I distinctly remember the lightning bolt moment when standing in front of the wide array of coffees available on Monmouth Coffee’s stall in Borough Market, I realised that coffee wasn’t just this ubiquitous drink, but came from a whole range of countries and regions, each with their own unique flavours and stories and my passion began.
At Cast Iron, we fully embrace this diversity with our single origins coffee offerings. There is nothing more exciting than discovering a coffee and to get as close to the source as possible, accepting all the subtleties and seasonal variations in flavour and availability. This was why we started our business.
Nothing is as exciting as a five bag microlot arriving in the workshop from a small producer we have discovered, knowing that our customers are going to love it and that it will be gone in just a few weeks. So why on earth do we bother offering a coffee blend, the complete antithesis of our original inspiration?
WHY WE BLEND
It is all about being consistent and keeping things simple.
Single origin coffees can and often do confuse. When you run a cafe and a customer really enjoys a rich chocolatey flat white they are likely to come back. When they do if you are now serving something different, possibly something bright and fruity, although it maybe equally delicious, it will not be what they were expecting and you run the risk that they will be frustrated and disappointed.
A solution may be to offer a variety of different coffees but for many people standing in a café queue, with the barista waiting to take your order this can be alienating, there can be far too much information, a bewildering number of words to have to take on board quickly. With speciality coffee, we walk a really fine line between the boundless energy and enthusiasm we have for the products we produce and appearing a bit sanctimonious and pleased with ourselves. It is just coffee. Blends can be the perfect bridge.
A blend is a mixture of coffees brought together to provide a specific flavour profile which can be repeated indefinitely. A blend takes away the confusion, it offers one key attribute above all else, consistency, both in flavour and availability. Whilst the individual components may and will change over time, the job of the roaster is to maintain a constancy of flavour. This is vitally important for a wholesale customer trying to introduce speciality coffee into a new area where the customer demographic has been bought up on coffee from chains. Consistency is crucial as it helps new staff serve up a great product without over complicating things. Its baby steps, that banging AA Kenyan ‘spro can be introduced as a second coffee once your new customers have put down their pitchforks and burning crosses because you don’t serve 20oz lattes.
HOW WE BLEND
We developed our signature blend Unity from the ground up starting with the base idea of how we wanted it to taste. We wanted it to have enough strength and depth of flavour to punch through a larger milk drink but still taste sweet and awesome if drunk as a straight espresso. We wanted a coffee that was really easy to use and could be sold at a competitive price point. Blending allows us this flexibility, as we can play around with the balance, body and sweetness of the coffee.
Once we had a good idea of the flavour profile we were trying to achieve - low acidity, sweet layers of chocolate and full-bodied enough to punch through milk, we started to chose the actual components that would make this happen. This bit is tricky, is often time consuming and involves a lot of trial and error. What seemed like a great flavour combination can end up tasting like cat litter and drinks which taste great can end up being too finicky for a final production coffee. So when it actually works and the feedback from customers is overwhelmingly positive, it’s incredibly satisfying.
At Cast Iron we post roast our blends. That means once chosen each component of our blend is treated as a unique single origin in its own right with its own roast profile to obtain the flavour we want but also (and this is boring but really important) to match the solubilities of the other components. The roasted beans are then weighed for the correct blend ratio and finally blended together. We use a concrete mixer blending 20 kilo batches at a time. Its labour intensive and time consuming but worth it to obtain the final product we strive for.