Friday, July 20, 2007

The Peasant's Delight- A Lesson in Blending Coffee

"it is usually taken for granted that there is more to be gained from blending good coffee than from consuming a single variety alone."
- Edward Behr
Inspired by these words and upon receiving my shipment of coffee from Empire, I decided that it was going to try my hand at creating a signature blend. The idea of mixing together single origin coffees is not entirely new to me, however it has never been something I've done with any amount of deliberation. Sure, while grinding my American Roast Malabar, I have been known to impulsively toss in a handful of Mexican Italian Roast, or a French Roasted Kona for that matter. But that does not a thoughtful and well-composed blend make...or does it?

I began by unpacking the coffee. With the neatly packed brown packages splayed on the counter before me, I quickly became overwhelmed. There was Tanzanian Peaberry, Ethiopian Harra, Indian Malabar, Mocha Java, and Organic Peruvian. Some were roasted American style, others French, and Italian, there were simply too many combinations to choose from! Oh where do I begin? I cried out with my head tilted toward the heavens as I waited for an answer. I couldn’t have told you who or what it was I was appealing to for guidance but, like a dog, I waited faithfully for some kind of celestial being to throw me a bone, but the rulers of the caffeinated heavens were not taking any calls and, they never did get back to me.

Having been blatantly ignored by the heavens, I decided I would have to consult the next best thing, Empire Coffee. I shot a quick e-mail to one of the owners, and sure enough he got back to me answering all four of my questions:

Me: I grew up on single origin coffees such as Kenya AA, Sumatra, and Jamaican Blue Mountain, but have recently begun making my own blends. Some have turnout out wonderfully but, others have not turned out so well, are there standardized guidelines that us novices can follow for creating good coffee blends?

Owner: Making blends are really hit or miss. You try to make a blend most people will like and then it really bombs. So you try again. After drinking the same blend for a while your taste buds get tired of it. There are no guidelines.

Me: What originally sparked my interest in blending my own coffees were the amusingly named Empire Blends. Truck Stop Fiesta, a blend of Kenya AA and Brazilian French roast is one of my favorites as well as Bliss Blend, Ab Fab, and Daylight Savings. How do you come up with your blends? And, do you have any advice for my readers on creating their very own coffee blends?

Owner: Our names were chosen by our employees after they made a mistake making a standard blend. Truck stop came about by accident. After you blend 25lb. of a mistake you give it a name and hope that people like it. If they do a new blend has been created.
(What? Truck Stop, a mistake?)

Me: I noticed you have an Uncle Pauly's Blend; do you really have an Uncle Pauly? If so, when and how did he come up with this blend?

Owner: You are writing with Uncle Pauly
(Am I to assume Uncle Pauly’s blend came about when Uncle Pauly made a mistake?)

Me: I know that this is an interview about coffee blends, but having intimate knowledge of the flavor profile of single origin coffees is an important part of creating a well-balanced blend. What are your favorite single origin coffees of the moment? Do you drink single origin or blends?

Owner: Lately I have been into Indian Monsoon Malabar and Java.

Well now, Uncle Pauly is a man of few words, but he certainly did get his point across, a blend either works or it does not, there are not guidelines, and sometimes a mistake can be a heavenly one. It seamed I would have to throw caution to the wind and let my instincts guide me, or maybe my sense of smell.

I opened all the bags of coffee hoping that the scent of the freshly roasted beans would guide me. As I opened each bag the aromas escaped in a mad rush and swarmed around me creating a sweet and smoky aura that hung around me like the rings of Saturn. Each new aroma gather on the parameter before brazenly joining the flock in its riotous soiree.

The individual aromas collided lustfully, entwining their invisible spores shamelessly until they converged into one intoxicating bouquet. I inhaled the fragrant potion and it was then that I knew what it was I had to do. I got to work immediately.
I created four blends in all:
Ethiopian Harra American Roast/ Mocha Java French
Mocha Java French/ Tanzanian American
Ethiopian Harra American/ Peruvian American/Mocha Java French
Mexican Italian Roast/ Tanzanian American

According to Edward Behr, author of The Artful Eater and The Art of Eating quarterly, the best blends are composed of high acid Coffees (Central American he suggests) mixed with mellow full-bodied coffees (Indonesian, another suggestion). Their strengths should be complimentary he says, high acidity and light body with mellow full body, sweet with winey, smooth with bold etc. I didn’t read this until I was through with my blending session, so my blends don’t fulfill Behr’s requirements, however some of these elements are present.

Mocha Java is one of the oldest coffee blends having been around for about 400 years. Both The Mocha, from Yemen, and the Javanese, from Indonesia are mellow, full-bodied coffees and three of my four blends use it as a foundation. All three, Tanzanian, Ethiopian, and Peruvian Coffees are highly acidic and make the perfect counter part for this ancient blend. These three blends came out wonderfully, my favorite being the Ethiopian and Mocha Java.

The forth blend stepped outside the realm of Behrian convention by blending a mellow, sweet, and light bodied Mexican, with the full bodied and highly acidic Tanzanian Peaberry. Needless to say it was a failure. The meaty Tanzanian bulldozed the easygoing nuances of the lightweight Mexican, overpowering it with is American Roasted girth. Perhaps next time I will try a French Roast Tanzanian and an American Roast Mexican.

As for now, I am enjoying the fruits of my labor, and have crowned my Ethiopian American/Mocha Java French Blend, The Peasant's Delight. Behr’s observasions reveal that there does appear to be conventions to blending coffee however, we mustn’t forget that we have only come to find these guidelines by first following our instincts and even, by making blissful mistakes. Perhaps it takes just the right blend of intuition, convention, and error to create the perfect Coffee blend.

1 comment:

Vivian said...

Awesome information to read at midnight, now I ponder the thought of haveing some coffee and staying up all night or simply skipping it till morning and dreaming sweet java dreams. MMMMMMMMMMM what to do!!!