Espresso Blends; Why Bother? - Page 3

Discuss flavors, brew temperatures, blending, and cupping notes.
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another_jim
Team HB

Postby another_jim » Aug 17, 2010, 8:02 pm

The point is that there's more to good taste than just tasting good. If the taste doesn't lead to some thought or insight, or if it isn't based on thought and insight, you may as well well leave food and drink to the dogs, who have thousands times more smell and taste, retire to a cave, and live off nutritional supplements and abstract thought.

Tasting ability is somewhat genetic, but mostly trained. For instance, when I was attending a cupping class, Colleen Anunu, the very talented indeed cupper and roaster for Gimme, clobbered me handily in all the taste tests but one, the African coffees. For those, I walked in, sniffed, did the discriminations without bothering to taste, and walked out, as if I'd suddenly turned into a bloodhound. The difference is that I buy and taste more African coffees than all others put together, and my palate is trained in them.

If I or anyone else spent the same time tasting SOs versus blends, we'd pass Jame's proposed test with equal alactritude

The aspects of taste you will train, the aspects of coffee you will learn to appreciate, will depend on theories of what is valuable and what is not. So what are the theoretical stakes here?

Simple. If we prefer SOs, coffee is about terroir and farmers; if we prefer blends, SOs become a raw material, and coffee is about the skill and taste of the roaster. This is a choice we, as the coffee public, make prior to tasting, and it will shapes our taste to come.
Jim Schulman

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RapidCoffee
Team HB

Postby RapidCoffee » Aug 18, 2010, 3:39 am

another_jim wrote:If I or anyone else spent the same time tasting SOs versus blends, we'd pass Jame's proposed test with equal alactritude

I believe James is proposing a test to dispel the hypothesis that blends are inherently superior to SOs (or vice versa) in terms of complexity, balance, etc. If it is not always possible to distinguish a blend from a SO in blind tasting, that pretty much kills either hypothesis.

This is not quite the same as testing whether someone could, with sufficient training, make such a distinction. In an extreme case, a taster could be trained to identify all the coffee samples, which would trivially allow a partitioning into blends and SOs. But this has nothing to do with complexity or balance.

another_jim wrote:So what are the theoretical stakes here? Simple. If we prefer SOs, coffee is about terroir and farmers; if we prefer blends, SOs become a raw material, and coffee is about the skill and taste of the roaster. This is a choice we, as the coffee public, make prior to tasting, and it will shapes our taste to come.

Why do we have to choose one or the other? It may be difficult to offer a wide selection of espresso blends and SOs at a coffee bar, but there is no reason why roasters cannot offer both. This has become the norm rather than the exception among top specialty microroasters, most of which offer SO espresso roasts along with their signature espresso blends.
John

ptervin

Postby ptervin » Aug 18, 2010, 6:06 am

I'm not convinced that the wine analogy is completely wrong. A wine blend is made for consistency. So are the espresso blends. The difference is that wine blends rarely exceed four varitals whereas some of the espresso blends (I'm thinking Illy here), I've read, contain double-digit types--eleven or twelve in Illy's case. So, whereas wines may even out (become consistent) at three or four, coffees require a greater number. Meaning that four or five blend coffees still retain some original, or combined SO flavor.

As for SOs, I personally enjoy them in a cup of coffee (usually paper filtered, and usually Kiliminjaro), but blends are used for my espresso.

All personal preferences, of course, but my take on the matter.

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tekomino

Postby tekomino » Aug 18, 2010, 8:07 am

Couple of thoughts that were percolating...

- There is lot of talk about respect for farmers, terroir etc. I find that curious since everyone in that coffee value chain makes more money than farmers. Buy from them for $1 sell for $5 roast then sell for $15. If you were living with those farmers for a year you'd see that they don't care about respect and empty talk. They would like to get paid more and have better life... It is not about respect, it is about making living.

- Putting story around Single Origins coffees is marketing move 101. It is designed to appeal to snobs that need a talking point for their next dinner party. "Oh dear, this espresso you are drinking is grown by Manuel in remote village on Kilimanjaro. He carefully plucks every coffee cherry and massages it while it grows for best flavor. His best picker is his 5 year old daughter that loves picking coffee so much that she does it all day long. So cute. Great guy!" :roll:

- There is no need to look at coffee as anything other than what it is. All that talk about terroir, farmers etc. is empty. It is what it is, which is raw material. It is treated like that by everyone in value chain. Money Talks, Bull**** Walks.

Please don't be Frasier Crane of coffee.

PS. SO or blend it does not really matter as long as result in cup is enjoyable.
Refuse to wing it! http://10000shots.com

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Spitz.me

Postby Spitz.me » Aug 18, 2010, 8:29 am

+1 to above.
I know I've pulled a great shot when the flavour is 'like a beany taste that tastes like a bean'.

ethiopie

Postby ethiopie » Aug 18, 2010, 8:36 am

In 1991 I was in Tanzania and Kenya (and climbed Kilimanjaro, but that's another story). At that time, the Kenya AA I bought from Corica in Brussels was one of my favourites - yes, yes, there was a time I looked down on blends. So I wanted to buy 'from the source'. However, my beloved Kenyas and Tanzanias were impossible to find, at least for a simple tourist like me. The locals didn't drink coffee at all. I had the impression that every bean was exported. Naive as I was, I started to understand that you can't compare coffee to wine. Wine is an integral part of French, Italian, German etc. culture. Coffee turned out to be just another crop that farmers in Tanzania grew to satisfy other people. People like me, on other continents. People who are immeasurably more wealthy.

I didn't stop drinking coffee, so I suppose I'm a hypocrite. But it certainly was a strange experience. And for some reason I couldn't drink Kenya AA anymore. I haven't had another cup in twenty years.

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Whale

Postby Whale » Aug 18, 2010, 8:43 am

ptervin wrote:All personal preferences, of course, but my take on the matter.


And this is the reason why one should, or not, bother; Taste preference.

ptervin wrote:I'm not convinced that the wine analogy is completely wrong.



From my very short sighted point of view, the analogy is not wrong at all. There was/is/will always be the same discussions in the wine world about blends and single cepage/origin. There are many wine producers that blend wine from vary large region such that the terroir is essentially different from one end to the other. Heck! The same argumentation is ongoing with whiskey (as alluded before).

Blends merge different attributes using components that, in the view of the blender and maybe the consumer, are good at some attributes but weak at others and benefit from the addition of another component with different attributes.

A single malt whiskey / single origin coffee / single cepage wine has a taste that is specific (terroir, varietal, ...) and will vary from batch to batch of course). If that taste is what you are looking for, than it is the right choice. But that taste/flavour/aroma specificity is not better than any other single origin or any blend. If a blend gives you a taste that is more to your liking that is also the right choice. It is all a matter of preference.

I love the taste of Sumatra's, Sulawasi's and Yergacheffe's. They have great flavour attributes, but IMHO, I do not enjoy them on there own as much as I enjoy them blended together or with another origin.

I drink/taste every single batch of coffee I roast as a single origin espresso before I make a blend. I never blend before roasting but I trust that there are professionals that can do that with great success. Sometime I find that the single origin tasted better on its own than in the blend but that is part of my personal learning experience.

When it comes to Pro/Artisan roaster that market a blend with a brand name, as was stated numerous times, I would expect a "Brand named" blend to show some consistence over time. Otherwise just call it "Today's dark/soft/light or whatever blend". Now this consistency, like for wine or whiskey or another "food" product, does not have to be frozen in time. It is expected that any given roaster that finds a way to make a product that taste or sell better will do so. This is called improving (or trying to) the product.

Finally, I am not competing with anyone as a Barista or as a cupper. But if I cannot make the difference between a single origin or a blend makes no difference to me as long as I enjoy what I taste.

P.S. We are not comparing the wine world with the coffee world! We (at least I am) are comparing the final product and the final production step. What we can taste! The marketing Bull*** is meant to make you pay more. It does not change the taste of the product.

Just my 2 Canadian cents worth...
LMWDP #330

Be thankful for the small mercies in life.

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TrlstanC

Postby TrlstanC » Aug 18, 2010, 9:39 am

I've actually been thinking about blends vs SO a lot in the past couple weeks (at least at lot while I'm drinking my morning espresso). I picked up two SOs from Barismo (which happens to be local) a decaf Sidamo and an El Salvador, and if I didn't know beforehand I would've guessed that they were both blends just because they were relatively easy to dial in and get consistent shots from.

The Sidamo in particular was one of the better decafs I've ever tried, and once dialed in (always a little trickier for me with decafs) the shots were nice and consistently good.

Which got me thinking, if you can get an SO that tastes good, and is as easy to use as a blend (I believe several local cafes use this decaf as their house decaf espresso) wouldn't it be easier to maintain the flavor from year to year? I mean, you're getting the same beans from the same farm, so I'd expect the profile to be the same with some variations in quality from year to year. I think this would be comparable to the experience with good quality wines.

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malachi

Postby malachi » Aug 18, 2010, 11:43 am

tekomino wrote:Couple of thoughts that were percolating...

- There is lot of talk about respect for farmers, terroir etc. I find that curious since everyone in that coffee value chain makes more money than farmers. Buy from them for $1 sell for $5 roast then sell for $15. If you were living with those farmers for a year you'd see that they don't care about respect and empty talk. They would like to get paid more and have better life... It is not about respect, it is about making living.

- Putting story around Single Origins coffees is marketing move 101. It is designed to appeal to snobs that need a talking point for their next dinner party. "Oh dear, this espresso you are drinking is grown by Manuel in remote village on Kilimanjaro. He carefully plucks every coffee cherry and massages it while it grows for best flavor. His best picker is his 5 year old daughter that loves picking coffee so much that she does it all day long. So cute. Great guy!" :roll:

- There is no need to look at coffee as anything other than what it is. All that talk about terroir, farmers etc. is empty. It is what it is, which is raw material. It is treated like that by everyone in value chain. Money Talks, Bull**** Walks.

Please don't be Frasier Crane of coffee.

PS. SO or blend it does not really matter as long as result in cup is enjoyable.


Let me just say that I hope that Peter G or Geoff Watts or Duane Sorenson read this and take the time to respond as they can comment far more accurately and with more passion than I can.

But I will simply sum up my response by saying that this is among the most ignorant and offensive posts I've read on this board. It disparages the enormous effort, commitment and sacrifices made by thousands of people worldwide. I encourage you to talk to some of the people involved in high end coffee and understand what they do and why they do it and what it takes to get you this "raw material" you disrespect so thoroughly.
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

Ken Fox

Postby Ken Fox » Aug 18, 2010, 11:46 am

tekomino wrote:Couple of thoughts that were percolating...

- There is lot of talk about respect for farmers, terroir etc. I find that curious since everyone in that coffee value chain makes more money than farmers. Buy from them for $1 sell for $5 roast then sell for $15. If you were living with those farmers for a year you'd see that they don't care about respect and empty talk. They would like to get paid more and have better life... It is not about respect, it is about making living.


I think this is pretty typical of a lot of the posts one reads on the internet. All sorts of assumptions are made, and the person posting it has no evidence or proof to support any of it. Dennis, how many coffee farmers do you personally know, especially in the 3rd world origins where most of our coffee comes from? How many have you discussed the economics of their businesses with? Ditto for cafes and roasters. Just because some cafe owner or coffee roaster pays $2 for a pound of coffee and sells it for $10 (remember, there is a significant weight loss during the roasting process when one goes from green to roasted beans), does not mean that other expenses don't eat up the rest and the net result is either a very meager profit or even a loss. Just because the cafe uses 35 cents worth of coffee and sells the drink for $3.50 does not mean that after rent and salaries and electricity and everything else, that he has turned a profit.

What do you know of the lives of coffee farmers? Their workers probably have a subsistence lifestyle (still better than starving) however the farmers themselves could easily be rich jetsetters. You just don't know, and since you don't know, it would probably be better to let these thoughts "percolate" a bit longer in your head :roll:

tekomino wrote:
- Putting story around Single Origins coffees is marketing move 101. It is designed to appeal to snobs that need a talking point for their next dinner party. "Oh dear, this espresso you are drinking is grown by Manuel in remote village on Kilimanjaro. He carefully plucks every coffee cherry and massages it while it grows for best flavor. His best picker is his 5 year old daughter that loves picking coffee so much that she does it all day long. So cute. Great guy!" :roll:

- There is no need to look at coffee as anything other than what it is. All that talk about terroir, farmers etc. is empty. It is what it is, which is raw material. It is treated like that by everyone in value chain. Money Talks, Bull**** Walks.



A truly lame collection of meaningless value judgments if I ever read them. Maybe you should learn a little more about coffee before you post stuff life this?

ken
What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955