Like so very many things in life, roasting coffee is both more meaningful and rewarding when you go about it with a goal in mind. It’s one thing to fling some of this bean and some of that into the roasting chamber. It’s something else again to fling your beans about with purpose. My current goal is to create a Yule blend for the coming holidays. In the palate of my imagination I can taste it… a spicy aroma with a hint of clove and citrus, full body, and a finish that’s both slightly smoky, and sweet.
Where to start? By tasting a lot of single origins, at a number of different roasts.
I know, for example, that my reserve of ’98 aged Sumatra Mandheling will provide the body that I’m looking for, and it definitely has a pungent, smoky quality to it. But it *is* a little punchy in terms of flavor, and it takes a pretty aggressive roast to tame its bite. I’ve found a Mexican coffee, Chiapas -La Alianza, that provides some nifty spicy flavors –in particular, clove– but they’re quickly muted at the onset of second crack.
Now I’ve got two coffees, each of which I’d target individually at a different roast. That doesn’t automatically preclude me from roasting them together… the Mexican coffee is fairly high-grown and dense, particularly as compared to the Sumatra. It’s going to take more heat [or time] to roast the Mexican bean. And sure enough, in the roaster the Chiapas is just reaching a mahogany-colored Full City roast as the Sumatran is showing its first signs of oil. Happiness.
Ethiopian coffees are renowned for their citrus qualities, the next element in my blend. Rather than a Yirgacheffe, though [maybe the penultimate citrusy coffee] I’ve chosen a Harar that leans more toward a tangy apricot zest, and that doesn’t lose its citrus tang when it’s roasted dark enough to soften its “wild” quality. And I happen to have quite a lot of it lying around, the result of a one-time bargain buy. It doesn’t, however roast well with the Mexican and Sumatran coffees that are already in my blend, so it’s on its own.
These three coffees, aged Sumatra, Mexican Chiapas and Ethiopian Harar, together create the flavor profile that I’m targeting, but the blend is still a bit ragged around the edges. The Harar sings a little too high above the others [or perhaps a bit more loudly] in terms of its flavor. And merely playing with proportions fails to bring it all together…. I need another coffee to smooth out the flavor profile –particularly to bridge the gap between the Chiapas and the Harar– and to round out the flavors in general. And if it added a bit more spice aroma, it couldn’t hurt.
I find what I’m looking for in a small auction lot from Kenya — the ’01 Gakui Farm AB. It’s an absolutely stand-out bean as a single origin roast [my current favorite, actually]. It’s hugely flavorful, very smooth, and quite the chameleon — its flavors change quite a lot, depending on the roast profile. Blended in a roast with the Harar it yields a bit more muted citrus and just a hint of nutmeg. Most important, it brilliantly rounds out the top notes of the cup.
So, the final Yule blend is both a pre-roast and a post-roast blend of four beans. Harar is roasted with Gakui. Chiapas is roasted with aged Sumatra. The two roasts are blended together and… well, I think it’ll be a happy holiday.