Bean of the Month: El Salvador Sapphire | August 2022

Pippa McCreery @ 2023-02-22 12:02:11 +1000

When is a Single Origin Coffee a Blend?

This title sounds like a riddle, and sometimes reading coffee bags can feel a little like being Alice at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, being asked about ravens and writing desks.

The coffee world can be guilty of wielding jargon like Andrew Lang’s famous 'drunk with a lamppost' saying - using it for support rather than illumination.

String enough of the right terminology together and it gives the air of unassailable expertise, without actually saying much. 

One of those words which could use a little light is BLEND.

In general language blend is both a verb and a noun, describing the act of mixing together two or more things, and the resulting combination. And so it is in coffee: to blend is to mix different coffees together and it’s also the word used to describe that mix.

This process can happen at any stage, and the components can be very closely alike, or completely disparate.

El Salvador Sapphire is an example of blending at the farm. Sapphire is the name the Cafe Pacas family have given to a blend of harvests from 4 different parts of the Pacas family’s properties.

They’re all the same kind of coffee tree, they come from quite close by, but because traceability is extremely important to these coffee producers, they note the blending in their description.

At the same time, the Sapphire is what we would term a ‘single origin coffee’ as it is the product of one specific place.

The same is true when we zoom out slightly to the regional level, co-operatives made up of small-holder farmers - producers with an acre or two - will pool their harvests into a single batch, in order to create a big enough lot of coffee to sell on the international market.

This blending of work often has the flow on effect of lifting the standards across the board for all participants. Shared harvests and shared results naturally promote the sharing of resources, and the collective is able to negotiate in a way the individual can not.

It’s this ability to make something greater than the sum of its parts which drives all blending, at any level.

El Salvador Coffee Farmer

Mixing at Merlo for Maximum Flavour

Merlo mixes together a combination of East African coffees to make the Zuri blend, because together the flavours of Ethiopia, Zambia, Rwanda and Kenya create something which is all at once, bright and bold, rich and warm, chocolatey and berry-sweet.

It’s a flavour profile designed to tell the drinker about the region, in a particularly delicious way.

This kind of blending - the incorporation of beans from different countries at a roaster like Merlo - can be done before or after the roasting process, with different results.

Pre-roasted Blending

Espresso blend is mixed together as green, unroasted coffee. Pre-roast blending is like making a delicious sauce: cooking the ingredients together means they infuse one another.

As with sauce, where the garlic, onion, tomato and herbs blend together to create one big, bold taste, the beans from Papua New Guinea, Colombia, Costa Rica and Kenya work with one another in the Espresso blend to create one big coffee flavour, bursting with dark chocolate, perfectly balanced with a smooth finish.

Coffee Roasting and blending

Post-roasted Blending

Post roast blending is more like making a salad - the interplay of flavours is still there, but the individual flavours are more distinct.

Our Arriba Arriba blend is an example of this, where beans from Colombia, Costa Rica and Nicaragua are roasted to perfection and then mixed together.

Just like when you eat a forkful of salad and experience the flavours of tomato, cucumber and lettuce simultaneously, but separately, so these three Central American coffees sing harmoniously with their own flavours, creating a mild and sweet mix of honey, milk chocolate and light apricot.

In Summary

A blend is both the process and the result, and it can even be a single origin when it’s mixed together at the source. A blend can be a melding of crops from different countries, even different continents.

It’s about knowing your ingredients and working to find a way to help them shine.

Blending is crafting something unique, with its own flavour profile, which tells its own story. Find the one that speaks to you from our range of Signature Blends.