How to match components in coffee blends

Esther Gibbs
October 9, 2023
Coffee blends, Patagonia Blend, coffee blend, matching coffee blend components, coffee blends, matching coffee blends, custom coffee bags

Several specialty coffee roasters have a signature coffee blend, commonly known as a ‘house blend’. This is a consistent coffee that is available all year round. Many cafes will have coffee blends in their grinders to create espresso-based beverages that customers enjoy and trust.

Usually, this blend is what a cafe has become known for – a distinct flavour that is chocolatey, balanced, and great as an espresso, or a distinctive black coffee that holds its flavour with milk and sugar. 

The key to a coffee blend is consistency. Therefore, specialty coffee roasters must determine what their customers enjoy in order to encourage repeat sales. For instance, a single-origin coffee that changes with each season may be too unpredictable for customers who have built habits and trust with a brand. 

This may be why larger coffee brands have become so popular: customers know they are getting a consistent product. Furthermore, they trust the coffee will be identical regardless of what store they visit. 

However, what happens when one of the coffee blend components is unavailable? How can specialty coffee roasters find a suitable replacement to fit within the blend that will not affect the flavour that customers have come to trust? 

To gain more insight on replacing coffee blend components, I spoke with Sebastian Martinez Cvitanic from Patagonia Blend in Chile. 

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What problems often occur with coffee blends?

A common problem with coffee blends and consistency appears when coffee roasters have a sudden increase in sales they didn’t forecast. An example of this would be landing a large contract or when clients expand their stores rapidly. 

Another issue is late coffee harvests, or those with lower crop yields, which have become increasingly common because of climate change

Beyond this, the price of coffee can alter purchasing decisions. Large price increases can mean certain coffees are no longer economically viable. When this happens, where can specialty coffee roasters start to look to find a match for their coffee blends? 

Sebastian’s search began in Colombia in 2012. “I arrived in search of knowledge, knocking on doors and making contacts,” he explains. “This allowed me to work a coffee harvesting season in Southern Colombia in Narino. 

“That was a long time ago, and during that time, I’ve visited many producers and identified different cup profiles throughout Colombia,” Sebastian says. As a result, he’s established several connections and built a knowledge of the flavour profiles across Colombia. 

The knowledge gained means Sebastian can make more informed decisions when selecting coffees and lasting relationships. This alone has reduced the risk of him being unable to find a coffee with the profile he desires. 

Sebastian explains that Patagonia Blend has a tried and tested method when replacing a component in its coffee blends. He says the team reviews the receipt of a representative sample of the harvest according to the cup profile sought and informed by the producer.

“This sample enters our laboratory to undergo physical and sensory analysis according to Specialty Coffee Association’s (SCA) parameters. Once done, we deliver the feedback to the producer.”

As Patagonia Blend roasts between 50,000 and 60,000 kilos of coffee each year, it’s essential the brand invests in high-quality green coffee.

Coffee blends, Patagonia Blend, coffee blend, matching coffee blend components, coffee blends, matching coffee blends, custom coffee bags

Finding the right match for coffee blends

To find the best match for the brand’s coffee blends, Sebastian uses cupping as his main test. That said, he also considers moisture content and density readings. The factors will inform him whether the coffee will have the correct physical properties to be roasted and extracted similarly to maintain consistency for the customers. 

Patagonia Blend uses sensory evaluation to confirm that the flavour profile is within its specification. Additionally, the brand uses triangulation and ‘in and out testing’ to confirm the coffee matches what it is looking for. 

Triangulation cupping

Triangulation refers to testing two coffees for similarities or differences. In the case of coffee blends, triangulation will be looking for similarities. 

Specialty coffee roasters must arrange the triangles in sets of 3: two cups of coffee ‘A’ and one of coffee ‘B’. Arranging them in a blind test allows coffee roasters to taste all three cups and see if they can identify the odd one out. Doing multiple triangles can help coffee roasters determine how similar the coffees are by whether they can identify which coffee is different. 

If across multiple tests, coffee roasters cannot determine which coffee is different, then the consumer is unlikely to notice a difference in the blend. In this case, coffee roasters can successfully replace the coffee component ‘A’ with coffee ‘B’.

‘In and out’ testing

An ‘in and out’ test is a less trying method. It involves having a reference cup of the original coffee (labelled coffee ‘A’) and a line of coffees labelled ‘A’ and ‘B’, or more if determining the best match from a range. The aim is to identify which cups of coffee match the cup labelled ‘A’.

If coffee roasters cannot exclusively pick out the cups of coffee labelled A, then it is likely similar enough to be a suitable replacement.

Coffee blends, Patagonia Blend, coffee blend, matching coffee blend components, coffee blends, matching coffee blends, custom coffee bags

Consistency in coffee blends: The key is building relationships

Sebastian stresses that sourcing appropriate coffees is very much a learning curve. “I made big mistakes in the beginning, because of ignorance and putting my trust in the wrong people,” he explains.

“I bought wonderful coffee and received rested or old coffee that differed completely from the one selected on the trip. This happened to me with a producer from Brazil. I’ve had fantastic experiences in Colombia.

“After having worked with a producer for two years now, we’ve managed to standardise the post-harvest processes,” Sebastian adds. “This has allowed us to deliver a cup with a consistent profile year after year.”

Building direct relationships with producers that are built on trust and longevity can massively impact the scale at which a business grows. Beyond this, it also ensures the business can offer consumers a consistent, high-quality product. 

Sebastian is a great example of how growing knowledge and learning from professionals in producing countries can help coffee roasters make more informed decisions. More so, it can help them resolve any problems quickly. In turn, this helps a brand build trust with consumers and ensures sales continue to rise. 

Sebastian’s deep understanding of Colombian coffee has enabled Patagonia Blend to offer their 3 signature blends, Criollo, Pampa, and Monte Coffee consistently year after year. These blends are such a staple in the business that the brand can have bespoke printed coffee bags with a unique, eye-catching design for each one. 

Having a product that is available consistently means the information on coffee packaging can remain the same. This affords brands the opportunity to invest in more luxurious coffee packaging that is not restricted to minimum order quantities. 

Ultimately, a good blend can help roasters reach a wide audience of customers who will keep coming back for the same flavour. At MTPak Coffee, we can help specialty roasters find the perfect packaging to complement their unique coffee blend. 

We offer a range of high-barrier coffee bags made from 100% recyclable materials, including kraft paper, rice paper, LDPE, and PLA. In addition to our water-based inks, which are low in volatile organic compounds, we can use digital printing to customise coffee bags to highlight the unique characteristics of your coffee.

Images from Patagonia Blend.

For more information on sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team.

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