This month at Nate’s Coffee we are offering our limited-edition ‘Tis the Season blend. We release this coffee every December and July, but change its “recipe” each time. This month we’ve created a complex coffee that combines notes of raisin, white pepper, and black tea. We change this blend each season, not only to keep us on our toes when it comes to developing new roasts, but it’s one of the few times a year that we get to experiment with blending new coffees. Coffee blends sometimes have a bad reputation amongst some of the more “pretentious” coffee folk, but a good blended coffee combines different beans to create a higher quality (and better tasting) cup. In this edition, we are going to take a look at the history and technicalities of blending coffees and how we at Nate’s Coffee use blending to create some of our most popular roasts.
The History of Coffee Blending
The first ever mass-available coffee beans came from the port of Mokha, on the coast of Yemen during the rule of the Turkish Empire. For 250 years, Yemen held the world’s monopoly on easily available coffee, closely guarding their plants and even boiling each bean before it was exported to keep it from being able to germinate. This was the way of coffee until the 1600s when a Muslim pilgrim, named Baba Budan, smuggled seven beans out of the country by taping them to his stomach.
These seven beans were cultivated in the mountains of India and started the production of coffee in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Malbar. From there it was easy to transplant these trees to the island of Java in Indonesia. This coffee flourished in its new environment and within a hundred years, the beans grown there evolved and became highly sought after. These grandchildren plants of the original Mokha coffee were able to morph into a more stable and delicious product, but would also be the birth of the first blended coffee.
Mokha-Java blend first appeared in the trade books of Amsterdam in the 1700s and continued to appear until the creation of the Suez Canal, which closed off the port of Mokha. This blend of coffee was most likely created to improve the overall flavor of the final coffee product, but could have been a happy mistake (like our After Midnight blend). Either way, Mokha-Java blend became known as the epitome of a good cup, taking coffee away from the heavy sootey flavor it originally was known for. This leads to the question, “Why blend coffee?”
Why Blend Coffee?
Coffee is such a variable agricultural product. Every tiny factor plays a part in the consistency of coffee – harvest time, weather, availability, nearby vegetation, cost, and quality. One shift in the rainfall for that year, or one bad case of coffee rust, and your normal single-origin coffee will taste different or be off the market completely. By blending coffees, you can expect a higher level of consistency over time, since the slight variations will be balanced out by the other coffees in the blend.
Another motivator for blending beans is to achieve a higher overall quality cup of coffee. If you notice that one of your single origin coffees is a little one note, you can evaluate flavors that would pair nicely and create a blend that achieves an enjoyable complex flavor profile. Many mass production companies do not see the value in this method of blending. Instead, they use blending as a way to cut expenses. For example, a “Kona Blend” marketed coffee may tout the prestige of a very expensive Hawaiian roast, but may contain as little as 10% of actual Kona beans. At Nate’s Coffee, we never blend to cut costs. Our blends are created for both consistency and a higher quality, but also to create a coffee that is unique to our brand.
Most brands will have unique blends that create a voice and style reference for the company. For Nate’s Coffee, the Nate’s Espresso Blend is one of the most popular roasts, engineered to pull the perfect shot of espresso. It’s also a completely unique coffee profile that can only be found at our brand. Nate’s Coffee also has several other roasts that have become synonymous with our brand’s image like the Yo! Wake Up and Blue and White Charity Blend. These blends have fun names, catchy graphics, and unique flavors only found via blending. They also set Nate’s Coffee apart from the other roasters in town by filling a market that previously didn’t exist.
Blending at Nate’s Coffee
Usually when creating a blend, we start by having a reference taste for each origin of bean on its own. Then we discuss which flavors might pair well together, keeping in mind that beans that are too varying in size and density will not roast well when blended. The maximum number of beans we blend is four, but some other companies will do as many as five. From this discussion we might roast two different combinations of beans as a base test. After at least 24 hours for degassing, we taste and compare the test roasts by doing a “cupping”. After tasting, the beans in the blend may be swapped out for a new one, or we might decide to just change the roasting method if we think the beans go well together.
Some other roasters create blends by individually roasting each type of bean and then combining them at a later time. This type of blend is called a post-roast (or melange) and allows for the mixing of beans that are normally too variant in size or density to roast together, like a super light monsooned coffee or a dense Robusta. For Nate’s Coffee, our small company size and “roasted-to-order” mission makes post-roasting a bit too laborious to do often. When we get curious, though, we will brew a pot of mixed beans from existing roasts to see what they would taste like as a post-roast.
At Nate’s Coffee, we aim for all of our blends to be smooth and enjoyable, but also uniquely flavorful. With our July 2020 issue of ‘Tis the Season blend, we’ve taken a mix of beans from Ethiopia, Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil to create a slightly spicy and festive flavor. When developing this new profile for our ‘Tis the Season blend, we wanted it to be memorable and unique, just like each Christmas morning – a one in a lifetime experience (twice a year).
The Coffee Roaster’s Companion by Scott Rao
Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast
The Book of Coffee and Tea – Second Revised edition by Joel, David, & Karl Scharpira