What is a Coffee Blend?
The phrase “coffee blend” typically refers to a coffee bean mixture that is made up of different roasts, styles, or tastes of coffee, though it can also sometimes refer to coffee drinks that contain flavoring syrups or other additives designed to change their overall taste profile. When coffee purists talk about blends, they are almost always discussing the actual bean mixture that gives rise to the brew in the first place. Mixtures can be made up of beans of different roasts, different varieties, or different flavor profiles.
Basics of Bean Blending
There are two kinds of coffee bean, each with its own distinct characteristics. Arabica beans are grown at high altitudes and are widely believed to be of the highest quality, even though they span quite a range of taste profiles and growing areas. They tend to have a smooth caramel aftertaste and a rich aroma. Robusta beans, by comparison, are grown at lower altitudes and usually have a much stronger flavor. This bean is generally used in making instant coffee and lower grade commercial brews.
The most straightforward blends make use of both kinds of beans, either as a way of adding some complexity to a standard Robusta brew or making an Arabica-derived drink go farther and last longer. It is also common to mix different kinds of beans from either category together, whether to create a unique taste or to maximize different roasting techniques.
Looking for Consistency
Large-scale coffee companies and cafes often market “signature” coffee blends that are the same in any shop anywhere in the world. Most of these are blends for the simple reason that consistency is often difficult to achieve from place to place and over a span of time. Like most agricultural products, coffee beans tend to vary by season. Years that are wet and fertile produce different tastes than those that are dry or unusually cold, for instance. Creating a proprietary blend rather than relying on variable crops gives manufacturers a relatively easy way to ensure a coffee that tastes the same no matter when or where it was purchased.
A coffee blend may also be a way to create unique flavor combinations and taste profiles. While much of a coffee’s taste depends on where the bean comes from, the roasting process also matters. Roasting can be very light, which yields mellow “blonde”-style drinks, or longer to create more complex smoky flavors. Beans from Ethiopia roasted in the darker Italian style will taste very different from Sumatran beans that barely touch the heat, and brewers often take advantage of these differences when creating blends with certain flavors or undertones.
When to Blend
One of the biggest questions facing coffee brewers is when blending should happen. Mixing beans from different sources before roasting produces a drink that has a uniform strength but more complex depth, while mixing them after roasting can directly impact the mouth feel and may have a more pronounced effect on the overall taste composite. A lot depends on the brewer’s goals and is usually a matter of trial and error.
Sometimes, coffees are mixed in order to make them ideal for a specific purpose: espresso blends are a good example. Espresso is a style of coffee that is generally quite strong and bitter. There are no specific espresso beans that grow, though; coffee that is sold under the “espresso” name is almost always a blend of the darkest, strongest beans and roasts available.
Specialty shops and gourmet brands may also create blends that are optimized for filter drips, for a French press, or for instant coffee machines. These are usually specially formulated to release the best taste under certain known conditions, like brew time and temperature.
In some cases, coffee beans are blended with “outside” flavors like hazelnut, almond, or vanilla in order to create a sort of flavor blend that can be popular with consumers. Most of the time, these sorts of beans are marketed simply as flavored coffees, but may also be sold as blends. The main difference between this sort of “blend” and one based solely on bean quality or roast has to do with how the ultimate taste is achieved.
Brewers typically add spices, nuts, and other elements to the beans as they roast in order to cause them to have a different taste. Sometimes, coatings or syrups are also added once roasting is complete. Beans treated this way tend to have an immediately recognizable smell that impacts how the ultimate brew will taste.
Blending at Home
Most coffee blends are made for commercial sale, but there is no reason why adventurous home brewers cannot experiment with their own concoctions as well. Roasting at home is often very hard to do, but mixing pre-roasted beans together is a great place to start. People can create their own flavor mixes by adding spices and syrups to beans before brewing, as well.
The Creamer Controversy
There is some dispute among aficionados when it comes to creamers and other flavors that are made to coffee once it has been brewed. Some people claim that these later additions create unique coffee blends because they alter the taste of the drink and make it unique. The same argument can extend to specialty drinks that are served in coffee shops, like pumpkin spice lattes or caramel coffee beverages. Most experts separate these sorts of drinks out of the “coffee blend” realm, though, reserving that term for something that relates more to how the base coffee drink tastes — not how it is manipulated by the consumer.
There really is no end to all the different ways you can blend your coffee. I usually have at least four different creamer flavorings in my refrigerator at one time. I like to mix these together to get a certain coffee taste for whatever I am in the mood for.
I always look forward to the seasonal blend of flavorings that come out every year and get some of my own ideas from these flavorings.
I have a small coffee grinder and for the freshest coffee like to grind my own beans. There are many times will I will combine French and American roast for a blend that is not too robust or too light.
One way I blend my coffee is to mix half decaffeinated coffee with regular coffee. There are times when I don't want all of the caffeine, but for some reason prefer the taste of regular coffee over decaffeinated.
By mixing them half and half, I can get the right amount of each one. I have seen this sold like this in some stores, but prefer to to it at home. I just make sure I have both kinds of coffee on hand and can mix them or leave them as they are.
So, you can just add some vanilla flavoring to the coffee in your filter and it will make vanilla coffee? That's pretty awesome! I've got to try that tomorrow morning.
I love the taste of pure vanilla extract, but I hate vanilla coffee creamers that come in powdered form. It does seem that adding the strong extract directly to the coffee before the hot water comes across it would produce a much more intense and less powdery flavor.
@DylanB-- I do something very similar but I just put a small miniature chocolate bar in my coffee. The coffee is hot enough to melt the chocolate and this gives me the right amount of cocoa and sugar added to my coffee. Adding a little bit of mint sounds like a wonderful idea as well, especially after an evening meal.
@cloudel – Coffee blends from cafes are very nice, but I can't afford to buy them very often. They can be quite expensive.
I have to travel for my job often, and I always look forward to the free specialty coffees available in the hotels where I stay. My favorite so far has been hazelnut coffee.
It came in a neat little package that I just stuck into the coffee pot. The coffee itself had been flavored with hazelnut, so all I had to add was sugar. I've found myself craving this blend from time to time, but I think it's best as an occasional out-of-town treat.
What would we do without our coffee? This has become a huge industry and I am certainly a regular consumer! I like to try different kinds of coffee and different flavored creamers.
Sometimes I will buy coffee beans that already have a flavor added like vanilla or hazelnut, but most of the time I buy the beans and add the flavors myself. I will never have my own coffee shop that offers a signature blend, but I like to experiment at home to come up with my own blends.
I never buy coffee beans, because I don't have a grinder at home. I prefer to go to a coffee shop when I'm craving a special blend. It's much easier than creating one at home, anyway.
I love drinking hot cinnamon lattes on the weekend. There is a lot of frothy milk in this drink, and I can see specks of cinnamon dancing around in it.
Coffee shops also have special blends around certain holidays. In the fall, my favorite is the pumpkin spice latte. It has the same spices that you find in pumpkin pie.
I love making chocolate peppermint flavored coffee at home. I just brew a pot of regular unflavored coffee and add a chocolate peppermint creamer to the cup.
I tried it over the holidays, and I loved it so much that I used it all through the spring and summer. It has become my signature blend. Now, I can't stand to drink my coffee without it!
Could anyone tell me the types of coffee blends and their origins?
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