Monday, August 18, 2008

Tips for Brewing Iced Coffee

by Sarah Ferguson
Just because the weather’s turned hot doesn’t mean it’s time to forsake your beloved coffee. Whether it’s over ice, blended into a smoothie, or mixed into your favorite ice cream, coffee is a great addition to your summer festivities. So when you’re preparing for your big summer bash, don’t forget to brew a pot of your favorite java.

Here are a few tips on brewing iced coffee:
1. Always brew your coffee hot - Coffee is brewed at specific temperatures because it’s the best way to bring out the flavor nuances in the blend you’ve chosen. Brew your coffee as you normally would, and then pour it over ice to chill it. If you’re making small batches or individual drinks, try mixing your coffee and ice in your martini shaker.

2. Brew your coffee double strength - When you’re mixing a drink with ice, keep in mind that ice melts and waters down your drink - especially when you’re combining it with a hot beverage like coffee. If you’re brewing your coffee with a drip coffeemaker, it’s a good idea to use the same amount of water and double the amount of coffee you would use for a half pot. This way you get a double strength brew without worrying about overflowing your coffee filter.

3. A little bit of sugar goes a long way - If you like to sweeten up your iced tea, you’ll definitely want to add sugar to your iced coffee. But because coffee has a slightly bolder taste than tea when it’s chilled, adding a teaspoon or two to the entire batch is generally a good idea. Then set out sugar (and cream) with your iced coffee so your guests can add more to their individual drinks if they choose.

4. Serve your iced coffee with complementary desserts - Coffees from different origins have distinct flavor characteristics that pair very well with specific types of desserts. In order to enhance the flavor of these treats as well as your coffee, it’s important to serve them accordingly:
  • Fresh fruits and berries are especially common this time of year and are best complemented by lighter roasted coffees that have a high acidity. Try serving your berry pies and fruit tortes with our Java Joe’s Kenya AA or Guatemalan Huehuetenango.
  • When you’re serving creamy desserts like cheesecakes, custards, and lemon bars, you want to pair them with coffees that reflect their smoothness. Supreme Bean’s Organic Rainforest, Java Joe’s Costa Rican, and CafĂ© La Semeuse’ Classique perfectly harmonize with these types of velvety treats.
  • Dark, bold coffees coffees are best paired with rich chocolate and heavy cream-based desserts like mousse and chocolate cakes. For a decadent combination, serve your indulgent desserts with Java Joe’s Sumatra Mandheling or Supreme Bean’s Black & Tan.

The Acid-Alkaline Food Guide: Interview with the Author

by: Dr. Phil Domenico
(NaturalNews) I had the distinct pleasure of reading a paperback book by Dr. Susan E. Brown and Larry Trivieri, Jr. called the Alkaline-Acid Food Guide. It is a short read and quick reference on the extent to which foods affect the pH balance in our bodies. The book is based on compiled research from a number of important scientists who spent their life documenting the pH effect of thousands of foods and drinks. The authors do an admirable job of summarizing all this effort in a very simple manner for everyone to appreciate. Nevertheless, the 80-plus pages of food tables in their book are very useful even to professionals.

Their major premise is that the modern diet tilts the body’s pH toward the acid range, which has negative health consequences. The kidneys, lungs and skin must work overtime to balance body pH toward the alkaline. They do so by borrowing alkaline minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium) from bone and tissue. Muscle is also broken down to obtain alkalizing amino acids (i.e., glutamine). Over the long haul, bones weaken and muscles waste away to compensate, and aging is accelerated. Osteoporosis, muscle loss, kidney stone formation, joint and back problems are among the conditions associated with even a slightly acidic state. The authors also describe many other problems and chronic conditions that could result from what they term chronic, low-grade acidosis.

This book has already had a major impact on my eating habits, and I was already a health nut. Yet, it left me with a number of questions. Since Larry Trivieri and I are acquaintances, and grew up in the Rome-Utica area in upstate New York, I thought it would be fun to have a public dialogue with him. Larry is a noted author and lecturer in the natural and holistic healing world, and is publisher of the free online newsletter, The Health Plus Letter ( . He joins me here in this question-answer forum:

Dr. Felipe: Excuse my excitement, but I find this perspective on health fascinating, and very practical. I realize that you are not the first to introduce this notion of pH imbalance, but no one has ever made it as practical as you and Dr. Brown have. The first thing I did after reading your book was to make a list of the most acid-forming and alkaline-forming foods as a personal guide. Then I went out and bought every high alkaline-forming food I could find.

Larry: So, what have you observed thus far?

Dr. Felipe: I believe that I may be on the way to solving some old, nagging health issues with your guidance. The jury is still not out yet, but I do feel more energetic and happy, the weight is starting to drop, and my allergies are not as bad as before. I’ll know for sure come ragweed and dust-mite season. You say in the book that the benefits increase over time with consistency. I’m looking forward to that.

Larry: As with any health enhancing measure, eating according to the principles Dr. Susan Brown and I share in our book will have a cumulative effect in terms of the benefits people typically experience when they shift their diets to eating foods that are primarily alkalizing. Initially, many people won’t necessarily experience benefits that they notice. Even so, Susan’s research shows that benefits are occurring. Over time, as the body is no longer burdened with a steady diet of acidifying foods, more oxygen and nutrients are able to be delivered to the cells and tissues, and before long the benefits truly become noticeable. Common examples of such benefits include greater energy levels throughout the day, improved digestion, more restorative sleep, and less aches and pains, and so forth.

Dr. Felipe: According to your book, the most pervasive high acid-forming foods in the modern diet are carbohydrates. People should restrict these foods, if they are intent on balancing their pH (and losing weight). Specifically, under refined carbohydrates, you list bagels, biscuits, croissants, bread, sugar (including brown sugar), cakes, corn flakes, farina, noodles, brownies, cookies, corn syrup, croutons, crackers (including saltines), cupcakes, donuts, ice cream, pies, puddings, jams, jellies, pasta, pancakes, pastries, pizza, potato or tortilla chips, and waffles as highly acid forming. Is that a fair assessment?

Larry: Yes. And unfortunately, these are precisely the kinds of foods that are so prevalent in the so-called standard American diet, which goes a long way towards explaining why our nation is afflicted by so many chronic degenerative diseases. Since you mentioned sugar, I’d like to point out that sugar substitutes such as honey and maple syrup are not as acid forming, and that organic sucanat, brown rice syrup and molasses are alkalizing. Additionally, such sweeteners are more mineral-rich than the sugars that are so common in our standard diet, and it’s the mineral content of foods that is one of the primary factors that differentiates whether foods have an alkalizing or acidifying effect in the body.

Dr. Felipe: Certainly, excessive carbohydrates, particularly refined carbs, are known to be detrimental to insulin and heart health, but few experts speak to their effect on pH. What exactly do these foods do to tip the balance?

Larry: They create a bigger acid burden inside the body. This, in turn, forces the body to draw upon its alkali mineral stores, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, in an attempt to neutralize acid buildup. Most healthy people can afford to eat carbs so long as they aren’t refined and are consumed in moderation. But when refined carbs are eaten on a regular basis, chronic acidity, or acidosis occurs, eventually causing the body’s supply of alkali mineral stores to significantly diminish. These minerals are primarily stored in the bones, which explains why osteoporosis and other bone conditions are so prevalent in our culture, whereas, as Susan has verified firsthand in her travels and investigation of other cultures around the world, such diseases are virtually nonexistent among peoples whose diets are traditionally alkalizing.

Dr. Felipe: Most protein sources are acid forming according to your table. The high acid-forming proteins are beef, bacon, veal, hard cheese, mozzarella, swordfish, lobster, mussels and shrimp. Can you explain why this is so? Also, people are not about to give up these comfort foods. How do you recommend balancing this acid effect in a meal?

Larry: We discuss the answers to these questions in depth in our book. The short answer is that neither Susan nor I advocate eliminating protein foods from the diet. Despite the health claims made by proponents of vegetarianism, research shows that few people are suited to such diets, and that for the majority of people optimal health depends on a daily supply of protein-rich foods. The problem is that, in our culture, many people are consuming too much protein foods each day. Excessive protein adds to the body’s acidic burden just as refined and excessive carbs do. The solution is to make sure that you always include lots of alkalizing foods, especially green vegetables and so forth, with your meats, fish and poultry dishes, and to limit the size of your protein portions. For most people, a healthy portion equates to the size of their fist. Anything above that is usually too much.

Ideally, each meal should consist of between 60 to 80 percent alkalizing foods, and only 20 to 40 percent acidifying foods. Susan and I realize that most people are not going to drastically change their eating habits, no matter the scientific evidence that might encourage them to do so. That’s why our book provides so many food charts and tables that contain our nation’s most commonly eaten foods. Using the charts makes it easy for anyone to create predominantly alkalizing meals without having to make too many changes in their eating habits.

Dr. Felipe: While whole grains and many animal products (e.g., chicken, eggs, pork) are also acid forming, they are not as bad as white flour and red meat, according to your food tables. Some of these foods are nutrient rich and healthful in many respects, so it’s a relief that they are not highly acid forming. What about organic varieties of these foods? Are organic eggs or chicken any less acid-forming, or organic beef for that matter? One would think that a pasture-raised animal would produce far less acid. Certainly, it is far less inflammatory.

Larry: Organic food choices are always the best bet when it comes to healthy eating. Not only do organic foods contain a higher amount of beneficial nutrients, they are also free of the various additives, including dyes, antibiotics, growth hormones, and other factors that much commercially grown and raised foods contain. All such additives create further acidity in the body, not to mention the many other unhealthy effects they have.

Dr. Felipe: What makes fried food so acid forming? And, what does browning or charring foods do to their pH effect?

Larry: These types of cooking methods literally change the chemical composition of foods, making them more difficult to digest and significantly increasing their acidifying effects in the body. In fact, one of the primary reasons browned, charred, and/or fried foods produce inflammation in the body is because of the acidosis that they cause. The interrelationship between acidosis and inflammation is discussed early on in our book because the cooking methods you mention are so common in our culture.

Dr. Felipe: I was doing all right until I came upon chocolate in your table. It would have been heaven if it was alkalizing but, alas, it is highly acid forming (as is espresso coffee, another one of my favorites). If these foods are kept to a minimum (one mouthful per day), how much of a high alkaline-forming food, like lime juice or mineral water, would neutralize this small amount?

Larry: I love chocolate too, Phil, and as I’m sure you know, there is a growing body of evidence that shows that chocolate is actually a health food. Similar benefits are also being found for coffee. Again, moderation is the key. I recommend that people who choose to indulge themselves with a bit of chocolate (and for me that means more than a mouthful) simply increase the amount of alkalizing foods they eat for a few days. As for how much alkalizing foods or drinks are needed to maintain balance, that depends on the overall health, including acid-alkaline balance, of the individual in question. Obviously, the more acidic a person is, the more alkalizing foods he or she should consume.

Dr. Felipe: Forget about it, Larry! Giving up coffee is out of the question. However, I don’t mind switching to alkaline-forming green or herbal tea after my first cup of coffee. On a daily basis, could these hot beverages offset one another?

Larry: Yes, especially if you also drink adequate amounts of healthy water throughout the day.

Dr. Felipe: I took the liberty of making a table of selected foods from your extensive food tables, mostly to contrast foods within a category that have extreme opposing effects on pH balance. My next few questions will work off this table. Of course, your food tables are far more detailed, and distinguish among mild, medium and high acid or alkaline foods. I included a few mild and medium foods as well in the table, to feed the curiosity of my readers. However, this is only a small sampling.
Selected Food Categories Containing Foods With Opposing Acid-Alkaline Effects

*medium acid- or alkaline-forming **mild acid- or alkaline-forming

Dr. Felipe: First of all, I made this chart because I believe that the real problems and solutions rest at the extremes. Foods that are mildly acid forming, like stevia, Swiss chard, spinach, peas, tomatoes, black tea, balsamic vinegar, milk, beans, butter, clams, dates, figs, prunes, and mayonnaise aren’t so much the problem when it comes to pH balance. It is more so the prevalence of carbs and meat, I presume, that really tilts the balance. Yes? No?

Larry: What it really comes down to is the overall percentage of alkalizing and acidifying foods we eat during the day. For example, red meat, as you pointed out, is highly acidifying. I happen to enjoy eating red meat on occasion and have no intention of eliminating it from my diet. So when I consume a food such as red meat that I know is highly acidifying, I limit myself to a moderate portion and increase the amount of alkalizing vegetables I eat with that meal. It really isn’t difficult to enjoy the foods we like while still eating in a way that improves the body’s pH values.

Dr. Felipe: With regard to vinegars, it looks like umeboshi and apple cider are the way to go. Vinegar is known for its many health benefits and practical uses. Yet, should we consider using only alkaline-forming vinegars for all these purposes?

Larry: I tend to shy away from “only use” recommendations. Different vinegars add different flavors to food dishes, so enjoy the ones you like. Again, it comes down to moderation and seeing that the overall composition of your meals is alkalizing.

Dr. Felipe: The nut thing is a bit hard to fathom. Walnuts are on the top of my list for health benefits, yet they are high acid forming. On the other hand, chestnuts and cashews are alkaline forming, but do not pack the same nutritional punch. Please advise.

Larry: I agree with you that nuts in general are very healthy and nutritious foods even though walnuts and a few other nuts are acidifying. So I recommend them as healthy snacks and so forth. Given the high quality nutritional benefits that walnuts provide, I wouldn’t be too concerned about eating them regularly. Like any other food that is acidifying, just be sure that you eat enough alkalizing foods to buffer whatever acid is produced when walnuts are eaten.

Dr. Felipe: Most people know that berries are super foods. Should people eat them regularly with acid-forming foods to neutralize the pH effect?

Larry: Actually, I think berries should be eaten away from other meals for the most part, since they are so quickly digested by the body, while other foods take much longer to be digested. But yes, I definitely recommend making berries a part of one’s daily diet due to the many healthy benefits they provide.

Dr. Felipe: Your tables indicate that all seeds, except cottonseed, are alkaline forming, with pumpkin seeds being the only high alkaline former. What a pleasant surprise! I bought a pound of organic, raw (shelled) pumpkin seeds on the cheap, added some sea salt, and now I can’t stop eating them. Are the known health benefits of seeds connected to this alkaline-forming effect?

Larry: Definitely so, at least to some extent, because all alkalizing foods help to support the body’s health. But seeds are also very rich in many different nutrients that are also vital to health. Pumpkin seeds, for example, are good sources of zinc, which is why they are often recommended to men to support the health of the prostate gland. While alkalizing foods are good for the body, I don’t recommend that we make a food’s effect on pH the sole criteria for whether or not we choose to eat it. As your questions indicate, many acidifying foods offer a wealth of health benefits, so I’m all in favor of including them in one’s diet. Ideally, the key is to create meals that have an overall alkalizing effect on the body and also contain nutrient rich foods that the body can make use of in many other ways.

Dr. Felipe: I really can’t believe how acid forming soy products are. Only the fermented forms (miso, tamari) are alkaline forming. Forget about replacing cow’s milk with soy milk (cow’s milk is only mildly acidic). In contrast, whey protein powder is mildly alkalizing. Is whey a better choice than soy powders for added protein?

Larry: I personally do not believe that non-fermented soy products are healthy for most people, and therefore do not recommend them. So yes, I definitely recommend whey over soy as a source of healthy protein. I also find it interesting that Asian cultures, where fermented soy foods are used, generally have lower incidences of chronic degenerative disease compared to the U.S. At least, this was the case until fairly recently. Now, indications are that the same types of illnesses are on the increase in Asia and have been ever since traditional Asian eating habits started to be replaced with eating habits more akin to the standard American diet.

Dr. Felipe: Here’s my favorite topic. Sea salt is highly alkalizing, while iodized table salt is highly acid forming. I use only sea salt, but not the white (leached out) stuff. A good sea salt is grey looking. I’m a big salt freak, and I am not happy that the “food police” are lumping all salts together as bad for you. What is your take on all this?

Larry: I completely agree with you. Salt as it is found in nature is very healthy. One of the reasons this is so is because sea salt contains a wealth of trace minerals that are essential for good health. The problem, as you pointed out, is that common table salt no longer contains these trace minerals. The “food police” and other advocates of salt-free or low-salt diets are ignoring this important point. It is not salt that is bad; it’s the adulterated salt that most people use, which is a completely different story.

Dr. Felipe: What about lite salt? Lite salt typically contains potassium chloride, effectively cutting the sodium content in half. But is this the right form of potassium to be ingesting? What are your thoughts on supplementing with other forms of potassium (citrate, gluconate) to help alkalize the body?

Larry: Susan and I point out in our book that potassium supplements are very useful for helping to restore acid-alkaline balance in the body. Additionally, many people unknowingly are deficient in potassium, as well as other minerals, so potassium and other mineral supplements can be very useful for regaining and maintaining good health. As for lite salt products –- they may be an improvement on common table salt, but I prefer sea salt due to its much higher composition of important trace minerals.

Dr. Felipe: I don’t often recommend potatoes to people who are trying to lose weight, but maybe an occasional baked potato with skin or a yam can’t hurt, given their alkalizing effects. Sweet potatoes are especially alkaline forming and full of nutrients. Perhaps this is a better way to load up on carbs before physical activity than with pasta or French fries. Do you agree?

Larry: Overall yes, though most people would do well to limit their overall consumption of starchy foods. That said, yams, sweet potatoes, and potatoes with their skins intact are healthy foods and certainly far more nutritious than refined carbs.

Dr. Felipe: For summer refreshments, I highly recommend alkaline-forming fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe, kiwi, mango, and pineapple, rather than highly acid-forming soft drinks, diet or otherwise, or milk shakes. Did I mention the difference in calories as well? What is it about soft drinks that make them so acidic?

Larry: Where do I begin? The short answer is that soft drinks are essentially poisonous to the body. Don’t drink them.

Dr. Felipe: Maybe we are not accounting for people’s addictions. However, you mentioned that being in pH balance energizes the body to help people get off the carb and caffeine kick. However, some high alkaline-forming foods are full of carbs. I guess some carbs are better than others.

Larry: There’s no need to guess, Phil. Some carbs definitely are better than others as the charts and tables in our book make clear. The unhealthiest carbs, as we’ve discussed, are refined carbs, which unfortunately are very prevalent in many people's diets. Overall, carbs from whole grains are much healthier choices, as are yams, potatoes, and fruits.

Dr. Felipe: Regarding flour, only oat flour is alkalizing. What foods do you recommend here, particularly breakfast foods?

Larry: While it’s true that only oat flour is alkalizing, certain other flours, such as amaranth, buckwheat and millet, are only mildly acidifying so people really have a number of options when it comes to using flour. As for breakfast foods, there are many options available. I personally like to start my day with some protein, so a typical breakfast for me might start with a glass of fruit juice followed twenty minutes later by a vegetable omelet (minus cheese) or a small serving of chicken with green vegetables. For people who like cereal for breakfast, puffed brown rice cereal with almond milk is a nice option.

Dr. Felipe: On a day-to-day basis, how can a person gauge the pH effects of their diet?

Larry: An early indication of pH imbalance is increased respiratory rate. Another is body odor, from all the strong acids excreted through the skin. The more acidic an individual’s body becomes, the more fatigue, inflammation and infection may be experienced. One can monitor the effects of an “alkalizing” diet by these yardsticks. It is also easy to measure daily changes in acid-alkaline balance by testing the pH of the first morning void urine. How do to so is explained in my book.

Dr. Felipe: Frankly, most people I show the list of high acid- and alkaline-forming foods are disappointed. They wonder how anyone could forgo all the tasty foods for boring or disgusting ones. I'm sure you are familiar with the problem.

Larry: I agree that this is a common reaction. However, as I said earlier, I’m not suggesting that people stop eating the foods they enjoy. Rather, I’m recommending that they try to eat meals that have an overall alkalizing effect on their bodies. As my book shows, this isn’t difficult to do and, aside from unhealthy junk foods, which are highly acidifying, does not require eliminating most foods that people enjoy. By no means am I advocating a diet of nuts, seeds and sprouts. In fact, Susan and I even included a fast food table so that people who live on such foods can at least minimize their acidifying effects.

Dr. Felipe: The way I see it, people are not about to give up their comfort foods and addictions. That's why I advocate dietary supplements to help support the health of people with bad habits. It may not be ideal, but it's much easier to pop a pill for health. Certainly, I would rather they pop nutrients than drugs. What dietary supplements do you recommend for pH balance?

Larry: I agree that dietary supplements are important for good health. The fact of the matter is that even if we are able to obtain organic foods for all of our meals, today’s food supply does not contain the same abundance of essential nutrients that the foods are ancestors ate did. This is primarily due to the fact that the mineral content of our farmlands has been diminishing since the early 20th century. Without rich mineral content, farmlands are unable to yield crops that are as nutrient rich as crops grown a century ago. Therefore, nutritional supplementation is very important for maintaining good health.

There are a number of supplements that can be used to balance the body’s pH levels, and this too is discussed in The Acid-Alkaline Food Guide. Some of the most effective supplements in this area are magnesium, calcium, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin D. Multi-mineral formulas can be very helpful for this purpose too, as can green drink powders.

Dr. Felipe: Obviously, you prefer natural over synthetic supplements, but indulge me for a bit. Which mineral supplements work, and which do not work to alkalize the body?

Larry: The key to choosing mineral supplements that help to alkalize the body is to look for organic sources of these minerals, since the organic forms are preferable as alkalizers. Beyond that, I recommend that people monitor their morning urine pH level on a regular basis to see whether the minerals and other supplements they are taking are resulting in a shift towards alkalinity. If they are, then the urine testing should reflect this within a few days to a week.

Dr. Felipe: How long will it take to reach a steady alkaline state?

Larry: The answer to this question depends on the health of each person to begin with. Obviously, the more acidic a person is prior to beginning to eat meals that are predominantly alkalizing, the longer it will take for him or her to achieve acid-alkaline balance. In general, however, if people faithfully follow the recommendations in my book, they will begin to notice their pH shifting within a few days, just as you have. This is one of the reasons we recommend using pH strips to monitor morning urine. As people see their pH values improving, they are more apt to stick with the program, as it were.

Dr. Felipe: I want to thank you and Dr. Brown for providing an accessible and practical guide to a healthier diet.

Larry: My pleasure.

Reference: Susan E. Brown & Larry Trivieri, Jr., The Acid-Alkaline Food Guide, SquareOne Publishers, Garden City Park, NY, 2006

About the author

Dr. Phil Domenico is a nutritional scientist and educator with a research background in biochemistry and microbiology. Formerly an infectious disease scientist, he now works as a consultant for supplement companies and the food industry.

Death of The Blend

The big question o­n my mind at the moment is: are we witnessing the death of the espresso blend? As the specialty coffee industry gets better and better at spotting interesting and complex single origin coffees from individual estates and presenting them to the espresso community, I am wondering if we are moving into a brave new world where blends take the back seat.

These thoughts have been brought to the forefront of my mind as a result of James Hoffmann winning the 2007 World Barista Championships (WBC) using o­nly single origin coffees. Of course, a couple of years prior to James’ victory, Troels Poulsen of Denmark had won the 2005 edition of the WBC using Daterra beans from Brazil. Although not single origin in the strictest sense, Daterra is virtually so as it is all grown o­n the same farm, albeit a very big o­ne, the size of several traditional estates. The Daterra beans are taken from different sections of the farm and combined to imitate a blend. Until James’ success this year, Daterra was the closest thing to a single origin that had been used with any significant success at the WBC.

Clearly Troels’ choice of coffee two years ago was a sign of things to come, and James went o­ne step further this time with his selection of single origin beans from Costa Rica and Kenya respectively. The coffees used in this year’s competition were incredibly complex and produced a real statement of intent for the judges. The two single origin coffees he used are very familiar to me, and represented a very brave choice by James. The Kenya Gethumbwini is an intense coffee with overpowering blackcurrant in the after taste. The taste is bold and cuts through milk very well. This is a coffee that I would never have thought to be a good espresso and I am still exploring it now to find the best of it. The Costa Rican Cafetalera HerbazĂș is a dry processed bean from the Villa Sarchi varietal, and is as complex an espresso as I have ever experienced.

I think those observing the WBC competition this year will have observed that blends have gradually become less complicated and often now have far fewer components than they might traditionally have contained in the past. There has been a real movement towards allowing the coffee to do the talking with signature drinks, presentation and blends becoming simpler. This has to be applauded.

Let me tell you of my own personal preferences. I’ve have always enjoyed the honesty of a single origin in espresso. In my opinion, it is possible to taste and understand the bean in a far purer way. Having said that, the argument that of single origin coffee is o­ne dimensional and thin is also not lost o­n me, but I think much of this can be attributed to poor preparation, or trying to use set parameters o­n every coffee without proper experimentation and consideration of all the different beans holistically. I do enjoy constructing blends and simply enjoying them, but for me each single origin has something to offer in its own right, and I enjoy working with it to showcase those strengths and allow the individuality to flourish.

In the wrong hands coffee from a single origin or a blend can be awful, though in my experience blends are frequently more forgiving. So are we using blends as a crutch for our sloppiness, our poor barista skills or poor equipment? Well, if we are then I don't believe this is automatically wrong. Making use of something that is easy to prepare and is likely to yield a result makes sense both commercially and in terms of effort; but when we want to be challenged, when we want impress and showcase coffees and skills, we may not want to take the easy option. I remember some advice given to me by a seasoned professional roaster at the beginning of my journey in the industry that has stuck with me to this day. He simply said: “Good coffee is never easy”. He never really expanded o­n those words, but each day, as I learn more, the meaning behind his statement becomes clearer to me. With coffee, you o­nly get out as much as you are prepared to put in. Coffee gives nothing away, and it needs a little help to produce and deliver its full potential. I like to think that this is achieved by investing just a little bit of extra care and effort at the growing and harvesting stage, in the processing and milling, in the sourcing, the shipping, when roasting and most certainly in the preparation.

Many of the blends I have come across have existed solely for the purpose of saving money and/or hiding poor beans. This is not an acceptable way to use blends, and I think it is o­ne of the main factors contributing to my dislike and distrust of blending in general. That is why none of my blends are shrouded in secrecy and consumers can have confidence in the product. The o­nly point of blending should be to improve o­n the sum of the component parts, or to create something different, not to mask things that are not good enough not be in there. Consumers deserve better than that, as does the craft of roasting coffee.

As a lover of single malt whiskies, it is nothing new to me that blends are generally not a way to experience the best of anything. All too often they are bulked out by poor ingredients that are not good enough to stand alone. The problem is sometimes whether good is even attainable with the constituent parts being used. I have yet to taste a blended whisky that I would describe as good, and I think many blended coffees are of a similar standard. Yes, of course there are always going to be notable exceptions in any genre; hand crafted blends containing o­nly the best of ingredients are designed to produce very specific, balanced profiles in accordance with the producers’ designs. However, artisan roasters producing blends of this quality remain a small minority within the coffee industry.

Many roasters guard their blends just as ‘Colonel Sanders’ covets his recipe, seeing it as the secret to their success. I think this is simply wrong. There should be no need for it to be a secret. Unlike Colonel Sanders’ recipe which is the coating o­n the meal, with coffee the blend itself is the main attraction. No-one would walk into KFC and expect to be served meat of an unknown origin. In any case, coffee blends are prone to change year o­n year, with crop rotations and quality swings affecting the component beans. Surely coffee is more akin to the choosing of fine wines than a finite food recipe that should be hidden for all time in case it is replicated. All consumers deserve to know what they are buying, and I believe it is imperative for the commercial customer who runs a coffee shop or restaurant, if they have a blend, to know what is in it. The reputation of their business may depend o­n that blend. How can a barista inform and share with customers if he or she doesn’t have any idea what is being sold? Knowing and sharing the whole story and information about the personalities behind individual coffees is a sure fire way to engage the customer and drive quality forward. Just as consumers enjoy finding out about a good whisky distillery; the different production methods and the experts developing the whisky; they are becoming increasingly aware of coffee origins and the demand for specific information is increasing. For consumers, knowing all about the origins of a coffee can be the ‘icing o­n the cake’ leading to a better understanding of what they are experiencing, and, for them, make a great beverage complete.

Now of course a good story without great coffee is like well presented food without the substance of taste, but incredibly tasty coffee well presented with information about how and where it is produced is a winning combination. With coffee blends, I find the opportunity to engage the consumer with stories containing these details is often lost. Even when it is possible to do so, the tale of any specific bean is significantly diluted by the fact there are so many other parts of the blend to consider as well.

Of course, I also look at this with a UK perspective. Here in the UK we don't have a ‘Hairbender’ or a ‘Black Cat’ blend; we haven't really had a blend that people can put their hat o­n and say: “that's a good coffee”. I've never actually heard anyone say either of these are the best espresso's they have ever tasted, but similarly, I've also not heard anyone say they are bad either. Blends like these represent a level, and a bar is placed by them for others to seek to attain.

Maybe the lack of passion shown and the absence of people declaring their undying love for the blend in general is another factor in its perceived downfall. o­n the other hand, I have heard real passion and desire expressed for a lot of single origin coffees. Like many, I have fallen big time for single origins; for a unique Nicaraguan or a perfect Bolivian. I have had single origin coffees that have yielded moments of epiphany in my life; I can remember exactly when and where they were tasted and how they made me feel. I cannot say the same about any blend. Maybe this is because I have not been exposed to blends that are capable of doing the same things for me. I wonder if they exist or if it is even possible to achieve the same things from them.

The UK market has not pushed the envelope; it has not been felt necessary, or perhaps it has not been possible, for those involved to develop a single killer signature blend in order to be competitive. The lack of a big name blend has meant that in our market there has been a much more diluted message, with no o­ne backing and marketing o­ne single blend as “the o­ne”. I believe this is o­ne of the major contributing factors toward my perspective o­n blends. Certainly here at Has Bean we are far more motivated toward providing bespoke blends catering to individual customer needs than to producing a o­ne size fits all solution, which in itself weakens the message of any o­ne product being “the blend to have”.

But Blending can be incredibly interesting and a rewarding education in coffee. My blending experiences with James Hoffmann this year with his UKBC 2007 blend, and last year with his WBC 2006 blend were some of the most demanding, frustrating and the most rewarding of my life. This was where I truly learned that good coffee does not come easily. Working o­n individual profiles and developing the best attributes of component ingredients to make something that was very special as the sum of those parts was really satisfying.

I can think of no better way to push the boundaries than to have a barista with the skills to get the best out of the espresso, working with a roaster capable of obtaining the full potential of the beans in his profiles. I owe a great deal to James for helping me to understand what makes coffee tick in the espresso machine, and also for being my harshest critic.

It has been said many times before, but the truth is that the barista is the face for the consumer, and is therefore best placed to know what is required and how it can be achieved. The roaster is tucked away in the roastery, and needs to be given information about what is needed. When these two forces come together in co-operation, something fantastic can be created for all to enjoy.

I do, think there is a time for a blend in coffee, just not all the time as some would have us believe. In my opinion it is important to indulge yourself, to try single origin espresso, enjoy it and not keep falling back to the blend as the default. Embrace a coffee for what it is; if it lacks a little body because of its complex acidity, enjoy and celebrate that fact. Don’t try to make every espresso consist of the same things. I think for me to say: “Death of the Blend”, in the title was a little dramatic, but it got your attention. I would actually prefer to refer to it as: “The Birth of the Single Origin Espresso”.