Blends fill our cups and warm our hearts and yet, they don’t often get their due. Like a reclusive celebrity, the air of mystery that enshrouds blends has allowed unsavory rumors to flourish. Who hasn’t cynically wondered if blends are just a graveyard for B-list coffees? Having just launched a splashy limited edition blend, Wilder, we rounded up questions from our social media friends and set out to give everyone a peek behind the curtain into our philosophy of blending.
Q | Do you blend before roasting or after?
A | Verve follows a split roast or post-roast blending approach, meaning we blend after roasting. Combining components before roast makes operations simpler, but it doesn’t really serve the coffee. Roasting components separately allow us to optimize the individual qualities that make them special and also reduces the risk of inconsistent development. Imagine you’re making pasta, but you run out of angel hair and in a panic, you throw some fettuccine into the boiling water. Chances are, some of your pasta will be overdone and mushy, while some of it will be underdone and gummy. The same tragedy could befall your blend if you combine a huge bean like a maragogype with a smaller, denser bean like a peaberry in the roaster.
Q | Do you start the blend creation process with a desired flavor profile in mind?
A | Sometimes, yes. A good example is Sermon, one of our most beloved all-purpose blends. We always want Sermon to be structured and dessert-like, with identifiable notes of blueberry and cocoa. To achieve this, we slot in coffees from Brazil, Ethiopia, and Colombia. Much like replacing your kid’s guinea pig while they’re away at camp, hopefully, the change won’t be too noticeable.
Q | What does a blend achieve that a single origin cannot?
A | In a word, consistency. Coffee is a fruit -- technically a drupe, like a cherry or a plum -- and therefore a seasonal product. Depending on its characteristics, green coffee will store well for quite a while, but some amount of perceptible change is inevitable. Really, blends are a lesson in the nature of reality -- relentlessly impermanent, and at the same time, poetically cyclical. Take as an example our flagship blend, Streetlevel. All year long, this trusty coffee is on offer at all of our cafes. At the same moment you’re sipping an iced Streetlevel latte in the Los Angeles sun, someone a world away is grabbing a Streetlevel cappuccino before they dash off to catch their train at Shinjuku Station. I mean, I can’t say that definitively, because I don’t know how time zones work. Every year, Streetlevel undergoes a transformation as breathtaking as the leaves changing in autumn, as its components shift from Guatemalan coffees to a Honduran-Colombian makeup. Paradoxically, this change maintains the blend’s flavor profile and identity.
Q | What origins blend best? Would you mix different regions?
A | It depends on what you’re looking for in the final product. Generally, coffees from different regions have different qualities to contribute. A natural processed coffee from Brazil will give your blend dense, jammy sweetness and structure, while a wet-processed coffee from Kenya will contribute complexity and citric high notes. We certainly do mix different regions. For example, a Colombian blend could contain coffee from Huila and Cauca, growing regions with distinct identities. Another blend might pair up coffee from different continents, such as Wilder, which has components from Nariño in Colombia and Kiambu county in Kenya.
Q | What are your thoughts on blending super high-quality beans?
A | Short answer, all of our blend components are super high quality. There’s a generally agreed-upon grading standard for Arabica coffee, and all of the coffee we purchase is at the tippy top of that scale. Our job is to honor the coffee, and in turn honor the human effort that went into its cultivation, production, and processing. Sometimes, individually fantastic coffees can produce a blend that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Again, Wilder is a great example of this. Separately, each of these coffees (Kiganjo from Kenya and Yacuanquer from Colombia) are self-contained little universes of flavor, but something different happens when you pair them. Think of the Avengers -- clearly, their individual talents are not wasted by working as a team, or else S.H.I.E.L.D. would have left Mark Ruffalo alone to distribute Toms or whatever.
Q | What’s the best way to brew a blend?
A | The best way to brew a blend is, however, you like to brew it! Each of our blends is designed with versatility in mind, but they all have their individual strengths. Vancouver, our decaf blend, makes a great shot of espresso, while The 1950, our Ethiopian blend, yields a pourover with notes of peach and warm spice. Paired with steamed milk, Sermon tastes like a slice of hot blueberry pie, and Seabright shines served from a french press at the breakfast table. Just get out there and explore!
We believe the coffee experience is our responsibility from seed to cup. Coffee is our craft, our ritual, our passion. It drives us and inspires us. With this simple truth and responsibility we are bridging the gap from farmlevel to streetlevel.