What’s Brewing – Fifty K Christmas Blend

With another year having come and very almost gone, it was time to create the annual Christmas Festive Roast Blend for distribution to family and friends. Mind you, with things getting a little hectic towards the end of the year, the creation of this years blend was completed just a little close to the line.

Although not helped by a last-minute change to the composition of the specific coffees I’ve put together for this year, it was preferable to wait a little longer and produce something, which I feel, is a little more well-rounded and nicer in the cup. So without further ado, the details.

The Name

The finished product heading out the door.
The finished product heading out the door.

“What on earth is the Fifty-K reference in the name?” you would be well within your rights to ask. Although only the third time I have done this, the idea of putting together a festive Christmas blend with a specific name is based on two things.

First and foremost, given my own interest in roasting and brewing coffee, it is nice to give something to family and friends who take that little bit more care in how they brew theirs, whether through a home espresso machine, french press, Aeropress or other manual brewing methods.

Secondly, coming up with a name for the blend which reflects either the year I’ve had, other events of interest, or something which has perhaps captured my thoughts in the previous 12 months.

This year, as regular readers (and without a doubt my immediate, and very understanding family) will be well aware, November was a big month, swallowed up entirely by my participation in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Managing to meet the 50,000 word deadline by the end of November certainly wasn’t easy, however I was pleased to get there, and finished with a small novel of just over 55,000 words by months end, along with the inspiration to name this years blend in honour of that very challenge.

So, without further ado, what makes up this years festive roast, and how does Fifty-K Blend taste in the cup?

The Coffee

As usual, the green beans were sourced from Ministry Grounds, with the plan to put together a blend worthy of the season, with berry, stone and dried fruits, along with nuts and honey the key components of this year’s tasting notes list.

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Green bean selection
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Roasted bean blend testing
Finalised on December 21 - just made it!
Finalised on December 21 – just made it!

Searching through the many single origin coffees on the Ministry Grounds site, after a false start with the Guatemala Las Illusiones (a fine coffee in its own right, however wasn’t quite right in the blend), the individual coffees below made the final cut, and make up Fifty-K Blend in equal one-third portions.

Ethiopia Sidamo Bulga

  • Region: Oromiya – Southern Bale Mountains
  • Area: Bulga
  • Variety: Various heirloom cultivars
  • Processing: Fully Washed

Rwanda Nyarusiza

  • Region: Nyamagabe district, Southern Province
  • City: Between Butare and Cyangugu
  • Altitude: 1,935 metres above sea level
  • Variety: Red Bourbon
  • Processing: Fully washed, sun-dried on African raised beds

El Salvador San Cayetano

  • Region: Ahuachapán, Apaneca Ilamatepec Mountain Range
  • Altitude: 1,500 metres above sea level
  • Variety: Bourbon
  • Processing: Honey processed and greenhouse dried

The Rwanda Nyarusiza returns, having been part of last year’s Keeper’s Blend, however the above combination is a departure from the red berry dominance of the 2013 blend.

Individual tasting notes and further background can be found on the Ministry Grounds website by clicking on the above links, however as far as the blend itself tastes, below is what I have found.

The Taste

A standout - the AeroPress
A standout – the AeroPress

When combined with milk in a flat white or latte, it is a lovely rich and creamy drink, with the dried fruits and honey at the forefront, and a mild, nutty aftertaste. Overall, the honey really carries through when consumed with milk. Perhaps it may have gained something from a little more “fruitiness”, however overall I think it works well to kick things off in a morning latte.

A little surprising to me was how well the blend suited the AeroPress, and had I not been running dangerously low on filters, would have consumed a lot more through this type of brew method. Whilst remaining rich and creamy with a lovely mouthfeel, the AeroPress really brings out the stone fruit and black tea flavours which hide a little in the milk based drinks. A pleasantly robust blend, which holds up really well in this form of brewing.

Upon brewing through the Hario V60 filter, the taste profile is similar in nature to that described above with the Aeropress, however I would not necessarily say it was any better, which is not what I usually find when comparing the two. As espresso (think green apple, a little honey again), well, you can’t please everyone, and let’s just say when consuming the Fifty-K black, a longer form of brewing is probably the best option, as it is probably a little too bright to be considered a really good espresso.

In Conclusion

With another year and another festive roast blend all but complete, perhaps it is time to reflect on the year gone by, and what might lay ahead for you in 2015. Or, as is the case with me, simply enjoying a few days off with family, the cricket and a some new toys to play with, courtesy of some thoughtful gift givers.

Thankfully, no one gave me a fountain pen for Christmas. As someone who does love a good fountain pen, why would I be thankful for this? Well, there are a few reasons, and tomorrow (29 December), you can read about what those are in a guest post I wrote for one of my favourite pen blogs, On Fountain Pens. The article is one in a series of 12, which began on Christmas Day, and I’d encourage you to head over and read them – it’s a great series of posts (and yes… if I do say so myself!).

I do hope you have had a Merry Christmas, thanks for stopping by, and best wishes for the coming year.

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Dreaming of a Light Christmas…Roast

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Here we are at “that” time of the year again. Where we all can’t believe how busy we are, yet spend a good portion of our time telling others precisely that, rather than actually working on what we need to do. Nor can we believe how quickly the year has gone, and also need to remember of course it will be a long hot summer this year…

I think you get the idea. Trust me, we’ll all get through it people – and we’ll all be OK. Enjoy yourselves, being with family, and remember the “reason for the season”.

With the ham and prawns safely ordered, here at dept4 it is time to put together our Christmas coffee blend for another year. Family members who sampled the limited run last year enjoyed the blend, so this Christmas the distribution will be cast a little wider to include extended family and some work colleagues as well.

Another year means a new blend, and this year we are aiming to combine two flavour profiles that embody those of Christmas. The rich candied fruit and currant flavours of fruit cake, along with the summer flavours of berry and citrus. Often the case when searching for some fruitiness in a blend, we look to Africa for our origin beans. After a scan through the green beans on offer from our ever reliable supplier Ministry Grounds, here is what you can expect (tasting notes and background courtesy Ministry Grounds):

Kenya Karamikui

The taste:

Citrus, berries and currants in aroma, hazelnuts, guava, plum, vibrant grapefruit acidity, full body with rounded honey sweetness, long intense finish

Background:

This coffee comes from the Kirinyaga district. Kirinyaga is located within Kenya’s Central Province, a key area for Kenya’s large coffee industry. The district lies close to Mt. Kenya, and encompasses high elevations of between around 1600–1800 meters above sea level, ideal conditions for growing high quality coffee.
Small-scale farmers are organized into well-managed central pulperies, also called Coffee Factories. Karimikui Coffee Factory is the name of the washing station where this particular lot comes from.

Rwanda Nyarusiza (Buf)

The taste:

Maple syrup sweetness with candied orange, mandarin, stone fruit dark chocolate and elderflower. Medium body.

Background:

Buf Café was founded in 2003 by Epiphanie Mukashyaka, a dynamic businesswoman and a source of inspiration to countless other female entrepreneurs in Rwanda’s coffee sector and beyond. Buf is now managed by Epiphanie and her son, Samuel Muhirwa, who is taking an increasingly active role in running and expanding the business. The title ‘Buf’ derives from ‘Bufundu’, the former name of the region in which its washing stations are located.

Epiphanie, who was born in 1959, was widowed during the 1994 genocide – which claimed over 800,000 lives in just 3 months – but chose not to leave her family’s small coffee farm. Instead she set about rebuilding and developing her business, and with it the local community. She started Buf Café in 2003, when she established Remera washing station with a loan from the Rwandan Development Bank and the assistance of the USAID-financed PEARL project.

The initial roast batches are now complete, and as the title of this post suggests, the roast was on the lighter side to align with the majority of brewing methods used by those who will receive the blend (Aeropress, French Press, Pourover).

After sampling the results, the exact ratios of the blend will be determined and we will then ship the finished product immediately to ensure maximum freshness and pre-Christmas delivery.

We hope you enjoy!

10 Blending Tips for Home Coffee Roasters

Blending

Background

In a recent post I outlined my first foray into creating a roast blend, which yielded reasonable results with minimal planning. As it contained the remaining beans from a couple of previous roast batches, there was no science (nor art for that matter) put into bean selection, consideration of flavour profiles or ratios of each origin, which I expect are required to achieve a blend where the final taste is both a pleasant drinking experience and at least resembles what you set out to achieve.

Some Resources

In this follow up, I will do a little more research into possible ways to improve on my earlier effort. First, a little reading into better ways of blending for the home roaster, where a search will provide some interesting views on the topic, some of which I found quite helpful.

In Coffee Blending for the Home Roaster, Michael Allen Smith presents a number of options in a concise, informative post on blending for the home roaster. These include:

  • Just a Pinch Blend (similar to my initial efforts above; simply what you have left)
  • Checkerboard blend (for successive roast variance and tips on order of roasts)
  • 3 crop roasts (advice on flavour profiles and roast levels)
  • Faking freshness blend (adding newly roasted varietal to extend the life of an older batch)
  • 7 Day Pre-Blending (as it sounds, here the beans a pre-blended and sit for a week which evens out the moisture content which often varies in different origins)

I highly recommend going to the original article, which explains in more detail (without being too lengthy) each of the above points and provides further background on the logistics of putting together a decent blend at home. The final point above does however touch on one of the initial questions I had myself when considering blending – that is, should this be done pre or post roast? A further word on this from Blending Basics at Sweet Maria’s:

If you have an established blend it certainly is easier to blend the coffee green and roast it together. If you are experimenting with blend ingredients and percentages you will want to pre-roast each separately so you can experiment with variations.

For my own situation, and I’m sure many home roasters are in the same boat, consistency of roasts can be a little difficult to achieve at times, so for now I will go with blending post roast. With this approach I have a greater likelihood of producing a pretty good roast on one variety of beans at a time, and will have better control through experimentation over how the final blend comes together.

Another source of information on blending is the Coffee Snobs Blending Room forum, an Australian based forum on all things coffee, where you can work through a myriad of recommendations, questions and answers on the specifics of blending. A great resource for obtaining advice on what proportions or combinations to use for the beans you have available to blend, which can be as simple or as complex as you choose.

These and other sites such as Home-Barista offer examples of blends and the rationale behind each, similar to the following from the Sweet Maria’s article referenced above:

Here’s a great starter blend for a sweeter, cleaner espresso… a sweet blend used at a street level roasterie/caffe in Rome. They use a Guatemala Antigua for the Central:
50% Brazil Dry-process
25% Colombian Wet-process
25% Guatemala or other brighter Central American

Ten blending tips for home roasters:

So, through my 12 months of home roasting experience and a little research, I would offer the following tips for anyone looking to create their own blend:

  1. Read a little (not a lot) on the subject – the aim is to experiment not follow a recipe
  2. Start where you wish to end (what is the final flavour profile you are seeking?)
  3. Have a variety of green beans on hand (or order based on point 4 below)
  4. Have some understanding of the flavour profile and characteristics of each varietal
  5. Know how well each varietal roasts in your own particular set up
  6. Consider medium roast levels to avoid one blend dominating the mix
  7. Begin with no more than three different bean varieties when starting out
  8. Use what you have read to guide initial proportions or ratios
  9. Blend after roasting, where there is unlimited ability to blend, taste, repeat
  10. Blend, taste, repeat (did a say that already?) and enjoy making your own signature blend!

Conclusion

That’s it! My top ten tips for setting out on your own blending journey as a home roaster. From reading around a little, I can say without a doubt there are really no wrong or right answers here, however as with anything, opinions and guidelines exist, your own experimentation ultimately provides the way. Hopefully you will come up with some fantastic blends, as will I in the course of time. If you do, I would love to hear about them in the comments below, or on Twitter.

Up Around the Blend…My journey into the unknown

Cerrado vegetation of Brazil Español: Cerrado ...
Cerrado vegetation of Brazil  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A witty title, or just a typo? Actually an attempt at the former, as I begin my education and experimentation into the world of coffee bean blending. The emphasis here is squarely on ‘begin’.

So far we have looked at roasting set ups, roasting, tasting and a few other bits and pieces set around the humble bean. All things I have been doing for a while now, some longer than others. One area I am yet to tackle is something I know considerably less about – the art of blending. Sure, I know when I taste a good one, though creating one is quite a different story.

Why do I consider this as something worthwhile to spend time on? The answer is a simple why not? It’s all part of learning and developing after all, and is something I hope will provide a better overall taste in the cup. I see two main approaches we could take down this road, and I hope over a series of posts on this topic you will learn something along with me.

Where should we begin?
1. Plan, consider, research, plan some more, roast, read a little and scientifically add a number of different bean varieties together; or
2. Throw together the remaining beans from a couple of roast batches – because it can’t be that hard right?

Where did I begin?
With option 2 above, which, all things considered is very out of character, but something I have been working hard to change (that is, over planning to the point of paralysis). I must admit writing on these pages is largely responsible for that, which is very pleasing given it is one of the main reasons for setting up this blog.

Method

The two bean varieties involved were the Brazil Toffee Cerrado, and Ethiopian Sidamo, both of which I have previously written about as far as roasting and taste testing posts. In combining these blends, my goal was to hopefully get the best of both worlds from their individual strong points. Namely, the body and chocolate / caramel flavours of the Brazilian, and the fruity blueberry profile and acidity of the Ethiopian.

Result – The Whack

What – Blend of Ethiopian Sidamo and Brazil Toffee Cerrado. Proportions used were 60% Ethiopian Sidamo an 40% Brazilian Cerrado

HowAeropress, Latte

Assessment – Overall, a reasonable combination. In the Aeropress, the chocolate, sugar and caramel undertones were present, and with the addition of the blueberry, the overall flavour was somewhat reminiscent of a smoothie, this being particularly evident as you can imagine in the latte. There was a greater depth of flavour overall, however the blend did not reach any great heights. Perhaps this will be more difficult than I thought? In all honesty this is exactly what I expected given there are people who make careers out of roasting and blending.

Conclusion; Know This – Probably the point to make here is that the blend created above was certainly drinkable. Was it better than either of the varieties on their own? In the case of the Cerrado, I would say yes, as the addition of a little acidity and fruit flavours broadened the overall flavour profile nicely, whereas in the Sidamo, probably not, though in initially reviewing this varietal, I did rate it more highly than the Cerrado to begin with. Therefore in ‘knowing this’ I will say yes, a little more research is needed, however invaluable to this process is what we have now. A starting point, the very thing which will now move us forward.

Overall Rating: 3.75/5