"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2002 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
40Home Roasting of coffee is only the start. We most all begin with a commercial blend at first. One of the most popular is Monkey. It is widely recommended as it roasts fairly evenly and first crack and second crack are separated enough to be easily discernable. Other suppliers also have their own blends as well, such as Coffee Wholesalers Emerald Isle and Emerald Mist. The problem with these blends is that they have been created to someone elses tastes and/or have been created to appeal to a wide corss-section of the espresso drinking public and not for you. If you are going through all the trouble to create a coffee drink "espressly for you" then why not create a coffee blend espressly for you? It's really quite easy.
Creating House Blends
The next step is to create your own blend of espresso. This allows you some freedom that a purchased blend does not:
1) You can sample various individual varieties to find those that are individually pleasing to your taste. One of my favorite is Sumatran Mandheling. You can search for your own favorites.
2) You can blend the individual varieties to your own taste.
3) You can roast them separately to meet your own specifications. I like to roast my base beans dark and my varietals lighter. That's a common way to go, but please yourself.
4) You can roast the various beans separately then post-roast blend to get exactly what you want.
5) You can get beans from a variety of sources to meet your needs, and not just depend on one source for all your green bean needs.
So I started by posting a request on Alt.coffee for blending ideas. As I mentioned previously, there were as many different responses as there were responders. At first I was intimidated by this wide range of responses, but later realized that this was a good thing. With so many different ideas of what makes a good blend for espresso I realized that there was really no wrong way to blend. I knew that all that had to happen was to come up with something I liked, and that was all that counted.
I began by placing an order with Coffee Wholesalers. As it turns out, their quality is excellent and they offer very reasonable prices and shipping charges as well. I purchased:
Brazil Monte Carmelo 2 lbs
The idea was that the first three would be used in various combinations as a "base" and the last three for varietal tastes in the blend.
I roasted the three base beans just to the point that they started to show an oily sheen on all the beans, but not wet with oil. This was about to the middle or end of second crack, which ended up to be about 12:00 to 12:30 in my HWP. The three varietals were done to about the very first signs of oil drops on a few (two or three) beans, which was about the beginning of active second crack- about 10:45-11:10.
Well, about the time the beans were ready to be used our power went out for four days. I used my battery-powered digital scale to weigh out the blends, but had to run out and buy a hand grinder which gave me the opportunity to taste my three base beans as cupped coffee. Here's what I found:
Brazil Monte Carmelo - A light taste with a smooth finish but little else. Not at all remarkable and little to differentiate it. Little to no varietal taste. Has a nice taste with little force and so, might be nice for someone looking for a mild coffee taste.
Colombian Supremo - Just a touch of bitterness behind a very nice cup. A darkness in the finish that leave a wonderful rich sensation to it. A rich, heavy taste making it a great base for someone looking for a base that would cut through the taste of milk in milk-based drinks.
Sumatran Mandheling - Smooth and tasteful with a natural smoothness that lasts the entire cup. Not as forceful as the Colombian, but a wonderful taste that works quite well in the cup and makes a wonderful base for espresso.
I did not cup the three varietals as I didn't roast enough of these to enable me to do that at this point. I can say that the Ethiopian Harrar Horse had an incredible flowery aroma in the roasted bean that was dramatic when inhaled from the jar of beans. All of these roasted beans had incredibly delicious aromas after resting for a few days.
I made five blends from the above beans to start. I named them "House" plus the number (House 1, House 2, etc.). Our favorite was "House 2" but to be fair, this was a God Shot. It was incredible. So good, as a matter of fact, that my wife consumed an entire straight single espresso. It really upset me because I could not duplicate the shot quality with the other shots and so the taste testing was entirely thrown off.
Later, as the beans and blends were running low, I started experimenting with what was left. It is amazing what a simple blend can do. One of my favorites fooling around this way was 50% Mandheling and 50% Harrar Horse.
Our favorite cappa from the first five blends was "House 2":
To this I later added some Ethiopian and it was very nice as well.
Through all of this I kept very detailed notes of the roasting process for each bean, the exact proportions for the blends, and detailed taste notes. This is very important because when you hit something you like you want to be able to duplicate it.
I will say that all the blends made very nice cappas but were in need of something bright. My next order will include a Central American bean or possibly a Mexican (as per the Coffee Wholesaler's recommendation).
At that point, after testing the first five blends as espresso and as cappas, I was running low of all the blends. I roasted a batch of what I called "House 6" as follows in equal parts:
The two base beans were roasted a bit through full flying second crack (12:15 in the HWP) but this proved to be a bit dark. Even so, this blend was very nice, with a deep, rich taste that cut through milk in a cappa wonderfully. When this batch was gone I duplicated it, but this time the base beans were roasted lighter- about 11:45. It definitely improved the taste, but I think the next batch will be a bit lighter still. For this second batch of House 6 I roasted one full batch of each of the four beans so i ended up with quite a good amount of roasted coffee to play with.
Just after that I had just taken a tour of a local small custom coffee roaster in town that serves the needs of many local institutions like hospitals and the local jail, and small specialty coffee shops (watch for an article here about that tour early next month). As I was leaving, their Roastmaster handed me a bag of three pounds of aged Yemen Mocha. As I had not been able to get any of this from Coffee Wholesalers I was excited to try it. When we got home I immediately roasted two batches out on the deck.
I tried a pull of straight Yemen to learn the taste. I had evidently roasted it a bit dark as it was a little bitter, but the overall taste was amazing. Really delicious and complex. I then used three scoops of House 6 with once scoop of Yemen Mocha for our cappas this morning and, "Wow!"
We used this for our cappas this morning and it was really quite delicious. It worked out to be three parts House 6 (which was equal parts of the first four varieties listed below) and one part Yemen Mocha, which I now call House 7. It would probably be easier and just as good to combine it using equal parts:
The Harrar and the Hue Hue were roasted lighter than the other three beans. I have found that I have reached the point of roasting as dark as I like and am now backing away from that towards a lighter roast as I mentioned above. The next batch will probably be at around 11:00 for the base beans next time, with the varietals at around 9:30. I do roast to sight and sound, so these times are merely for purposes of comparison here.
Of course, it is a never ending quest. At this point I am thinking to myself that it would be nice to try A "House 8" using the above but eliminating the Harrar and using a bit more Yemen, or maybe a "House 9" with just the two base beans and the Yemen, or maybe... Well, you get the picture. Once you start blending at home you will find yourself with a cabinet full of jars with all kinds of things in them. Be sure to use some sort of stick-on labels to be able to identify that's going on in there! I mentioned keeping accurate notes- I have compiled over seven pages of notes just from the roasting, blending, and tasting for my house blend.
I could list all the other combinations I tired (House 1-5 plus a few minor variations), but the bottom line is that there is really no wrong way to blend beans if the resulting taste is something you like. Please be aware that a majority of the coffee that Wifee and I consume at this point is in the form of cappas with the occasional latte, so the blends I am producing at this point are for that specific purpose. If you drink straight shots for the most part, your blends will most likely be different. I would recommend a lighter roast and possibly fewer varieties for that.
Whatever your need and tastes, I can recommend starting with the purchase of six or eight different beans and roasting then tasting them individually as espresso. Find tastes you like and start combining. As I mentioned above. It does not take a lot of beans to make great espresso. A blend of 50% Mandheling, 25% Mocha, and 25% any other varietal could be great when roasted properly. For cappas, more beans and a darker roast can be used because, as so many commercial coffee houses have proven, a few ounces of steamed milk can cover a multitude of sins. Seriously, I like a broader, more dynamic taste to cut through the milk.
If you haven't tried blending and you are a home roaster, what are you waiting for? Although I sometimes sound like I know what I am doing through all of this, let me remind you once again that as of November 2000, just four short months ago, I had never operated an espresso machine nor had I ever roasted a single coffee bean. Don't be at all intimidated by the thought of creating your own blends of coffee. If you can roast, you can blend!