Why are Espresso Blends so Complex?

The complexity of an espresso blend is something very important for the roaster. It is part of his “savoir faire” and his own knowledge. By coffee roasters, the recipe is the identity of the brand and therefore all recipes are well protected against hard copy. As recipes can’t be protected by IP, a way to do it is to complexify the blends, but does it make sense to complexify espresso blends in organoleptic point of view? I have some doubts, but it is my personal opinion based on years of cupping.

Espresso blends are typical for mainstream coffees. Lavazza imposed the famous 70-30 ratio (arabica-robusta) for espresso blends, first in Italy, then all over the world. It was in the eighties. Competitors followed this pseudo rule and still today, roasters continue to sell espresso blends with this “golden” ratio…

Today, things changed a lot and you can find all types of espresso blends from 100% Arabica to 100% robusta (not common to be honest). The well-known Illy caffé claims that all their blends are made with arabica coffees only. The Illy espresso blend contains 9 pure arabica coffees. Assuming that the ratio of the different coffees is not 100/9, but is based on a specific recipe, the probability to find one pure origin at low percentage in the blend (< 10%) is very high. Then, does it make sense to blend so many coffees, part of them probably at percentages less than 10%?

What about the espresso shot?

Furthermore, are espresso shots still consistent with such low percentages in a blend?

Let us make a simple calculation:

20.0g of coffee beans = 150 beans (see photos)

8.0g = 60 beans

Well, 10% of 60 give 6 beans and 5% of 60 give 3 beans… I let you make your own conclusions…

I have seen so many times percentages such as 4% X, 6%Y or 8%Z.

Based on that simple observation, I will never use percentages less than 10% for espresso blends. It could make sense for price standardization. For example, you can claim that you put 4 Central American coffees in your blend, but you know that all of them have very similar organoleptic properties. So, the goal in that case is to prevent or smooth price variations if one specific origin becomes too expensive.

In my point of view, you should be able to create espresso blends with maximum 5 different coffees, but I am sure that a lot of people will not agree with me. So, I am waiting for your points to make me change my mind!

Ennio Cantergiani

Coffee and beverage expert, SCA Authorized trainer & certifier (Barista, Brewing and Roasting modules). Coffeologue training by Coffee Consulate in Mannheim. Consultant for coffee expertise for several international companies. R&D and Quality manager, specialist in process optimization and global quality management (ISO22000, FSSC) with strong operational experience in Europe, Africa and Middle-East. Strong competences in project and team management (Black Belt Lean Six Sigma). I am working today in process optimization, starting with coffee pods/capsules production using DMAIC methodology. I am also very active for the overall training program within the SCA Swiss chapter. My last successful project in the coffee industry is the creation of “L’Académie du Café” in Geneva where people can learn all aspects of the fantastic coffee world. All SCA modules, latte art and specific roasting and cuptasting trainings are now available. There is, today, a strong need to learn coffee like we learned wine and wine tasting in the past decade. Expertises: Barista, Brewing, Roasting, Espresso, BlackBelt Lean Six Sigma, ISO22000:2005 FSSC, Beverage technology, Quality Assurance, Analytical chemistry, Sensory Analysis and Statistics, Quality Control, Coffee Technology, Flavour Microencapsulation.

    3 thoughts on “Why are Espresso Blends so Complex?

    • What is the point of creating a blend of espresso with 5 to 10 different coffees? I don’t know how this would make the espresso more amazing? When I am looking to blend and roast coffee i am trying to bring things to the palate , fragrance and visual ecstatic. I just don’t think you need 5 to 10 different coffees to achieve creating an amazing espresso. This is just my own personal opinion.

    • We are making blends with no more than 3 differents green coffees and using differents rosting points to highlight/hide some flavors, I think if we use more the 3 green coffees we lose all the special features of each coffee.

      Bell Coffee – Argentina

    • You are forgetting something. If you blend before roasting, during roasting a chemical process starts. Flavor, smell and taste are blending. Compare it with Bolognese sauce…. If you cook your tomatoes, your meat, unions etc… separately and you put them together, it doesn’t taste like Bolognese, but if you cook it together it is Bolognese.
      The same with coffee! Your blend tastes different comparing to your singles. And than its not is big difference in taste when you have to change 1 single or more. So make the calculation again if you change 1 of the 5 and 1 of the 9 singles. what is your taste difference.?

      I do not agree or disagree 4-5-or 9 different green coffees, my blends are 4, 3 or 2.
      One of 4 green coffees with 3 equal screen-sizes and 1 smaller size.

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