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Are you ready to take the plunge into blending your own coffee? Very few coffees that you buy, whether at market or online, are a straight roast. Most are a combination of beans specially chosen to bring out the best in each of their flavors. Before you start blending your own coffee blends, there are a few things you should know about coffee qualities and characteristics, and what goes into making up the flavors of your favorite coffees.
While there are differences from expert to expert, the major elements of coffee flavor are acidity, body, sweetness and finish. How much each element contributes to the flavor of a coffee helps define the coffee’s flavor profile. When deciding on beans to blend, it’s important to keep in mind that coffee beans, like grapes for wine, are affected by many different factors. The quality of the soil, the amount of sun and rain and other factors during their growing season will affect the final flavor of the coffee beans. That flavor will be further affected by the way they are harvested, pressed and dried. Even ‘straight roasts’ are often blends of beans from many different lots from a single region to make up for weaknesses in individual harvests. Thus, your blend may vary from batch to batch, even if you think you’re using the exact same proportions and blends.
Acidity is the brightness or sharpness of coffee. It is often the most scrutinized quality of a coffee blend. Acidity can be intense or mild, round, edgy, elegant, wild or any one of hundreds of other qualities. It is the characteristic of coffee that is responsible for fruity or floral notes in the coffee’s aroma and flavor. Lighter roasts are generally more acidic than darker roasts.
Body is the “mouthfeel” of a coffee, how it feels against the tongue and against the roof of the mouth. It’s one of the most difficult qualities for a beginning coffee cupper to grasp. It’s best described as the weight or heaviness, the viscosity of the coffee in your mouth. A coffee with a lot of body feels like cream, or velvet.
Sweetness provides balance for the acidity. A coffee with a high degree of acid can be elevated to greatness if it has enough sweetness to offset the acidity. The sweetness brings out the other flavors, allowing them to be fully appreciated.
Finish is the flavor and feel that remains in your mouth after you swallow. It’s also sometimes called aftertaste. The aftertaste is a crucial part of the coffee’s flavor. A coffee with an incredible first impression can be ruined if the aftertaste is bitter of musty.
When you choose coffees for blending, you can use the strengths of one to balance the weaknesses of another. An Ethiopian Yrgacheffe, for instance, is likely to have a lot of body and be high in sweetness. Roasted to medium darkness, those flavors will be emphasized. Choose a bright coffee, one with snappy acidity, to lighten the body and contrast with the sweetness. Consider when you’re drinking the coffee and with what as well. A breakfast blend should be lighter and more acidic than an after-dinner coffee. A coffee blend with a lot of body and a high degree of sweetness is ideal for after dinner and can be a dessert in and of itself.
As you become more experienced with blending flavors, you’ll be able to experiment with home roasted coffee, varying the timing and degree of roasting as well as the variety of coffee beans used.