Let’s talk coffee blends, shall we? A few weeks ago, Perfect Daily Grind shed light on the edginess of single origin coffee, but now it’s time to get to know their cousins.
讓我們來談談咖啡配方豆，前些日子，Perfect Daily Grind才談完單品咖啡，現在則讓我們來了解單品的好兄弟-配方豆。
Single origins are like the snowflakes of the coffee world: no two are alike. With blends, however, the keywords are consistency and uniform excellence. They could be seen as the embodiment of market forces as articulated by the mastery of highly-skilled roasters looking to hit that bull’s eye of their customer’s palates. So, what exactly are these market forces that play into blend creation?
Coffee Drinkers Are Winning
Until specialty coffee came along, coffee drinkers were subjected to mass-produced generic blends made from commodity coffees. These blends were typically sourced from the world’s dominant coffee producers at the time, namely Brazil and Central America.
This is fine and all, as long as you don’t know what you’re missing out on. Ignorance is bliss, but once you’ve had that first cup of specialty coffee, there’s no going back. It’s much like going from only eating white sandwich bread to tasting your first buttery croissant baked at your neighborhood bakery. You’re ruined – in an extremely good way.
Are Blends Any Good?
So we’ve established that specialty coffee is much better than the old blends you used to get – but is today’s blend any better?
Mass-produced brands continue to blend largely for economical reasons, and also to mask any flavour discrepancies. On the other hand, specialty roasters focus on two main areas: flavour consistency and unique signature blends.
Café owners have a responsibility to offer a staple house blend. Their customers expect the same reliable taste that they’ve come to enjoy. It’s both delicious and comforting. Since coffee differs from crop to crop and season to season, this presents a challenge for the roaster.
Roasters these days also want to add value for their customers – and demonstrate their sophistication – through offering limited, seasonally created blends. By doing this, cafes are able to expand their menus to include a choice of their trusted blend or a unique, adventurous coffee experience.
Origin Coffee的Josh Tarlo在尼加拉瓜Los Altos莊園尋找好咖啡，由Jon Attenborough提供
Ask the Roaster: How Do You Create a Blend?
We went ahead and spoke to some of the industry’s most respected roasters. They were kind enough to give the lowdown on how they are winning hearts and minds with their blends.
For Jacob Ibarra, the coffee buyer in charge of the coffee program atFive Senses Coffee, it’s all about fulfilling needs. “Our aim is for each of our blends to be servicing a different niche in the specialty market,” he told me. “Each cafe or customer has different needs and providing a blend solution to compete or offer a point of difference is something that we must offer”. Five Senses recently repositioned their blends, and as a result they developed and currently offer four clearly defined blend profiles their customers can select and expect throughout the year.
Jacob Ibarra是Five Senses Coffee 咖啡研究專案的採購人員，他認為其實答案就是滿足顧客需求，僅僅如此。「我們的目標就是讓每一支配方豆，都能滿足不同需求的顧客來打進精品咖啡的市場」。Five Sense Coffee最近重新為配方豆定位，結果發展出四種個性鮮明的配方豆，讓顧客可以描繪出他們一整年對咖啡的選擇及期待。
Origin Coffee Roasters is another specialty roaster that has recently reexamined the construction of its staple espresso blends that cater to their cafes’ (and in turn their customers) coffee wishlist. To gain insight into what modern palates are craving, they spoke to everyone from the true aficionados to those simply looking to kickstart their day.
Origin’s marketing manager Grace Reith explained, “We wanted to give people a clearer understanding of what every blend is. To do this we looked past the cupping tables, past the cafes, and even past the cup itself. We [thought] about what people look for in their coffee as inspiration for everything we do. In other words, we didn’t want to ask questions such as ‘do you feel like a filter or a cappuccino or a Nicaraguan or an Ethiopian coffee’, but rather we considered what happens even before that”. The customers’ expectation of the coffee experience drove them when deciding how to create a blend.
Origin Coffee的行銷經理Grace Reith說：「我們想讓每個顧客對配方豆有更清楚的認識，所以我們透過杯測桌、咖啡店、甚至咖啡本身來探討。我們過去認為消費者期望從咖啡中得到的，就是我們所做的事。換句話說，我們不單只是詢問消費者：「你想要手沖滴漏咖啡？卡布奇諾？尼加拉瓜或衣索比亞咖啡？」而是我們想了解更深層的需求，和對咖啡的期待和體驗，以創造出獨特的配方豆。
Ross Quail, wholesale general manager for St Ali, Sensory Lab, andClement Coffee Roasters, also from Melbourne, Australia, agrees that a blend should encapsulate what the consumer expects: “Thinking about what people will want to drink and enjoy [is crucial]; it can be a mistake to just think about what you want.”
來自澳洲墨爾本的Ross Quail，也是身兼ST Ali、Sensory Lab及Clement Coffee Roasters的批發商，同意配方豆必須涵蓋消費者的期待，「預想人們想喝什麼、及想享受什麼非常重要，只想著你要什麼，是錯的」。
Yet while blends are definitely about the customer, they’re also about the company. Timothy Hill, coffee buyer and quality manager for Counter Culture Coffee, feels that “Blends are important because they tell you a lot about the company that makes it. In many ways, they are the products many companies are defined by. Blends are also the go-to products for customers that identify with the company and are likely looking for something that is more consistently available.”
儘管配方豆關乎消費者，它同時也關乎咖啡商。Counter Culture Coffee的採購兼品管經理Timothy Hill認為：「配方豆很重要，因為它會反映關於這咖啡商的許多事給大家知道。很多時候，許多公司會用配方豆來定義他們自己。配方豆也是消費者定義該間公司的指標，並且消費者可能透過配方豆來尋找更一致及穩定的咖啡。」
They pride themselves on full transparency regarding recipe and blend structure, whether it’s on the labels for the 12 ounce bags or the website description for the 5 pound bags for wholesalers. As Tim said, “We don’t believe in hiding the information; great blends simply come from great coffees, not some secret recipe.”
It’s nice to know we’re in good hands and roasters have our best interests at heart. Next up we’ll take a look at how this translates into various blends and how roasters deal with the challenges of working with seasonal differences. Check back next week for part 2.
Written by A. Pipunic and edited by T. Schrock.