• QA 081
    Why is green coffee blended?
    Why is green coffee blended and why is this practice sometimes referred to in less than positive terms in the specialty trade?
    Asked by:
    Researcher - South Africa

    Most coffee sold is blended - usually only specialty coffee roasters offer straight coffees, i.e. exclusively from individual origins and mostly at very high prices.  However, we do not share the belief held by some that blended coffees are necessarily always inferior to straight origin coffees: it all depends on what the blend consists of, and at which market segment it is aimed. There are blended coffees that easily outclass some of the 'straight origin coffees' one finds on the average retail shelf…

    To clarify the practice of blending the following…

    The global market for coffee consists of three broad quality segments:

    Exemplary quality: Coffees with a high intrinsic value because of their fine or unique cup quality (taste). Usually of quite limited availability and mostly retailed under straight origin or estate names. Because by their nature exemplary coffees are of limited availability their adherents usually know this and accept that their favourite coffee may not always be available, and may not taste exactly the same from year to year. Limited availability translates into high prices, i.e. a marketing advantage.

    High quality or premium brands: Good tasting coffees, well presented but not necessarily visually perfect. Retailed both as straight origins and as blends. This quality band is much broader and includes a good number of today's specialty coffees. Also produced by leading multinational coffee companies and marketed through supermarkets. High quality or premium brands are expected to be available always, and to taste the same, also always. Therefore, for such a coffee to be marketed as a straight origin, the supply must be large enough to be offered throughout the year. If not then the only option is to create the required quality from the mixing, the blending of a number of compatible coffees that, between them, can offer year-round availability.

    Mainstream quality: Coffees of average quality, reasonably well presented but certainly not perfect. Offers an average taste experience. Probably accounts for over 90% of the world market. Obviously then mainstream coffees are produced, traded, and roasted in large quantities. Most are blends for two main reasons: large roasters cannot rely on just one or two origins for security of supply and, more often than not, consumer tastes in different markets cannot be satisfied by just a single origin in any case.

    To summarise: 

    • Blending a number of compatible coffees creates a taste profile that can be maintained, also when individual origin availability changes. If subsequently a particular coffee is not available then it is replaced by another (or others), always maintaining an unchanged taste profile.
    • Blending broadens the roaster's choice of raw material and so enhances supply security: availability does not depend on a single origin only. Also, coffee is available when needed.
    • Blending aims to maintain the preferred flavour profile at the lowest possible cost. This means that coffees are inter-changed, not only on the basis of quality but also on the basis of their cost. The more flexible the blend the greater the money saving possibilities, a fact that unfortunately at times clashes with the quality requirements, especially in the lower end of the market…

    Posted 06 March 2006

    Related chapter(s):
    Related Q & A:
    QA 079