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Have you ever wondered what makes one coffee a breakfast blend while another is not? The simple answer is that most breakfast blends are light-to-medium roasts with bright acidity and smoothly balanced flavors.
They are specially blended to a flavor profile that most people enjoy in the morning. The more complex answer lies at the intersection of coffee chemistry and the science of marketing.
Recently, I was hanging out with family when someone asked me a question I’d never even considered answering: what makes a coffee a “breakfast blend”? And that’s actually a pretty good question.
While there is no actual definition of “breakfast blend” in the coffee industry – any coffee company can use the term to describe any of their coffees – there are sound reasons why most breakfast blends have similar flavor profiles
When coffee buyers and roasters select coffees, they rate them in a number of specific areas.
Acidity – fruity, bright flavors that wake up your taste buds. Acidity isn’t a measure of sourness or bitterness. It’s more like a measure of the tang a coffee has.
Body – how “heavy” a coffee is. You can get an approximate idea of what “body” is by thinking about how different whole milk feels in your mouth than skim milk.
Aftertaste – how long the flavor lasts in your mouth after you swallow, as well as how pleasant or objectionable it is.
Flavor – the specific flavors that can be identified in a coffee when you taste it.
When roasters blend coffee, they are usually aiming for a specific flavor profile. Coffee is an agricultural product, and like all produce, different kinds of coffee beans have very different flavors. The flavors are affected by climate, growing conditions, soil chemistry, processing and type of coffee bean. A coffee from Ethiopia usually tastes very different than one grown in Brazil, and a Caturra coffee plant grown in Brazil will taste different than a Bourbon coffee plant grown in Brazil. And, just to make things even more difficult, the coffee beans from the exact same tree can taste very different from one year to the next if the weather conditions were very different – and if the farmers change the way they process and dry the coffee, you’ll get another flavor difference.
With all of these differences going on, coffee roasters face a rather unique conundrum – how to make sure their coffee always tastes the same.
The solution is to blend coffees from different farms, regions and varieties together until they get a consistent flavor profile that emphasizes the qualities and flavors they want in their specific blend. Once they’ve created the flavor profile they want, they can recreate it again and again – though they may also have to adjust it from year to year to account for flavor differences in the current crop.
Now we get to the nugget of the question: the flavor profile of the typical breakfast blend. This is where coffee companies turn to the science of marketing to learn what flavors coffee drinkers want in a morning coffee. What they’ve found is that people like their morning coffee to be brightly acidic, smooth, balanced and rich in flavor. To get that particular flavor profile, they’ll usually turn to South American coffees – especially Brazilian and Colombian coffees, which are known for their consistency and balance – and blend them with a more flavorful Central American or Indonesian coffee to amp the body slightly and smooth the sharp edges of the acidity. They then blend it between light and medium roast, which preserves the acidity, brings out the balance and keeps most of the caffeine in the final product.
How common is this particular mix of coffees in breakfast blends? Here’s a quick rundown of some of the best-known coffees that are labeled “breakfast blend” by the roasters.
Green Mountain Coffee Breakfast BlendClassic, lively, vibrant New England breakfast cup that offers a “snappy, crisp and citrusy Central American coffee matched with the sweetness, body and depth of an Indonesian bean”
We reviewed this coffee recently and really loved it. It’s a rich blend of Central and South American coffees in a medium/dark roast mix. The resulting coffee is bright, sweetly acidic, smooth and medium-bodied.
Melitta doesn’t specify exactly which countries they source their beans from for Breakfast Blend, but they do characterize it as having “smooth flavor with bright character” in a light roast coffee.
Like Melitta, Starbucks doesn’t specify the origin countries for the coffees in their Breakfast Blend, but they do characterize it as “crisp and tangy with a touch of citrus, lighter body and balanced flavor” and note that it is lighter than their typical roast.
Tully’s Breakfast Blend is an extra bold selection, but it features a similar taste profile to other morning blends. It’s characterized as mellow and mild with bright citrus notes in a light roast with smooth, balanced body.