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Coffee Blends – The Why and The How

Last week, I wrote about Three Region Blend, and promised a discussion in a future post that would go into further detail about the purpose of blending coffee – why do it? What’s the point?

There are two major reasons that I know of –

The first is to provide balance. You might mix a coffee with a high acidity with one with a lower one and a heavier body to balance each other out. Some examples of coffees blended together to provide that sort of balance are House Blend, and Pike Place Roast – there is no overwhelming feature in either of them – both are a well balanced cup of coffee.

The second is for flavor – find two flavors that mix well – berries and citrus, berries and chocolate, cocoa and spices, for example, and combine them together. Some examples of this type of blend are Tribute Blend, where cherry, floral and herbal flavors combine together to create what I consider to be the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had, and Three Region Blend (covered last post), which has herbal, floral and cocoa notes that combine very nicely together to create an excellent cup of coffee.

In addition to considerations of why we blend coffee, there are also two ways that coffee can be blended – pre-roast, and post-roast. There are advantages to each, but pre-roast is more common.

Pre-Roast Blends are blends that are sorted together while the beans are still green, and then roasted together for optimal flavor. As mentioned in the Roasty Sweet post, each bean has an optimal roast specification, the particular roasting time that will bring out the best flavors from this bean. In pre-roast blends, the beans are typically close enough in terms of this optimal roasting time, and the roasting time is determined by the flavor that has been chosen as the dominant one. Three Region Blend is a Pre-Roast Blend.

Post-Roast Blends are beans that are blended after they are roasted (surprise!). The logic for blending after roasting is pretty much what you would guess – the beans chosen for the blend have optimal roast times that are too far apart. If they were to be blended while green and then roasted, the risk is that one bean would overdevelop, or that the other would not develop at all, and the flavor would suffer. So instead, each bean is roasted to it’s optimal specification, and blended together after. The best example of a post-roast blend is Tribute Blend.

So that is, in brief, my post about blending coffee.

Have questions? Is there a topic that you want to know about? Let me know in the comments!

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Posted by on May 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Spotlight On – Three Region Blend (2012)

I think it might be interesting, in addition to looking at all the different terminology that we use when we talk about coffee, to take a look at some of the different coffees that I work with regularly, and talk about them.

I figured I’d start with Three Region Blend (2012), as it is a seasonal blend that arrived on shelves today.

Don't mind the terrible grammar at the bottom there.

Three Region Blend is, by virtue of its name, a blended coffee. It is the first example of Starbucks taking coffee beans grown in all three of the major growing regions, and combining them into one coffee. In this case, the beans were grown in Latin America, Africa, and Papua New Guinea. I’ll talk more about blends and their purpose in a later post (complete with the poster I made yesterday).

When I made this poster, I tried to keep my own thoughts on the taste out of it. I am not always around when my co-workers taste the coffees, and in the case of blends, different things stand out to different people, sometimes even changing with each tasting.

As an example – I have set this as our coffee for tasting two weeks in a row, as I feel that it is important to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to taste it and talk about it with their peers and our customers. When I led a tasting last Monday, I noticed a lot of citrus and acidity. However, when I led a tasting this week, I smelled the floral and herbal notes mentioned in the description, and tasted some of the cocoa notes. In this tasting, the body stood out for sure as well.

I encourage you to seek out and try this coffee yourself, and let me know what stands out to you. Do you like it? Do you hate it? Why?

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Coffee Terms – Roasty Sweet

So, this week’s coffee term is a particularly difficult one to wrap your head around. However, since it is one of the major descriptors of the coffee of the week, I thought I’d run with it.

I remember the first time I saw a coffee described as “Roasty Sweet,” my first thought was essentially the headline of my poster. I was pretty convinced that it was a made up thing that was used to describe something that had no other describable features.

It was my coffee master journey that helped me understand a little better, but even still, I had to consult my coffee master book for help with this one. Even still, it seems a little circular.

Essentially, Roasty Sweetness boils down to the sweetness of the caffeol (coffee oil) that is released during the roasting process.  A darker roast has more caffeol, so it is therefore sweeter to the taste.

Interesting side note – “Sweet” is not a flavor that can be tasted. Something cannot merely taste “sweet,” but can taste “sweet like” something, like sugar, or chocolate, or honey, etc. 


Anyway, Roasty Sweet is a term used typically to describe the darkest roasts available – they have been exposed to heat for the longest period of time, and therefore have more of the caffeol released, and therefore, more of the resulting sweetness. The coffee of the week for this poster was Italian Roast. Italian Roast has a sweetness reminiscent of chocolate, and goes really well with rich chocolate things.

When I led the tasting for this particular coffee with the group that I worked with, we used a brownie from our pastry case. Some day I hope to branch out and bring food from home – I have an excellent pairing that I discovered during my CM Certification that I really can’t wait to blog about. But for now, I work with what I have immediately in front of me. Once I get more people excited about trying coffee and finding awesome new things about it, it will be easier to justify the baking. 🙂

Anyway, the darker roasts are often a little bit difficult to love, especially for people who don’t drink coffee that often. That same roasting that brings out the “roasty sweetness” also has a habit of bringing out a bit of a smoky flavor (to be covered in a later blog), that many people simply cannot connect with. So this particular coffee is hard to get people excited about, but we managed to enjoy ourselves while trying this coffee and have a good time seeing the “roasty sweetness.”

My favorite part of this process so far is leading the tastings with the newer employees, and watching them grow from the initial “it smells like coffee. It tastes like COFFEE. I don’t get what you people are on,” to actually seeing them pick up some of the nuances. I will have more on that in a week or two, from a particularly good tasting this week.

Have a lovely week, and enjoy your coffee. 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Coffee Terms – Body

So the first in a series of posters I have and will be making as part of my very own “Last Ten Feet.” My hope by creating these posters is to help my co-workers feel more confident in talking about whole bean coffee when customers approach, and make the sale just that much easier.

Before I go into the term of the week, I’d like to give an idea of how I’m choosing them. Each week, we’re given a blend that we are supposed to taste and talk about together as a group, as a means to keep ourselves familiar with what we’re selling, and so that we don’t taste one coffee, one time, and try to speak about it from a memory that’s many months (or years) old.

So the first word I chose was based on that week’s blend – Komodo Dragon. I make two posters each week – one about the term, and one about the blend. I chose in this week to use Komodo Dragon to demonstrate a coffee’s body. Of course, there are many other terms I could have chosen, but I thought I’d start simple, so body it is.

To put it as simply as possible, the body of a coffee is it’s mouthfeel – is it heavy? Does it linger after you’ve swallowed the coffee? Or is it gone?

Our coffees have a variety of bodies, ranging from full to light. I often suspect that people who think of our coffee as too strong are referring to the full bodied nature – the lingering body that can be overwhelming if you are new to coffee or not a regular coffee drinker.

Each week, I host as many coffee tastings as I can, and I ask that others participate in them when I am not present, using my posters as a means to guide them. We start by talking about the term of the week, and then begin a formal tasting, looking specifically for evidence of that term in the coffee we are tasting (when possible – not all terms will be something that can be tasted).

Then we continue a tasting as usual. For the uninitiated, These are the steps to a formal coffee tasting:

1. Smell: Hold the coffee under your nose and smell, covering with your hand. What do you smell? (Of note, this gets easier with time – at first all you smell is “coffee.”)

2. Slurp: Slurping the coffee is an important step – it is hot. The slurping allows enough air in that you don’t burn yourself, plus it “aspirates” the coffee, allowing it to hit every taste center at once. While slurping, what do you taste? Where do you taste the most?

3. Discuss: Pretty straightforward – talk about what we’ve smelled and tasted so far.

4. Taste with a pairing: We find a food that will better bring out a certain element of the coffee. Is it chocolately? Try it with a brownie. Is it citrusy? Try it with a lemon cake. Etc. Regardless, in this step, you bite the food and sip the coffee with the food. While tasting, think about what you notice now. Has the taste changed? Is a new element evident?

Each week, I repeat with the new coffee of the week, and my plan is to update this blog with these posters, tastings, and any interesting pairings I may discover. I hope you stick around for my journey.

 

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

About this Blog

I currently work as a barista for a very well known coffee company (think about it for two minutes or less and you’ll figure it out), and recently I completed a coffee education journey and received a prestigious black apron. One of the things that I have decided to do with this education is to share my knowledge – it’s part of what’s called “The Last 10 Feet” of the journey, the steps between the barista and the customer, that turn coffee from an idea, into something tangible, and delicious (if you do it right).

I am starting by sharing my knowledge with my fellow partners, through a series of handmade posters, combined with coffee tastings, in order to understand all the different things we talk about when we talk about a coffee’s flavor. I am presenting one a week, and I thought it might be interesting to share that knowledge on a wider scale.

And so, I present to you this blog. Once a week, I will share with you what I share with my fellow partners.  A look at a specific coffee term, what it means, and a blend that demonstrates that term. I hope you’ll stick around.

 

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Uncategorized