Maintaining a year-round blend can be challenging – coffee supplies fluctuate and flavors fade over time. Part of our goal with the ‘78 Espresso Blend, first introduced back in August of 2016, was to have a steady, ready blend without a lot of fuss.

We built 78 Espresso Blend from the ground up as an homage to straightforward espresso blends ingrained in our sensory memory banks, and named it for the year Royal Coffee opened its doors, forty years ago this month.

From the outset, 78 Espresso Blend was intended for the fans of classic espresso profiles. Our goal was to put together a chocolaty blend that stood up well to milk, and performed just as well on its lonesome. A splash of dry processed coffee keeps the blend interesting, integrating a touch of fruit flavor into the mix while a sturdy Africa-America blend of washed coffees maintains the structure and smoothness.

We’ve reworked the components a few times since our initial blend, and it felt like now was an appropriate time to provide some new roasting and brewing parameters.

Using a roast profile saved from the previous iteration as a starting point, Chris took the coffee through an extended drying phase, spending about 5 minutes under 320 F. The slightly slower than average development time during the Maillard reaction and steady rate of rise enhances the espresso’s body while bringing out the kinds of caramelized and chocolatey sweetness types we wanted the blend to showcase.

The roast isn’t terribly long, just over 10 minutes. Our 1kg Probatino seems to respond best with shorter overall profiles, but this can be scaled up depending on the batch size of your machine. It’s also relatively light for an espresso, just 60.5 on the Colortrack about 90 seconds of development after first crack. While the blend can absolutely handle deeper development and darker colors, we wanted to make sure we could taste some of the more nuanced notes the coffee had to offer before applying a darker roast profile. Again, feel free to scale this to your preference – the blend is built to handle it. One thing you might note is the steep drop in rate of rise right as first crack begins. This helps prevent scorched notes while developing even color on the beans and caramelized sweetness.

Exploring the potential of a blend can be exhilarating. Working with single origins is fun because it’s an opportunity to really get to know a coffee, pushing it to the extremes before feeling out where the coffee tastes most delicious. With blends, there’s a feeling of collaboration with the coffee: we’re working together to find out what works best for both of us.

When doing espresso analysis we like to explore multiple dials, from very ristretto to very lungo. Since this particular blend is designed specifically for espresso, we also tried each of these dials with milk to see how the coffees held up.  As it turns out, this is a blend that can put up with almost anything. When pulled ristretto, it’s full of dark chocolate and maple sweetness. As it opens up there are juicy notes of sweet orange juice and raspberry jam, with chocolate and cacao nibs throughout. When pulled to our longest dial, a 1:2.5 ratio, it presented vanilla sweetness and some toffee.

In milk we found that it retained it’s chocolatey-ness without being drowned out by the cream. In longer extractions there was a hint of salted caramel and nougat, while shorter shots offered a good balance of cocoa and currant sweetness.

The ease of dialing in was a pleasant surprise – sometimes it can be a real struggle to push a coffee from one dial to another. The 78 blend will do pretty much whatever’s asked of it. As a shorter shot it took a bit of time to find a good balance amidst the clamor of dark chocolate and salted caramel, but with a bit of patience we were able to get a thick, syrupy shot that was a good reminder of why some people love ristretto. Going from a 1:1.5 ratio upwards was just a breeze , with small grind adjustments being all that was needed to get the coffee where it needed to be.

This article was written with contributions from Evan Gilman, Sandra Loofbourow, and Chris Kornman