When it comes to my espresso-based coffee consumption these days, I find myself drinking predominantly blends. There are a few main reasons, largely related to the challenges of consistent home espresso, however to be honest, I cannot say I’ve really missed chasing the next great single origin to any great degree.
I do like the inherent optimism in online dictionary definitions of blend, which go beyond the humble to mix:
to form a harmonious combination; to be an unobtrusive or harmonious part of a greater whole…
Sounds good to me, and that really is the key — while not all blends work, the ones that do result in something greater than the sum of its parts.
With every industry entrenched in social media and the internet these days, as coffee consumers we are often guided down the path of new and different. That’s often chasing a single origin, and increasingly these days it is produced using any number of unusual new processing methods.
While niche and interesting are great, and yes, I drink my fair share of those as well, might I suggest a well crafted specialty blend is equally as good, and in many cases better in certain ways than their component single origin parts. As always, flavour and enjoyment in the cup are paramount regardless, of blend or single origin coffee, however I think blends sometimes have an edge in getting there — particularly when brewing espresso at home.
The challenge of home
Brewing espresso at home is met with inherent challenges around consistency, particularly when the same coffee might only be intermittently consumed throughout any given week. It’s not so much the fact that a blend is necessarily more forgiving to dial in (though that indeed may be the case — even more so in a milk drink), rather the pattern of how I consume them.
As an aside, I thought this was a succinct and accurate definition of “dialling in” from Bean Ground:
Dialing in espresso is the act of calibrating your machine and grinder to follow a particular brew recipe. By manipulating the dose, time, yield, and grind size, you can align the parameters needed to pull the perfect shot of espresso with the coffee beans you’re using.
Sounds pretty straightforward right? Well maybe, maybe not…
So what does my typical coffee-day look like? It starts with one or two traditional cappuccinos before work, a pourover brewed into a Fellow Carter travel mug (for the mid-afternoon pick me up), and a trip to the office cafe mid-morning. Generally that’s a four day a week routine. Espresso? Well, apart from sneaking one in after work very occasionally, that leaves the remaining three days: a work from home day and the weekend when espresso itself is firmly on the menu as well. More below as to why this presents a challenge (though I also refer back to my intermittently consumed comment above).
The crux of the matter
Consistency, less waste, and no sacrifice in flavour or enjoyment. Noble aims in any coffee brewing endeavour. Thinking about my typical day above, being a milk is for morning type of drinker, a blend roasted for espresso lends itself well. The main development over the past year or so being I have increasingly used these blends for straight espresso as well.
Again it comes back to consistency, and the ability to tweak the grind and brew settings incrementally from day to day rather than having to dial in a single origin from scratch again on a Friday when I’d last done so the Sunday before. While aging is mostly the enemy here (the coffee, but ok… me as well I guess), other factors like the weather (I’m looking at you Brisbane humidity), and subtle changes in how the grinder might be behaving are at play. Depending on how those factors combine, that Friday can soon end up in the awkward: I’ve used more dialling in here than I’ve consumed scenario. Particularly when it’s taken three shots to dial in only to consume one, and repeat that over two or three weeks and watch that bag of coffee rapidly empty.
Now, although the espresso brew ratios differ for the morning cappuccino (1:1.8) and afternoon espresso (1:3), as the week progresses and tweaks need to be made with grind settings, by the time the weekend rolls around, I have a fair idea where to start once its time for one of those 1:3 lungos to exit the spouts. It’s an incremental adjustment rather than a baseline beginning from where I was a week before.
Consistency and less waste in brewing is one thing, what about quality and flavour? Well you’ll certainly find no arguments from me here. Of course, it depends on what blends and from whom you purchase them, however most specialty roasters are offering a number of blend flavour profiles, and its as easy as sampling each to find what you are looking for. Now although there is a view that a daily driver blend aimed at milk based beverages may not shine as an espresso on its own, I’ve generally found that not to be the case, and I don’t think specialty roasters really approach them that way either. To be honest I hadn’t really explored as many options as I should have prior to this point. There is something out there you’ll really enjoy, trust me.
Also, to acknowledge blends also can have their downsides (hiding cheaper or lower quality coffee, some may be uninteresting, not all coffees work well together) however I think most can be avoided if you purchase well. You know what? Ultimately it comes down to personal preference and your particular taste, as it always does.
So have I moved exclusively to blends as a result of the high praise above? No, not entirely, but I’m certainly drinking more (and more as espresso) than I ever have in the past, and I’m thoroughly enjoying them.
In wrapping this up, all I’d really like to highlight is that a well balanced, rich and complex blend has a lot going for it. While we all like to explore the tastes and styles of single origins and left field coffee processing methods, often times good and consistent over interesting might be exactly what we are after.
Some recent favourites:
- Fitzroy St by Industry Beans
- Darkhorse by Five Senses
- One and One by Light Coffee – my all time favourite blend for drinking as an espresso
- White Knight by White Horse Coffee
- Major Tom by Ground Control
- Roma by Campos
- Tightrope by Five Senses
- Lazzio Medium Roast by Blackbag Roasters (this is what you’ll find at Aldi and as a base for milk drinks, is better than what you’d expect)