Bitterness is the peculiar sensory characteristic of coffee. But why is coffee bitter and why do we like this typically unpleasant taste in our favorite drink?
The Italian tradition want that the coffee used to make an espresso is the result of a combination of several different types of coffee. This is why the term used is “blend”.
Even today in Italy, coffee is not commonly drunk from a single origin.
Various coffees are almost always mixed due to taste, maintenance over time of the organoleptic characteristics, and sales in different geographical areas and often also of economy.
It is difficult to taste a coffee from Mexico, Brazil or India since we always drink blends comprised of a percentage mixed from all of these coffees, often Arabica and Robusta together.
Why do we blend?
Coffee is an agricultural and natural product and as such, quality and quantity is subject to changes, year after year, from harvest to harvest.
By blending, mixing using different types of coffee beans (called “origins”), it is possible to maintain an ever-consistent quality of the blends.
Using several origins is a way to ensure consistency: managing similar origins, the coffee roaster always has the possibility to rebalance the coffee blend.
Just as a melody requires different notes, so must a balanced and harmonious blend use different origins of coffee.
Coffees from different origins carry distinct aromas, and varying balances of bitter, sweet and body characteristics. This way the characteristics of the single varieties coalesce, balancing and optimizing each other.
Blending, followed by roasting of the coffee beans, is more than a technical ability. It is truly a genuine art form.
Nothing less than mastery is required to create a harmonious whole.
Coffee harvests vary year to year producing different characteristics even in the same bean. Thus, a rigid formula cannot be followed during blending. Understanding how each of the different beans interact and the role each plays is required.
SpecialCoffee achieves consistency by continuous attentions when choosing the lots to be purchased, tasting green coffee from coffee-producing countries, understanding and embracing diversity, paradoxical as it may sound. The same result, through different means.
For this reason, SpecialCoffee’s packaging explains the following: “in order for SpecialCoffee’s blends to maintain their high standards and signature taste, the geographic origins within each region may vary based on the quality of every harvest. However, the blend composition remains unchanged.”
Every coffee origin stands out for the specific organoleptic qualities, but rarely are there origins that can be called complete for every quality aspect.
Like a good wine, selecting different origins (types) of coffee on the basis of their unique characteristics (aroma, refinement, quality, persistence, body) then mixing them together makes it possible to enhance the different personalities (good qualities) of each one, while minimizing their faults.
The blending is therefore the process of merging different varieties of coffee, aimed at creating different flavours and intensities, maintaining a constant quality.
In the long journey of the Italian espresso
the blend plays a fundamental role in the production of an extract with excellent characteristics.
In a perfect espresso we must find all those special features that distinguish this beverage from other preparations: a rich aroma, a beautiful crema, a full body, a harmonious flavour and a long pleasant persistence on the palate.
The factors that contribute to determine the final quality of the coffee are both numerous and diverse.
To reach this objective, we must fully understand the raw material that is to be used.
For example, not all varieties behave the same way during roasting, grinding and extraction.
What are the secrets of a blend?
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, having a good quality raw coffee is fundamental; it is the first step in creating an equally good espresso blend. However, it is easy to image that purchasing a good raw material is not enough to ensure a good coffee if the composition, blending, roasting and, last but not least, preparation are not performed correctly.
The more rare ingredient is the knowledge needed for blending a steadfast balance of aromas of the coffees in the blend.
In the complex art of blending, where determination of cup quality and defects is indispensable, the greatest sensory instrument currently available is used: the human being. No modern technology can compare to the human sensory apparatus, the human sense organs, as long as the individual is genetically predisposed and adequately trained.
To create a high profile blend, one must follow some guidelines and have some specific skills:
The key is full knowledge of the cup characteristics of each individual variety and origin, how they respond to roasting, how aromas and flavors interfere and balance each other, the compatibility and complementary nature of the various species, types and processes.
Likewise, whether goal is a product to please a specific target consumer or market or the creation of a new blend one must have the competence to establish the exact type and number of coffee varieties and origins needed to compose the product and ensure reproduction of the flavor profile in time.
Another important factor that must not be neglected is that, even if properly roasted and ground for a given brewing method (e.g. moka, filter, etc) not all coffee are suitable for espresso or vice versa.
Starting from the cup.
At SpecialCoffee, we create our coffee blends by thinking about the aroma, taste and crema we would like to find in every espresso or cappuccino.
The blending process
The search for quality must be kept high even during the important blending phase. Here, depending on what is to go into the blend, specific insights must be taken such as blending raw before roasting or separate roasting (where the individual varieties are roasted separately).
This production process allows the organoleptic properties of the individual blend to develop perfectly.
Moreover, the system must only be followed by skilled artisans and under perfect technological control.
SpecialCoffee blends before, not after roasting so as to assure each bean’s distinct characteristics develop at the same rate under the roaster’s heat.
This is precisely how SpecialCoffee achieves remarkable consistency in its blend, bag after bag.
For custom roasting it is essential to have the experience and skills needed to manage the process, timing and temperatures for each batch.
At a given degree of roasting, a particular type of coffee can prove perfect for a blend or it can ruin the blend altogether if roasted too fast or too long.
Coffee blends are the coffee roaster’s secret recipes created by mixing different types of coffee with the aim of creating a unique and unmistakable aromatic profile.
A successful blend is a coffee roaster’s true heritage that unmistakably identifies it, represents it, makes it known to its customers and retains their loyalty.
When making his own blend, each coffee roaster doesn’t only have to choose the variety, but also the origin of the beans (African, Asian, Central or South American) and the type of processing undergone by them (natural or washed coffees).
Then the master roaster must evaluate the number of varieties that will compose the blend and their percentage, as well as green coffee quality level. To satisfy consumers’ different taste, the roaster will be able to modify the blends, also by changing the roasting degree.
The recipes and “secrets” of the coffee roaster (often handed down from generation to generation) allow him to keep always the same taste and aroma of the blend and emphasize differentiation between various producers.
The SpecialCoffee’s coffee blends secret recipe is also made of other ingredients: steadfast quality, passion, tradition, research, responsibility and innovation.
Arabica or Robusta?
In nature there are hundreds of varieties of coffee plant, but only 4/5 are grown for commercial purposes (for example, the Liberica) and only two have a worldwide distribution, just Arabica and Robusta.
The Arabica has its main production areas in South and Central America and in East Africa and accounts for 70/75% of world production.
The areas of Arabica cultivation can therefore vary greatly and so quality varies; there is Arabica coffee on the market that cost one euro per kilo and others that cost a hundred, such as the very prized Arabica of Jamaica, Hawaii and certain areas of Kenya.
The Robusta is the other widely used variety of coffee.
This type of coffee is cultivated mainly in West Africa and in the Far East and is planted at lower altitudes than the Arabica.
It is a quality of coffee that, compared to Arabica, offers less perfumes and aromas, but more body.
According to the organoleptic macro-characteristics of the main types of coffee, Robusta coffees confer a strong and decisive character to the flavour of the blend, whereas Arabica coffees produce sweeter scented blends, exhibiting fine aromas and taste.
According to the processing (natural or washed coffees), washed Arabica is a finer and more acidic coffee than unwashed Arabica, which is sweeter and more balanced, while a washed Robusta will have a rounder taste than the unwashed.
– natural Arabica: sweet, full bodied, balanced;
– natural Robusta: strong, very dense, woody;
– washed Arabica: sour, mild, very aromatic;
– washed Robusta: strong, dense, chocolaty.
The taste of the blend also depends on the origin of the varieties: a prevalence of Brazilian origins will give a full and chocolaty taste, while central-American origins deliver more aromatic and delicate blends.
Particular attention is paid to the decaffeinated blends: the starting point is coffee that is decaffeinated through a natural method based on carbon dioxide.
The blends can be the types:
- 100% Robusta
- a mix of Arabica and Robusta: for a full-bodied and bold taste, where the Robusta quality adds body, a bitter note and the spicier hints of tobacco and bitter chocolate.
- 100% Arabica: sweet and fragrant, where the acidity, the sweetness and the most refined aromas (for example, citric and floral) are highlighted.
Which is better: a 100% Arabica blend or one where 10-20% of selected, washed Robusta has been added, perhaps for use in cappuccino which, outside of Italy, is the form of the espresso most in demand?
The schools of thought are always at loggerheads.
Actually, the question is more simple: let the consumer decide.
Of course, they must first have adequate tools to assess and compare the objective characteristics of the coffee and then state their own personal preference.
Some markets prefer the strong, clear-cut, bitter, full-bodied, penetrating Robusta coffees, charmed by the abundant crema produced by a good Coffea Canephora.
Other areas instead have a penchant for the sharp, vibrant acidity of washed Arabica like the magnificent Central American coffees with notes of citrus fruit.
Still other consumers appreciate the pleasant characteristics of the natural Arabicas, in particular those from Brazil that provide the basis for hundreds of Italian blends, exalting the sweet creaminess and giving the espresso structure.
Advertising has been hammering us for years telling us how the best coffee is 100% Arabica.
It may be true but certainly it is a simplification of those that abound in certain forms of mass communication.
The words “100% Arabica” tells us only that the coffees of that blend are all Arabicas, but it does not tell us anything about the actual quality of the mixed coffee.
In professional coffee blends, a 100% Arabica is often not the most popular option for customers (especially in southern Italy): a percentage of Robusta coffee (20 to 40%) will add to the espresso the strength and creaminess that rarely the Arabica, richer in oils, can give.
Choose a blend composed of excellent varieties of selected coffees, especially conceived for espresso and skillfully roasted to a medium degree.