When building a blend, having a set of goals is key. What is the ideal blend for your particular situation, and what is your situation, exactly?
For green buyers, constant maintenance of one’s position is a necessity, and some blends are built out of this necessity. Coffee is an agricultural product that has a shelf life, and to consistently move this coffee through your position while it is fresh is the goal. Sometimes demand hasn’t caught up with supply, and you are left with more coffee than is necessary to satisfy your customers’ needs; one possibility is to create a new product, thereby creating a market for that coffee by presenting it in a new format. With skill and planning, a blend like this can amount to more than the sum of its parts.
Make sure to keep your customers in mind when creating a new product; in this case, that product is a blend. Do the majority of your customers ask for a heavy, dark blend that stands up to a fair amount of milk? Are they craving a light, bright, and fruit forward blend? A quote by Seth Godin might be appropriate here: “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.”
To give a few examples: A coffee that was once a single origin can be presented as a component in a particularly lively blend for those customers that are looking for something brighter. Overage from prior blends can be absorbed into iced coffee blends used for service in a café. Green coffee left over from a drip blend that has been discontinued can be filtered toward an espresso blend.
Blends of Necessity:
Every coffee has a home, and sometimes that home can be in a blend born of the necessity to move aging back stock. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to move old coffee; it isn’t getting younger, and in an espresso blend it can mitigate losses in flavor and cost of goods sold. Another side of the coin is that blends can offer a way to stabilize the cost of green per pound. For example, offsetting a particularly expensive high-acid lot with a cheaper coffee that adds sweetness and body can bring your cost average down. Another great example is the Mocha/Java blend, which for the most part does not use Mocha (Yemeni) or Java (Indonesian) coffees any longer because of the relative scarcity and cost of those coffees. Now, a cheaper Ethiopia Grade 3 natural Sidama and a standard Mandheling or Gayo from Sumatra are used. Suffice it to say, it is better to have a set flavor profile with a creative name that isn’t the name of a country. Better to have a target flavor than to be married to a specific origin that no longer provides the flavor or flexibility you desire.
Blends for Variety:
Other blends are built purely out of a need for variety. A safe bet for starting out that many companies have use is three-option menu: two single origins, and one blend that consists of those two single origin coffees in different proportions. Once again, the Mocha/Java blend is a perfect, time-tested example. A heavy hitting Sumatra is great by its lonesome for those who want their spoon to stand up in their cup in the morning, and a fruited Ethiopian coffee is perfect for those who desire a lighter option. Together they are more than the sum of their parts; the blend has synergy, and you as a roaster have variety on your menu. When demand begins to ramp up, adding more varieties of coffee to your position becomes both an option and in some cases, a necessity. That’s when blending gets more fun (and more complicated), and even more variety comes into play.
Blends of Fantasy:
On another note, there is the idealistic pie-in-the-sky blend – a blend created purely for the sake of itself that showcases everything good about each component that constitutes its benevolent countenance. This isn’t a Mocha/Java blend, this is the ‘money is no object’ blend that will be easy to maintain for those who are willing to shell out cash and absorb risk for a very long position in a set of particularly good coffees, and those who have no problem paying up for high quality constituents that substitute well for one another on a seasonal basis. Some customers are guaranteed to balk at the price tag, but others will be sweetly rewarded by the fairest blend of them all. Name it something fanciful like ‘Unicorn Tears Blend’ or something, and people will get the point. Actually, on second thought… don’t do this.
Depending on your inventory, your situation, and your customer base, you should be able to find a fitting blend that satisfies most of your needs, most of the year. There are notorious times of year for coffee buying (between the harvest cycles of the major producing regions) where selections get thin as people finish their lots of contracted coffees and begin exhausting spot coffee supplies. Make sure to talk to a trader to lock in some coffees that will keep you supplied through the dry months.
From the perspective of roasters tasked with using these coffees in a blend, we can present multiple approaches to making that blend a success. A roaster’s job consists of just what you’d expect: roasting. It isn’t always that simple, however. Imagine (as I’m sure you can) being tasked with using a past-crop coffee in a drip blend, or even as a single origin. In a prior article, Jen addressed treatment of past-crop coffees in the roaster, and what a roaster can do to mitigate the ill effects of aging on coffee. Not every coffee can be triaged, but there is plenty of room to work with slightly aged coffees.
The addition of another link in this ‘blend supply chain’ adds an opportunity for feedback. At a production cupping of this new blend, the roaster can demonstrate to the green buyer how this coffee performs, and may be able to suggest a better avenue for its use if the coffee does not add positively to the blend. A coffee that didn’t work quite as well in a drip blend may work splendidly in an espresso blend.
As a barista (the end point in the ‘blend supply chain’) providing a measure of feedback can be helpful for the other parties involved. After all, the barista must present the coffee they work with in the best possible light. If the blend makes it this far, the barista is the last person who can provide feedback before service to the customer.
Perhaps most importantly, they are also in a unique position to report back on how the blend performs in the eyes of the customer. Baristas interact with the end consumers of a blend on an everyday level, and will feel their wrath or rejoice immediately. As the outward-facing emissary of the blend, baristas have the ability to bolster its success through both sales and customer satisfaction. While roasting and green buying are solitary arts for the most part, the barista interacts with the public as well as those responsible for constructing the blend – critique comes from all angles, from the outside and from within. Baristas must perform well under pressure, just like their espresso.
All of these angles can provide valuable input for the structuring of your blend; after all, a properly flexible blend constantly changes with seasonal availability of coffee, and can adapt to quality control feedback with alacrity.
In our next newsletter, we will explore the creation of our own blend, and give some insight into the rhyme and reason for this blend’s creation. What would we as an importer look for in a blend? How can our creation of a blend benefit your workflow? Check in next week for more…