Creating a blend: a footnote August 28 2020
One question we’ve been asked many times is whether we can create a bespoke blend for a customer. Our answer has always been ‘no’ and that can often be hard for a business; invariably that potential customer will look for a different roaster even if the coffee is not as good.
I’m sure we’ll be asked the same question again in the future but we have a clear rationale for following this path. If you haven’t seen it yet, our latest video explains our approach to creating a blend but it might be worth clarifying what we mean by ‘blending’.
I see blending as having two purposes. The first is to ensure a consistency of flavour at all times. This is a skill in itself as coffee changes from season to season. The art of blending in this instance is to identify and match coffees which will maintain the same flavour profile. This type of blending is often associated with bigger coffee brands.
Where seasonal variations are welcomed and exploited, blending takes on a slightly different purpose. We’ll likely be using less coffees so each can be identified in the cup, and we’ll be roasting for solubility as well as flavour, to ensure all components extract consistently when brewed.
Blending coffees, whichever approach you take, is much more complex than just mixing different quantities of beans together. While it is certainly fun to create your own blends at home by mixing coffees, for consistency and quality on a commercial basis, the process should be a lot more complex. And this, in part, is why we’ve always resisted creating bespoke blends for customers.
How do you cost in skill & knowledge?
We’ve developed our ability to blend coffees over a number of years and believe me it has been a process of ‘blood, sweat and tears’. I remember periods when we just could not get components to work together, and roast after roast was discarded. At the time it seemed like a crazy thing to do but all these years later we know it has paid dividends1.
It takes weeks of planning, roasting and tasting before we release a blend and we think it would be nigh on impossible to apply a cost to that. When we create our own blends, under our own logo, we are investing in our brand identity; the return on our investment of time and energy is in the increasing profile of our own business. By creating a blend for a third party it is likely that this would be lost.
It’s the start of a slippery slope
If we ever agree to create a blend for customer A, how can we then refuse customer B? What happens if we ever have customer C, D and E? It would be impossible to dedicate the time and effort necessary to manage multiple blends and we would likely end up in a position where we are simply mixing different quantities of coffee together for different customers. This is not blending!
The producer gets forgotten
The quality of any coffee is determined at the farm. From that point on, be it at the mill, in the hands of the exporter or importer, the roaster or the coffee brewer, the aim is not to mess it up! It’s the reason why all our coffees highlight the producer on the bag. Own label blends skew this relationship. The onus becomes firmly on the identity of the end brand, the desire to have an own-label product often outweighing any of the relationships which are part of the provenance of a product.
I’m not sure the end consumer is that bothered
At the end of the day the consumer just wants a great tasting coffee, well presented and made in an efficient and timely manner. If they enjoy the coffee they’ll come back for more (or buy a retail bag) because they’ve enjoyed it, not because of the label on the bag. I know what you’re thinking, it gives a business a unique selling point. Again my argument above takes precedent – if a consumer enjoys a coffee I’m pretty sure they won’t be too bothered that it is a unique product (that said, the opposite is probably true: if the coffee tastes bad they’ll probably be glad it’s not being sold elsewhere!).
My advice to anyone exploring the notion of a bespoke blend is ‘stop sweating the small stuff’! Focus on what you do well, the customer experience. Let us focus on what we do well, roasting coffee. Together let’s work as partners and allow both brands to flourish.
- Our discarded roasts don’t go to waste. As the coffee still tastes great (we just don’t want to blend it), we give it away to a local charity, the Calvert Trust. This allows their volunteers to enjoy great coffee while they are on site.