Walk down the coffee aisle of your local super market, and you'll see dozens of different coffee options, jars of instant coffee, canned ground coffee, coffee pods and bags of premium brand, whole bean coffee with high-tech valves and beautiful labels. Look closer, and you'll see that most of these options are coffee blends.
What's a coffee blend? The short answer is a coffee blend combines coffee beans from different producers. By that definition, cooperative coffees are technically blends, as are some small producer microlots, and most Colombia Supremos, which can combine coffee from different farms and even regions of Colombia. Most of us, though, don't consider a coffee to be a blend unless it contains coffee beans from completely different origins. The very first coffee blend, Mokha Java, is a good example of this. Mokha Java was created by blending coffee from the first two coffee origins, North Africa and Indonesia.
How do you tell if a coffee is a blend? Look at the coffee's label. Ethical roasters are very upfront about whether a coffee they're selling is a single origin coffee or a blend. In some cases it's obvious. Look for the word blend in the name or description. Our Kona Blend is a good example of this, as are all our signature blends. Most espressos are blends, as are most house coffees. If the label doesn't specify an origin, either in the name or the coffee's description, chances are excellent the green coffee came from more than one place.
If you're really curious, ask. Your local roaster should be happy to tell you whether your favorite coffee is a blend. He may also be willing to give you a sense of what coffees are in it, but don't expect him to give you the exact recipe. Coffee is a seasonal crop, and the flavor and quality often changes between seasons. Take Mokha Java. One year, a roaster may use Tanzanian for the African. Another year, he might find a great coffee from Burundi and use that. If the coffee crops in Africa are hit with a fungus, bugs or other disaster, the roaster may even shift to a very bright, lighter-bodied South American coffee. The same process also applies to the Indonesian half of the blend. The one thing you can be sure of is the specific origins are bound to change.
Check out our next blog for Coffee Blends: Part Two, Why blend coffee?