I'm opening a coffee roasting company in Auburn, Alabama. Any suggestions on espresso blending to start off? Roast profiles? How many espresso options should I offer to the community coffee shops to try and decide to carry? They all seem to want different tasting espresso than the other shops. Any advice or resources?

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i would love to offer my perspective on this. If you are just opening, and even if a roaster is established, I think that it is crucial to focus a lot of attention on one or two blends instead of a little attention on a lot of blends. You should get one really amazing signature blend, and then possibly augment your selections with a second contrasting blend. For instance, Kaldi's sig. blend is Espresso 700, we also offer a darker roast; Espresso Malta. You see this pattern by a lot of the industry leaders. There are companies that offer a lot more to there customers in terms of blendability, if you will, such as Counter Culture. This can snowball very quickly though. Counter Culture executes this extremely well, but it takeas a lot of resources, space, roasting capacity, and personel to maintain a huge list of offerings without going crazy.

top sum this up, focus on quality first, then hopefully quantity will flow out of a quality product. I would rather seel 1,000 parts of 2 items than 1,000 parts of 15 items. It is just a lot more manageable.

As far as how to blend and roast espresso: Here is some general advice. First, learn to be an amazing barista.
You, or your taster should have the ability to taste the coffees at different roast levels extracted PROPERLY as espresso. Second, take good nots on the different coffees you are tasting. Putting together a good blend is like putting together a good recipe. Most roasters look for a balanced experience when building an espresso: Sweet, bitter, bright, good body, and all together in unity, non outweighing the other. So, find components that offer one or more of these attributes and then blend them in proportion to how much of that attribute you would like present. There will be a lot of decision to make here. Some coffees may have a horrible body, but offer a beautiful acidity. So, how much do you want acidity vs. body determines how much of that coffee to use. Then there are the amazing coffees that offer all of the above. These are hard to find, amazing, expensive (usually... at least comparitively) and usually in high demand and short supply. building a blend is one of my favorite things about being a roaster. Lastly, determine that roast profile. This means determining if your blend is going to be a pre- or post-roast blend, how long of a roast, how hot to get the roast to, what color the beans should be roasted to (agtron) and what density loss you want to achieve (or not go beyond.) This is going to take you roasting a lot of coffee, scrutinizing those roasts and tasting a ton of coffee. TAKE GOOD NOTES!!

I know that I probably made this seem very daunting. Here are some simplification tips. Talk to your importer. If you have a good one, they will offer some really good advice on which coffees, and how to roast a specific coffee. See if any other roasters would be willing to share their recipes for their blends. This is usually tough. Most roasters are a pretty tight lipped group. Also, s you do this more and more, things will get easier. There is some element of intuition invloved here, like with cooking. Go with your gut. Do what YOU like. Don't anticipate what a customer may like. You are the expert and you will define your company through your personal taste.

I hope this helps. Feel free to contact me with any further questions. Know that there are a lot of people out there who are MUCH more knowledgeable and capable than I. Have a blast in this adventure!!

Joe
what kind of roaster are you working with? I worked at a shop with an Ambex and attended the roasting course and learned a TON about blending espresso. We did exclusively African coffee, so there was a little more to pay attention to as far as blending to get a good balance of acidity/body/sweetness. pre-blending vs. post-blending, different roast temperatures for different beans. I'm not sure if most roast companies offer courses, but it's worth looking into.
Start with just one, with the coffees and roast levels that work best for you. Make that perfect. Then expand from there. What would you rather be known for, roasting the best espresso blend, or roasting a bunch of pretty good ones?

Your customers have so many other ways to distinguish themselves other than what is in their espresso. Offer them custom espresso names, but don't broadcast that information so widely. Don't keep it a secret, just don't make a big deal about it.
If you are considering blending for espresso, you may wish to look up a two part article I wrote at the request of Roast Magazine on "Blending for Italian Espresso." They are available at our web site.

Part I is @: http://www.josuma.com/documents/Blending_reprint_Jan08.pdf ; and,
Part II is @: http://www.josuma.com/documents/Blending2_reprint_March08.pdf

They may also be available at the Roast Magazine site.

This is not a blend recipe, but more of an espresso blending philosophy or approach. I do not wish to pretend that this is the only way to do it.

You may pay attention to the statistical considerations if you are inclined to use more than five coffees in the blend. Good Luck with your effort.
Dr. J,

I remember that article. It was one of the better articles to appear in Roast in the last couple of years, I thought. The statistical stuff on shot to shot variance in relatively complicated blends, and blends with small percentage components, was fascinating. Really makes a lot of sense, when you consider how few beans are contained in a shot. A one or two bean difference can actually make a big difference in how such a shot will taste.

But on the flip side--

Do you think that simple/uncomplicated blends suffer more due to age, especially if a blend is based on coffees from the same hemisphere/continent (say, brazil and bolivia)? Unless you sub other, fresher origins as the crop year progresses--which you can do only if your bean flavor profiles are relatively simple, or one-dimensional--your blend in month 11 is going to be a shadow of what it was in month 2. It may be "consistent," but that doesn't matter a whole lot if it's baggy/woody/faded. An espresso blend with four or five coffees from different regions might never achieve real consistency--from month to month, or from shot to shot--but it will always have something interesting going on. As the pulp natural Brazil begins to fade, a new natural Ethiopia arrives. The Salvador might be losing its oomph, but the Colombia is just coming into its own. Etc. Thoughts?
Matt:

You have to keep the wishes of an espresso connoisseur separate from those of a cafe owner catering to a given customer base. The former is looking for exciting variations so he/she could have a new experience from day to day, week to week, or month to month. The cafe owner, much like a chef in a restaurant, is in the business of fulfilling customers expectations. The customer already knows what the espresso, cappuccino, or latte is supposed to taste like, just like it tasted on the previous visit. That is where consistency is most important.

There are several ways to combine these for the cafe. I would recommend a stable base espresso served all the time and a set of guest espressos that are rotated in and out. That obviously means more than one grinder.

With respect to the blend getting stale should be less of an issue with espresso blends compared to brewed coffee blends. If you take the Italian approach, wherein high acidity is considered a defect in espresso, one avoids highly acidic coffees in espresso blends. When coffee ages thru the crop year, it is the acidity that suffers the most. But if one is not using high acid coffees in the espresso blend, this effect is much more muted for espresso than it is for brewed coffee blends. Baggy, woody, faded,..., should never be a part of the Specialty Coffee vocabulary. Properly processed, bagged and stored specialty coffee should never get woody till after the next crop has come out.

There is a clever way to avoid this issue altogether. If you follow the formula in the article, one could use one of two or three coffees from various origins for the base coffee, e.g. a brazil, an Indonesian or a monsooned Indian, using only one at any given time. You can move from one to another as the coffee from one origin appears to age. One can do the same with the highlighter coffee, using one of two or three coffees for the flavor you wish to display in the espresso, say an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, a Guatemalan Antigua, or a Sulawesi Toraja, again using only one at a time. As before, one can rotate thru these as aging shows up in the espresso. You will be trading shot-to-shot, month-to-month consistency to gain some degree of excitement.

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