Death to Generic Espresso Blends (and generic thinking)

So much of coffee (at least at the high end - in the craft / artisan sector) is improving. The old methods and concepts are being re-evaluated, questioned and in many cases rejected. New models and approaches are being explored. And, as a result, coffee in improving.

But there is one thing that we seem to be passing by (or ignoring) for the most part.

Our espresso blends are far too often generic and weak - and our approach to creating espresso blends is dated, flawed and also generic.

It's time to change that.

At present it seems like most of the good coffee companies are trying to address the issues with their espresso blends by ignoring them - by instead introducing single origin espressos as an alternative. This allows them to express seasonality, to produce espressos that are not generic and to continue to progress.

But this is cheating - and is amateur.

Everyone who has cooked professionally knows that any good untrained cook can create great appetizers. You're working in one dimension with one palette. But it's plated entrees that separate the amateur from the pro. Now you have to work with a complex combination of not just ingredients but component dishes. This requires a kind of thinking and approach and palate that few amateurs possess.

Right now 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.

So what is the problem with these espresso blends?

I feel that it is largely due to the thinking behind them. Most commercial espresso blends are the product of formulaic thinking. It goes a little something like this:
  1. I need to create my house espresso blend
  2. It needs to be something that no-one will dislike
  3. It needs to work in milk and in shots
  4. It can't change in flavour over time
  5. What Brazil can I get right now that is affordable and will provide mid-tones?
  6. What Latin can I get that is affordable and will provide high notes?
  7. What's the least bad Indo I can get right now for the bass?
  8. And what East African can I get to provide fruit and wildness?
  9. Can I get enough of each one to not have to change formulation for a while?
There is literally something wrong with every single step of this.

What I would propose instead is a thought process that is far more simple but far more involved. Something like this:
  1. I need to create a seasonal espresso blend
  2. It needs to be something I like
  3. If it can't work in milk and as straight shots I need to create two or optimize for straight shots
  4. What great coffees are available right now that might work in espresso?
  5. What can I do with these coffees - what can I create?
  6. What do I want this all to taste like?
This is not impossible.
In fact there are companies that are doing this (Square Mile is at least getting close for example).

So why are so many otherwise good companies NOT doing this?
Why do so many espresso blends from decent roasters contain unacceptable indonesian coffees and defect ridden east african beans?

Laziness and fear.

Roasters... I'm calling you out.
Stop ignoring your espresso blend.
Be professional.
It's time to grow a pair.