Blending for espresso takes intention. But the first question to ask is, “Why should espresso be a blend at all?”
Blends are intended to do something that a single coffee selection can’t do. So before blending you likely exhausted options available to you from your stock of single-origin coffees, right?
The fact that large commercial companies blend for A small coffee beverage, about 20 ml, prepared on an espresso machine where pressurized hot water extracted through compressed coffee.: In its most stripped-down, basic form, this is... ...more might be something you want to duplicate. But consider that they might do it for other reasons, namely cost control, or uniformity throughout the year. Are those your reasons for espresso blending as well? I rather hope not. But let’s say you can’t do it with a single bean. Okay, let’s move on!
Blending for espresso is different
In general, the goal of espresso blending differs from the goal of filter coffee blends (and some may argue that there are blends specific for A simple coffee brewer also called a Press Pot: grounds and hot water are added to a carafe, allowed to sit for several minutes, and then a filter... ...more brewing or for serving with cream/milk).
Drip coffees may be blended for complexity or for Suggests a harmony and proportion of qualities, and implies mildness since no one quality dominates.: Balance is both an obvious and slippery taste term. It implies a harmony... ...more, but an espresso blend usually must be blended for balance or particular varietal qualities that would be favorable in a drip coffee might overwhelm the espresso extract.
Many commercial espresso blends are based on one or several high-quality Brazil is a coffee giant . As Frank Sinatra sang, "they grow an awful lot of coffee in Brazil".: Brazil is a coffee giant . As Frank Sinatra... ...more arabicas, some washed, some dry-processed. They often involve some African coffees for A taste term to describe a wine-like flavor with a similar perceived acidity and fruit, and some level of acetic acid. It is found most commonly in East... ...more Acidity is a positive flavor attribute in coffee, also referred to as brightness or liveliness. It adds a brilliance to the cup, whereas low acid coffees can seem... ...more or enzymatic flowery /fruitiness, or a High Grown, or HG, is a coffee designation that can mean different things in different countries. : High Grown, or HG, is the highest quality Mexican coffee designation... ...more Central American for a cleaner acidity.
Dry processed coffees can be responsible for the attractive Crema is a dense foam that floats on top of a shot of espresso. It ranges in color from blond to reddish-brown to black. Blond crema may be... ...more on the cup, among other mechanical factors in the Refers to the process of infusing coffee with hot water. Hot water releases or "extracts" the flavor from the roasted, ground coffee. The term is used mostly with... ...more process. Wet-processed Central Americans add positive aromatic qualities. Robustas, or The botanical genus colloquially referred to as the “coffea genus,” which is comprised of over 120 individual species. These are generally opposite-leaved, evergreen shrubs or small understory trees... ...more canephora, are used in cheaper blends, and some decent ones, to increase Associated with and sensed by mouthfeel, body is sense of weight and thickness of the brew, caused by the percentage of soluble solids in the cup, including all... ...more and produce crema. They also add a particular bite to the cup.
The notion that true “continental” espresso blends have Ateng is a common name for Catimor coffees widely planted in Sumatra and other Indonesia isles.: Ateng, with several subtypes, is a common name for Catimor coffees widely... ...more? Nonsense! In fact the coffee samples from small Italian roasters I’ve had (in green form) appear to be very mild, sweet blends with about 40% Brazil Dry-process, 40% Colombian and 20%+ Centrals, like Guatemalan. For bite, syrupy or winey fruit, and earthiness you can use a Dry process coffee is a method for taking the fruit from the tree to an exportable green bean. The whole intact coffee cherry is dried in the sun... ...more Ethiopia, formerly known as Abyssinia, or a coffee cultivar: Ethiopia, or more specifically the Empire under Haile Selassie, was known as Abyssinia. The name is Latin, derived from... ...more. It’s fun to play with Robusta usually refers to Coffea Robusta, responsible for roughly 25% of the world's commercial coffee. Taxonomy of Robusta is debated: some sources use “Robusta” to refer to any... ...more but I personally don’t like it too much beyond experimentation and I personally don’t enjoy having more An alkaloidal compound that has a physiological effect on humans, and a bittering taste. It is found throughout the coffee plant but is more concentrated in the seed... ...more in my coffee than is necessary.
A Colombian-based espresso blend offers a sharper, sweeter flavor but won’t result in as much crema production.
You can blend by the seat of your pants (not recommended) or make your process of establishing the coffees and the percentages logical. Start by developing the base, the backdrop in terms of flavor and a coffee that provides the kind of body, roast flavor and crema you like. I suggest Brazils, although any sweet coffee with mild acidity and texture in the How a coffee feels in the mouth or its apparent texture, a tactile sensation : A major component in the flavor profile of a coffee, it is a... ...more are viable options.
Practice roasting this base coffee to different degrees of roast, and pulling straight shots of espresso. Get familiar with this cup and imagine what you would like to improve in it.
Do you want it to be sharper and sweeter, with more aromatics: perhaps you will want to add Central American coffees. Watch out with percentages above 25%, particularly if you like a lighter espresso roast. You will be losing some crema and body.
Do you want more body and Sweetness is an important positive quality in fine coffees, and is one of five basic tastes: Sour, Sweet, Salty, Bitter, Savory (Umami). In coffee, sweetness is a highly... ...more: use a clean Indonesian like a Sulawesi coffees are low-acid with great body and that deep, brooding cup profile akin to Sumatra. The coffee is sometimes known as Celebes, which was the Dutch colonial... ...more or a premium Indonesians are available as a unique wet-hulled or dry-hulled (washed) coffees. Giling Basah is the name for the wet-hulling process in Bahasa language, and will have more body... ...more. You will be losing some A euphemistic term we use often to describe acidity in coffee. A bright coffee has more high, acidic notes. : A euphemistic term to describe acidity in coffee.... ...more and at too light a roast level some of the Earthy is a flavor term with some ambivalence, used positively in some cases, negatively in others.: Sumatra coffees can have a positive earthy flavor, sometimes described as "wet... ...more or A flavor descriptor in coffee reminiscent of herbs, usually meaning aromatic, savory, leafy dried herbs. Usually, more specific descriptions are given, whether is is a floral herb, or... ...more qualities can become sharper. You can go up to 50% with one of these and some are nice even at 100%, but if you are blending it with another coffee that has more delicate features (such as Floral notes in coffee exemplify the connection between taste and smell. Describing the taste of a specific flower is near impossible...we always default to “it tastes like it... ...more wet processed Ethiopian) that you were hoping to highlight, I would not use too much of one of these coffees for risk of overwhelming them.
Do you want an earthy aggressive bite and more pungency: try a dry-processed Ethiopian. Some are brighter and more aromatic with fruitiness and wineyness. Some have great pungency in the darker roasts and are fruitier in the lighter roasts. These produce great crema. I often enjoy straight shots of these coffees, but keep it to 25% or so in most blends.
Do you want spicy pungency: try a Yemeni coffee. These add wineyness too, and great crema. I keep this to 50% or less (normally 25% or so) in blends. Some of the nicer ones have an aromatic sandalwood note that when balanced with the winey acidity produce really rich and exotic single-origin espresso.
Do you want extreme bite: try an Aged coffee is not the same as old coffee. Aged coffee typically has very strong earthy flavors, and can be very pungent, leather or tobacco aromas and flavors.:... ...more, a A method of ageing coffee in India where the unroasted coffee is exposed to humid monsoon winds.: Monsooned coffees are stored in special warehouses until the Monsoon season... ...more (Indian or better yet the Sulawesi Rantepao) or Robusta. Aged coffees and Monsooned add certain funky tastes that you may love, or perhaps hate. You just have to give them a try to find out but that is part of the fun. Robusta — I would not go there unless you have too. I personally do not like the added caffeine they bring. They increase crema, but you also need to keep them below 20% in the blend, I personally never go above 15% with them.
Arabica vs. Robusta?
Arabica refers to Coffea Arabica, the taxonomic species name of the genus responsible for around 75% of the worlds commercial coffee crop.: Arabica refers to Coffea Arabica, the... ...more coffees (that means every coffee we sell except those at the very end of our list under the Premium Robusta heading) produce a fine crema, with good aromatics, and a lighter brown-yellow color. Robusta coffees (from the species coffea canefora) make a greater volume of crema, but it has larger “bubbles” and dissipates faster. Robusta has about 2x the caffeine of arabica, 2.2 to 2.4% compared to 1.1 to 1.3% in arabica. It can have a very rubbery-medicinal flavor when there is too much in the espresso blend. At a low percentage, 10% to 15%, it delivers a nice bite and it’s negative features can be minimized.
Perhaps you’ll find that the coffee you chose for a base or even one of the accents are appealing to you as an espresso on their own. Single Origin refers to coffee from one location, in contrast to blended coffee. This term is particularly useful in discussing espresso, since most commercial espressos are made from... ...more Espresso is becoming more prevalent as people are experimenting with what an espresso can or should be. Thinking about espresso simply as a brewing method rather than a beverage in and of itself with predetermined parameters or “rules” to what it is made up of and what it should taste like can open up the door to a lot of non-traditional and sometimes exciting flavors in a shot. But there are definitely coffees that have too much of one quality or another that in an espresso extraction are not as enjoyable to me because that quality can become exaggerated.
There’s a lot of ways to achieve great espresso. It’s fun to experiment and I don’t know if there is some terminal point where you achieve the perfect trans-subjective espresso.
Blending Before Roasting or Blending After Roasting ? The big debate…
There are many advantages to blending after roasting, and I will concede that point right away. You can roast each bean to the exact “degree of roast” to function perfectly in your blend. The Sumatra can be a little darker to bring out pungency. The Colombian coffee is highly marketed and widely available in the US. They have been largely successful at equating the name Colombian Coffee with "Good" Coffee. This is half-true.... ...more can be a City+ roast is an ideal roast level that occurs roughly between 425 and 435 degrees Fahrenheit in many coffee roasters with a responsive bean probe where First Crack... ...more to add sweetness and acidity. The Brazil can be Full City + so as not to get The smell or taste of ash, such as an ashtray, cigarette smoke, or fireplace. Often a roast defect.: A quality in aroma or flavor similar to that of... ...more tasting.
The problem with this is logistics. You will now need to to a roast for each, and unless your blend has equal parts of the blend ingredients, you are going to end up with some odd leftovers. If that’s acceptable, and roasting each ingredient to a different level and then blending (a “melange” to be fancy about it), then for sure blend after roasting.
If you are going to roast the ingredients to the same roast level, and for ease, I prefer blending pre-roast when possible. For me that’s most of the time.
There’s an argument for pre-roast blending that also implies that coffee roasted together equalizes moisture content and is different in some way as roasting first and blending post-roast. I find the logic pretty weak and ambiguous, not to mention hard to prove.
Some Espresso Blends that I Like
I would recommend you try our Sweet Maria’s Espresso Monkey Blend to see what you think. It will definitely give you a basis for comparison. We also create new espresso blends on a regular basis in our Espresso Workshop series. The Malabar Gold blend is a very exotic pre-blended espresso, and if that’s what you like you might want to look into Aged coffees and Robustas for your own blends, and obviously you would want to be using Indian Monsooned Malabar. The Moka Kadir is a very fruity-winey East African and Yemen has a coffee culture like no other place, and perhaps some of what we enjoy in this cup is due to their old style of trade...: Technically,... ...more blend. So these three span the gamut of blends and can give you a good idea what direction to take with your own blend. Many people also buy my Espresso Money blend and modify it by, for example, adding 15% robusta or adding 25% Aged coffee.
Here’s a great starter blend for a sweeter, cleaner espresso. The absence of North African or Yemeni coffee takes out a little bite from the cup and possibly some lurking In some coffee taster’s lexicon, “fruity” means the coffee is tainted with fruit, and “fruited” means a coffee is graced by positive fruit notes. We don't exactly see... ...more flavor. this is, as noted above, a sweet blend used at a street-level roasterie/caffe in Rome. They use a Guatemalan coffee is considered a top quality coffee producer in Central America. Due to our proximity to Guatemala, some of the nicest coffees from this origin come to... ...more Antigua for the Central:
- 50% Brazil Dry-process
- 25% Colombian Wet-process
- 25% Guatemala or other aromatic Central American
or you could replace the Colombia with a premium Sumatra for more body and less brightness.
- 50% Brazil \ Dry-process
- 25% Guatemala or other bright Central American
- 25% Sumatra -Premium coffee
Some sharp sweetness (Central American) hides behind the Nutty is a broad flavor term, reminiscent of nuts ... but what kind exactly?: Nutty is a broad flavor term, reminiscent of nuts. It is tied intrinsically to... ...more Brazil flavors and the wonderful Yemeni aromatics. A trade name used for wet-hulled Sumatra coffees. It is an area and a culture group as well (spelled Mandailing often) but there is not as much coffee... ...more adds body and depth. Yemeni coffees are fun for espresso blends, where they can be used like spice to give zest the aromatically or enzymatically flat blends. Roast to A machine and a color matching system used for quality analysis generally in the food industry, and specifically in coffee: Agtron spectrophotometers are used in the coffee industry... ...more 40 to 35. Good crema production from this blend due to the many dry-processed coffees
- 40% Brazil Dry-process
- 20% Panama coffee ranges from medium quality lower altitude farms to those at 1600 - 1800 meters centered in the area of Boquete in the Chirqui district near the... ...more or other bright Central American
- 20% Yemen
- 20% Sumatra The northernmost district in SumatraL Aceh District is north of North Sumatra and produces some very classic Sumatra coffees. The center of coffee in Aceh is Lake Tawar... ...more coffee
Ah, too sweet, too boring. You want something more aggressive, chocolatey? Drop the Centrals:
- 50% Brazil Dry-process
- 25% Ethiopian Sidamo or Yemen
- 25% Sumatra Aceh Gayo is ethnic group from the area of Aceh Sumatra around Lake Takengon. They use the name Gayo Coffee to market their production. The Acehnese are a different... ...more
You can certainly keep going along this route by adding other coffees (monsooned, aged, robusta) to discover what they add and what they subtract from the blend.
For an potent Indian Monsooned-type blend you could do something like this:
- 60% Indian Monsooned Malabar -this high percentage will cup very Off aroma and flavor that reminds one of a dank, moldy closet. This flavor can hint at a dangerous coffee mold and should not be consumed.: Off aroma... ...more
- 20% High Quality Robusta: Wet-processed Indonesian or Indian
- 20% Wet-processed Arabica, for Aroma refers to sensations perceived by the olfactory bulb and conveyed to the brain; whether through the nose or "retro-nasally": The aromatics of a coffee greatly influence its... ...more and balance: perhaps Indian, Timor-Leste (East Timor) is a tiny island between Australia and Sulawesi, annexed by Indonesia and liberated in a referendum several years ago. Small scale coffee farming was jump-started... ...more, There are several types of Abyssinia, but they are not from Ethiopia but rather Indonesia. Abyssinia 3 = AB3. PJS Cramer, a Dutch plant researcher, introduced this variety in 1928,... ...more or Sulawesi.
For an potent Aged coffee blend you could do something like this:
- 40% Aged Sumatra
- 30% Sumatra, or Sulawesi
- 30% Guatemala or other bright Central American for aroma and balance
(Aged Java is very potent and should probably not exceed 1/3 of the blend or so…)
Decaf Espresso? Low-caffeine espresso?
That is why we stock the Brazil WP Decaf as a base. Use it as 50% of your blend to cut the caffeine in half, then add your main “character” coffees as usual. If you wanted an all-decaf blend you could try our own Sweet Maria’s Decaf Espresso “Donkey” Blend ready to roast. We also are sending coffees that we select beforehand to be decaffeinated by water process and have been able to not only then source amazing components for an espresso blend in WP Decaf Ethiopias, Colombias, Centrals, and even Indonesian coffees, but also construct blends with complexity, depth of character, loads of sweetness and syrupy In some coffee taster’s lexicon, “fruity” means the coffee is tainted with fruit, and “fruited” means a coffee is graced by positive fruit notes. We don't exactly see... ...more notes, and little to none of the flavor or scent of decaf coffee.