A great cup of coffee is no accident, at least as far as blending is concerned. Seventy-nine per cent of the coffee we roast is blended; we've always been known for it. Gargantuan flavors like Garuda have become almost synonymous with our brand, with one blend so popular — Major Dickason's — it outshines both the blend of the House, and the roast of the French. (France is not particularly famed for roasting, nor grows any coffee, but she still exports chic).
Why? It turns out that the craft of combining coffees is one of those practices where your intent is as important as what you actually do. If you blend to save cost, to pass off a mass of innocuous coffee, or tart it up with 10 per cent of the good stuff, you're likely to succeed. You're also kidding yourself. Closing our eyes and trusting our taste, we all know that quality in the cup cannot be faked.
This is the foundation of our philosophy of blending, the first rule of which is that no coffee is too good to blend. Hacienda La Minita, the most heralded coffee of Costa Rica? We blend with it. Natural, sun-dried, milled by stone wheel, genuine Mocha from the place that gave Arabica its name? We blend with it. Not only single-estate, but the single finest estate, from the highest part of the most perfect place on earth to grow coffee, the volcano-ringed valley of Guatemala Antigua, Finca San Sebastian? We blend with it.
What do you suppose was in those bins in Mr. Peet's shop on Vine Street in Berkeley all those years ago? The coffees his customer and collaborator, Key Dickason, dipped into when he cultivated the habit of concocting different blends? Mr. Peet had just launched a coffee revolution, bringing the most extraordinary Guatemala and Costa Rica, Sumatra and Sulawesi, Kenya and Ethiopia to these shores. They were by definition the finest coffees available in that moment. The secret of Major Dickason's Blend, then and now, is that it is comprised entirely of top single-origin coffees, coffees that sing on their own, but sound even more beautifully in chorus.
That's the reason to blend, and the only reason, in our view. To create something better. To combine exotic origin characteristics, the body of one coffee and the acidity of another. To produce a set of sensations that simply isn't possible in a single coffee, no matter how spectacular.
Which brings us to our second rule: All the coffees must be good enough. We don't buy generic, neutral, or filler grades for any purpose: what the Trade calls "blenders." If a coffee's in a Peet's blend, it has an extraordinary aroma, taste, or mouth-feel to contribute; it's different from the other fine coffees in the recipe, and — if it comes to it — is well worth drinking on its own.
Here, a blend is beautiful.
Doug Welsh is Peet's Roastmaster, and steward of our blends.