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Single Origins, Melanges & Espresso Blends

August 22, 2005

For me, one of the true joys of home roasting is exploring the vast array of flavors available in different origins of coffees. Each area (and even each farm, and each year) has its own predominant and subtle flavors and aromas.

Most of the flavors of an origin are easiest to find in medium roasts — from a light “City” roast (just at “first crack” when the steam flashes out of the bean, and it goes from a yellow or tan to a brown) to slightly above “Full City” (a darker roast, just into “second crack”, and before the bean starts to get noticably oily).

At each level of roast, different flavors predominate — berries, citrus, floral notes, earthiness, chocolate, caramel, nuts… Some of these are present right away, some take 24 – 72 hours after the roast to develop.

Beyond the medium, the flavors of the roast itself (sweet, smoky) start to dominate the taste — go very far and all you can taste is the roast, even further and you lose the taste altogether. This would appear to me to be why “signature blends” from coffee houses looking for consistency from store to store and year to year go with a darker roast than I prefer — the taste of the roast masks the differences in different dates of each bean origin, and to a degree in the age of the roast itself. You get the “McDonalds” effect — it may not be magic, but it’s the same from coast to coast.

Lately my “go to” blend — my favorite roast that I go back to regardless of what I’ve been experimenting with — is a melange blend of a SHB (“Strictly Hard Bean”) Costa Rica Terrazu Dota.

To create a melange, you do multiple roasts, each at different levels, and blend them after roasting (a “post blend”). With the Costa Rica, I do roughly one third at a very light roast, just past City, a third just to the start of 2nd crack, and a third just a little ways into the 2nd crack, just to a hint of oiliness. The result (in a drip brew or press pot) tastes of bittersweet chocolate and hazelnuts, with a hint of smoke and a mysterious sweetness in the finish. It’s magnificent, and tastes like what coffee ought to taste like, to me.

Espresso produces a different coffee than drip brewing.

In a drip brew, you slowly infuse hot water through the grounds, and the flavors slowly seep into the water over a few minutes time. They’re different flavors at the start of the brew and the end, and a stir or swirl of the pot after brewing combines them into the final result. A press pot tends to produce much of the same flavors (at least it does if you use a metal filter on your drip brew.)

In espresso, on the other hand, hot water is forced through the grounds at high pressure, extracting the total results in 20 – 30 seconds (ideally.)

What you get (from the same beans) is often quite different.

The Costa Rican melange holds up quite well — the flavors are there, in much the same balance, but some of the “body” and mouth-feel of the coffee is lost.

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