Whenever I speak to people about Difference Coffee, they always ask me what coffee blends I sell. For some reason, people seem to think that coffee is always a blend of beans. The truth is, coffee is a bit like wine in that some are blended and some are not. Learning the difference between blend vs single origin coffee can ensure that you’re only purchasing the highest quality of brews.
The majority of coffee sold historically and today is of commercial, or commodity grade with a blend of higher-quality Arabica beans and cheaper, lower-quality Robusta beans. These beans grow all over the world in a ratio of around 70% Arabica to 30% Robusta, and most cheap coffee blends follow that ratio. The Robusta beans are used as filler to cut costs. While more and more better-quality coffees are available in recent times, these commercial-grade blends still dominate the cheaper end of the market.
Amongst the big brands, it was illy that became known for the quality promise of not blending Arabica with Robusta. The Italian coffee company pioneered the concept of 100% Arabica, which has now become widespread as a promise of quality. But, as we all know, not all Arabicas are of equal quality.
When you see the promise of 100% Arabica on a label, know that it’s still entirely commodity grade coffee with no farm traceability. Some of these coffees blends of beans sourced from a single origin, but that is not a reliable indication of quality, and it’s the limit of their traceability. It’s a bit like saying ”The wine is from mixed grapes from France,” which is not really telling you anything in terms of quality, right?
Blend vs Single Origin Coffee: Specialty Grade
When we talk of Specialty coffees, however, these are coffees so rare – the top 1% grown worldwide – that they have already an amazing taste to begin with. Specialty coffees are primarily from as a single-estate or cooperative. Yet there are still some Specialty roasters that create blends of 100% Specialty Arabica. These blends are created primarily to offer a consistent taste profile throughout the year when sourcing coffees from multiple countries and selling in large volumes.
At Difference Coffee, we primarily source micro lots from legendary estates, coffee competition winners or rare varietals, such as our Esmeralda Geisha Washed from the legendary Hacienda La Esmeralda estate. Because of the exceptional taste of these coffees, we don’t need to blend them to achieve an amazing taste. We already know they are amazing because they have some of the highest scores in the world. But there is another technical reason we don’t blend – we don’t believe blending can produce the sweetest cup.
When we extract coffee, given all variables are the same, we need to set the grind setting to a point that gives us the most balanced cup, the ”sweet spot.” Too coarse, and we won’t get enough sweetness, and too fine and we will over-extract bitterness. When you blend coffees, you essentially try to find a balance of acidity and bitterness across all the different beans, but you might never achieve the full sweetness potential from every single bean. The only way to achieve that would be to brew the different coffees individually and then to mix them… but you would need to be crazy to do that! That’s why Difference Coffee steers clear of blends.