An experiment: Ten years of drinking almost entirely single origin espresso

by Reiss Gunson on Saturday, 30 October 2021 12:13

Please note that what i have written below only relates to espresso

Having pursued single origin espresso for the last ten years in something of a search for excellence i have reached a conclusion, perhaps heretical to some, but never mind.  It is absolutely the case that there are some fabulous off the charts single origin/single estate/microlot espresso roasts in existence.  They are an absolute joy to experience, in many cases delivering flavours in the cup that you might not have thought coffee could deliver.  Almost always i order 1 kilo of any coffee so i get to taste it change from when it is just a few days post roast to when it is several weeks post roast, and tasting this progression is very helpful if you want to understand the roast and detect which flavour notes drop out as the coffee ages and which notes appear from the background that were not noticable when the coffee was at its freshest

However as much fun as it is discovering these single origin gems, and i will still be buying single origins that strike me as interesting, i have found that i have tired of their one dimensional aspect which is almost always present.  after ten years of single origin i am tired of a single off the wall flavour note that i never expected to taste in a coffee.  now i want those flavour notes but i want the full orchestra, i want balance.  i wanted perhaps two or three of these off the wall flavours carefully chosen by an expert coffee roaster to compliment each other in the way that heston blumenthal does with food.  what do i want?  i want a blend.  not a traditional coffee blend which is shorthand in the industry for penny pinching and trying to flog low grade coffee at a premium, the proverbial silk purse from a sow's ear, but a blend of single estate and microlot speciality coffees

The leads into my next thought.  in a good number of cities in the world there are now a good number of great coffee roasters; competition between them is high.  i think they need a new trick, a new product offering, and here is what i think that new product offering could be.  perhaps some are already doing it, i dont know

Speciality coffee has become obsessed with precision, at least by some practitioners.  Take grinders for example where users are weighing to a tenth of a gram and performing particle distribution analysis of the grind to determine the distribution of the size and shape of the grounds that the grinder is producing, and measuring grinder tolerances in microns.  But here's the thing; what about when you buy a bag of coffee that is a blend?  The beans separate by weight and the beans separate by size, just as any bag of an aggregate material will, but no attempt is made to address this.  It can be guaranteed that with a bag of blended coffee the proportion of each coffee that makes up the blend is going to vary with each 18g of beans that you scoop out of that bag, and its going to vary a lot.  Perhaps this doesnt trouble you at all, in which case click away and read no further, but i think this is letting the game down, particularly if you have purchased a blend of speciality coffees which if it is true to label you will have paid a lot of money for; you deserve a consistant taste experience with each shot you pull and to achieve that you need to lock in the proportion of each of the constituent beans in each dose you measure

The only way to lock in the proportion of each speciality coffee in the blend as the roaster wanted you to experience is if the roaster sold you the constituent speciality coffees in the blend before they mixed them

So, if their speciality blend contained say five different speciality coffees they would then sell the five coffee in the ratios that you need to make the blend.  So the blend might consist of 1 part coffee A, 2 parts coffee B, 5 parts coffee C, 3 parts coffee D, and 1 part coffee E.  The roaster could sell these coffees in 200g bags, so in the above example you would be buying 12 lots of 200g, a total of 2.4Kg, which some individuals might find too much but i think there are work arounds such as measuring out the coffee beans into individual bean cellers that many home barista enthusiasts already have and use and then freexing those that you think you wont be using for some time.  Then you have 2.4Kg of coffee that you have pre-blended at the exact ratios that your favourite master roaster envisaged you experiencing.  When you want a coffee you take the lid off the bean cellar and pour it into your single dosing grinder

Possibly roasters will baulk at that and just say we sell in 250g minimum and if the ratios of the blend dont divide cleanly into 250g portions, then tough, and i think the market would accept that as the beans left over could always be consumed as single origin or combined into new experimental blends, either way i dont see that it would go to waste

For sure this is a niche market and it wont be of interest to many, but i think in an increasingly competitive market for coffee roasters this is a point of difference they could offee that would not involved them buying any more coffee and not having to blend it would be one less step too.  The only downside might be having to offer the coffees that are only present in the blend in small proportions in smaller bags they perhaps they currently offer

On the customer side i would definitely be prepared for the extra work in blending the coffee myself in return for locking in the ratios of the blend so they were the same for every shot i pulled of the blend

If you are wondering if a blend you are considering purchasing is a speciality blend a good way to tell if whether the exact beans used in the blend have been disclosed on the bag.  If they have not you can safely assume it is not a genuine speciality coffee blend.  You would also expect that the beans in the blend are also available for sale by the roaster as single origin roasts, another good cross check

Personally i think carefully considered blends of speciality coffee are the future of specilaity espresso cofee because they give you the full orchestra taste experience, rather than one spectacular flavour note performing alone

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