What’s the problem with a generic espresso blend?

I read this article with great interest last week on the God Shot blog:  Death to  generic espresso  blends… Although the principles within are sound in an ideal world, the “ideal world” doesn’t exist everywhere.

Firstly there are some truly outstanding “generic” espresso blends from artisan roasters available today. To give one example:  Union Hand Roasted‘s Organic Natural Spirit blend is so good it makes me want to cry! It’s bursting with juicy dark cherries and red’s all sitting on a bed of sweet caramel and chocolate. It’s a well crafted, thought-provoking “generic” espresso.

I live in an area of the UK that is somewhat behind the rest of the country when it comes to good coffee. Coffee culture is still confusing to many. To give you an idea of what I mean it was only last year that the first chains came into town. Before that the good folk of North Devon had to put up with the dross that was being doled out from local cafe’s. (aside from a few notable exceptions who are no longer trading) When the house I work for “Boston Tea Party” came to town 3 years ago it was a revelation! Quality blends, perfect espresso, Latte art, textured milk! We now run 2 “generic” espresso blends. Our House Blend, a smooth & nutty espresso is the “I just want a coffee” blend, the “ooh, not too strong” blend. Our dark roast blend is a rich fruity and sweet espresso with lots of caramel and dark chocolate  and a seasonal guest. (Currently Finca San Lois from El Salvador) . We do this to satisfy every pallet.  I would say that only about 20% of these customers drink the coffee and think about their palate . This is clear when explaining the characteristics of each blend……To the other 90% it’s just a really nice enjoyable coffee or even the daily caffeine cup that’s  ” not too strong, not too weak, and not bitter”. For a lot, the coffee is something that is just there to flavour the Textured milk  and I’m ok with that.  This 80% don’t know that the espresso had been exracted beautifully, or that the milk is silky textured with a tulip atop and that the barista making it has devoted years to fine tune his art….. and that’s fine. We make the best damn coffee in North Devon and they come back because it tastes good. It means I’ve done my job.

Anyway, back on point, they are creatures of habit. The fact that we offer 2 house blends and a guest is perplexing enough, let alone changing the blend with the coffee seasons. Customers are fickle. If they all had the palate of a pro barista (remember that ideal world I was talking about) then replacing generic espresso blends with seasonal ones would be great. I love that Square Mile Coffee Roasters are doing this and in London it probably works well. (on a side note, I’d be intrigued to learn how many of James’ customers are using a changing seasonal espresso as their only blend) .

In other less coffee-established parts of the UK I don’t think this would work. To say that ;

”  all the coffee companies that are offering their “house” blend and then a seasonal single origin are the equivalent of a restaurant offering a bunch of really cool, changing and interesting appetizers and then roast beef with mash and veg. It’s weak and its unacceptable

is in my opinion elitist and short-sighted.

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~ by Lee Wardle on February 13, 2010.

18 Responses to “What’s the problem with a generic espresso blend?”

  1. To answer the question posed directly at me (how many customers use the seasonal as their only espresso blend):

    All of them. Except the ones that do a little single estate espresso alongside it.

    You see I think we grossly underestimate the general public. I don’t think it is fair to those outside of London, who have the same taste buds as everyone else, to say that something might work in London but not elsewhere. It works in my mum’s little cafe in rural Cumbria.

    I think Chris Tacy’s point is a lot to do with how businesses wish to present themselves to the consumer. If you are offering three coffees, you are broadcasting the message that different coffees do indeed taste different (a simple, but very important one). I think this gives you a perfect opportunity to explore coffee further.

    You rightly distinguish between people who drink coffee with a focus on how it tastes – if these were wine drinkers would they be buying the same bottle every single day? Those who enjoy coffee in milk would probably find it harder to distinguish the changes in our seasonal espresso – they want clean, sweet, well-prepared coffee with good milk and they get it.

    Most of the work preaching seasonality has already been done, people immediately understand and appreciate the idea.

    None of this is to say that I think what Union do is in any way wrong. They buy great coffee, they roast with care and attention and present coffee that is a great exemplar of their coffee philosophy and I think the market can not only tolerate, but needs diversity of styles and opinions.

  2. I’m really pleased that customers are using the seasonal varient as the main blend. It’s tells us a lot about where coffee is going.

    I totally agree about the wine statement, which is why we and many others offer a seasonal espresso blend alongside our house espresso (s)

    As far as the palete’s outside of London go I don’t agree. Here in North Devon there are very few people that have a palete for coffee. Seriously! YOu did a talk in Barnstaple before, mainly to business owners, I know most of them and indeed what their view of coffee is.

    I agree that seasonal changing blends is a good idea, but I still maintail that it has to sit along side a staple. At least at the moment and certainly where we are.

    We are the only house to offer a guest bean In North Devon, let alone a choice of 2 house blends too. How long have coffee houses been doing this in London? There is a lot of catching up to do first!

    Regards

    Lee

  3. It would appear that at least someone agrees with me! http://bit.ly/90uoUJ

  4. Why, yes, I certainly do. I am so very pleased with the reasonable tone to most of the responses to the God Shot piece. And the tone was my main problem.

    Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have a great variety of approaches to the espresso blend quandry: Blue Bottle serves a different (but consistent within each store) blend at each of their cafés and Ritual changes out their espresso every month for something brand new. I love it.

    I also love that I can count on, say, Four Barrel’s jammy and rich espresso blend every time I go into their café or, for that matter enjoy a slightly different take on it at each wholesale account that offers it. As a matter of fact, that’s another aspect of a “generic” (god, I really hate that characterization) espresso blend that the God Shot piece failed to take into account: what that blend tastes like in the hands of a different barista, on a different machine, with a different dose, temp or shot time. There’s more to it than simply the contents of the blend.

  5. […] What’s the problem with a generic espresso blend?, wherein a fellow coffee blogger echos (or did I echo him?) my own personal sentiments about a particularly nasty article on God Shot. […]

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