best qualities of each component while creating a balanced and complex cup.
Bogdan explains that offering coffee blends is an effective way to cater to the demand of the market.
“In our region, consumers prefer espresso with a high body, high sweetness, and low acidity,” says Bogdan, who is also the 2019 Romanian Coffee Roasting Champion. “However, consumers in Northern Europe may enjoy filter coffee more.”
At its inception, MABO Coffee only offered single origin coffees. “In time, our consumers began requesting coffee blends, as they wanted to have espresso or milk-based drinks,” Bogdan says. “So, we created blends and they are doing very well.”
Since blends are made up of a few components, roasters have the flexibility to rebalance each portion in the event of supply shortages. This can help ensure consistency and a repeatable flavour experience for consumers year-round.
Additionally, coffee blends provide roasters with the freedom to exercise creativity in their offerings.
Coffee is a seasonal product, with various harvests occurring at different times of the year.
Besides catering to the availability of coffee, releasing seasonal or limited edition blends with distinctive flavour profiles creates excitement for consumers.
At the same time, it is common for a roastery to have a signature blend that defines the brand. When the blend provides a flavour experience that is unique to the roaster, it gives consumers a reason to return.
What to consider when creating a coffee blend
Determining the type of blend and its purpose is an important step when creating coffee blends.
Every roaster has their own object and unique roasting style. For instance, Bogdan strives for a balanced blend with a traditional touch.
In particular, he aims for nutty chocolate flavours with low acidity, and a winey aftertaste, as these characteristics pair well with milk-based offerings.
On the other hand, Square Mile Coffee Roasters created their Sweetshop espresso blend with sweetness, fruitiness, and wild complexity in mind.
At the same time, understanding consumers’ flavour preferences and expectations is equally important.
“We try to have different characteristics of coffee that we think our customers will like in a blend,” Bogdan says. “In particular, sweetness, acidity, body, and uniformity.
“Then, we modulate the flavour profile according to what we want to achieve.”
Another aspect roasters should consider is whether to pre-blend or post-blend.
Pre-blend is when all components of the coffee blend are roasted together, whereas post-blend involves roasting the beans separately and combining them afterwards.
“If you have green coffees with the same screen size, density, and moisture level, roasters can do a pre-blend,” Bogdan explains. “However, if the coffees are very different, it will be difficult to roast them together because some may be underdeveloped, while others could be overdeveloped.”
Pre-blend is a timesaving option. However, beans that are roasted with the same profile may not have a uniform solubility level, which may lead to inconsistent extraction.
In particular, solubility or the total dissolved solids (TDS) are measured with a refractometer. If one portion of the blend has a lower TDS, roasters may need to push the roast darker so all components can extract at the same rate.
Similarly, it is key to consider any potential clashes, especially when mixing coffees with various characteristics. Flavours that overpower each other may create an unpleasant experience for consumers.
How to add sweetness to a coffee blend
Adjusting sweetness to coffee blends comes down to two key elements: green bean selection and roasting profile.
The quality of green beans used in a blend will dramatically affect the result of the roast.
While flavours can be modulated through roasting, green coffees that do not have the inherent quality of sweetness will not be sweet – even with the best coffee roasting techniques.
In addition, factors such as the origin of the coffee, growing conditions, and processing methods, among others, can affect coffee characteristics. Bogdan shares that Central and South American coffees are typically sweeter than African coffees.
Other than that, coffees grown at higher altitude are often found to be sweeter, thanks to a slower maturation process. This allows the development of more complex sugars in the bean.
To add sweetness to a coffee blend, roasters may also opt to use honey processed beans as they tend to have higher sugar content compared to naturals.
Once roasters have selected their beans, the next step is to modulate the roasting profile to bring out the desired qualities of the green coffee.
One critical part of the roast that affects sweetness is the Maillard phase. At this stage, the breaking down of the beans sugar (sucrose), also known as caramelisation, occurs.
While a higher residual sugar contributes to sweetness, too little or too much caramelisation may lend to vegetal or excessive bitterness.
Therefore, it is important for roasters to adjust the level of caramelisation appropriately.
That said, there is no fixed formula for finding the best roast profile.
To identify an ideal roasting method, Bogdan says it requires much trial-and-error, as well as the analysis of all roast phases.
Indeed, coffee consultant and author Rob Hoos agrees in his book: “Each coffee has within it a slightly different chemical composition that will cause it to have different flavours and potential for flavours.
“In order to land on certain flavour profiles, you must be diligent and deliberate in your sourcing strategies and then use these roasting strategies to draw out that potential.”
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Our range of sustainable packaging is made from eco-friendly materials, such as kraft or rice paper with a LDPE or PLA lining, and we are able to offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) of packaging, no matter what size or material.
We can use digital printing to customise coffee bags to highlight your coffee blend. We have a 40-hour turnaround and 24-hour shipping time, allowing us to offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) of packaging, no matter what size or material.