The Roast: Grackle

Everyone deserves a great cup of coffee. Fresh, seasonal, roasted to perfection. But what about your coffee flavor profile? The abstract mumbo jumbo flavor notes on the front of a bag and the nonsensical copy on the back (looking at you John) don't really tell us much about the coffee itself unless we understand the jargon. The number of times I’ve been asked if a coffee is flavored because of the flavor notes could make a grown man cry—and sometimes I do. We do our absolute best to provide a cup for everyone. Every blend fits a profile for any coffee drinker ready to take the training wheels off.

Over the years I’ve had a lot of time face-to-face with customers. As a barista, I really tried to help people discover their favorite drink or coffee. Not too dissimilar from Tom Hanks in the Davinci Code, this involved deciphering what people were trying to describe. “I don’t like acidic coffee,” could mean multiple things. It could be the literal acid quality of a bright washed coffee or perhaps the oils from a dark roast coffee that upsets their stomach. Helping people find their favorite coffee always brought me great joy. 

We knew we wanted to make a new blend and just weren't sure what it should be. So the only way to make a good, logical decision was to stop and take inventory of where we were and why. Like usual, I rejoined the never ending conversation between the Wolf and myself regarding our current blends. If you’ve participated in a tasting or class with me, you will know I refer to flavor profiles in relation to processing method first, then origin. For our blends we also add roast profile. So we started mapping out our blends using the X axis for Processing and Y for Roast.

X Axis

  • Washed Acidic 
    • 10 = Highly Acidic – Microlot quality 86+ (Kenya coffee for example) 
    • 5 = Medium Acidity – Washed Colombian blender
    • 2 = Low Acidity – Washed mild (close to a pulped natural profile)
  • Pulped Natural 
    • 0 = Coffee flavored coffee – Chocolate, caramel, nutty
    • Can fluctuate toward the acidic side or natural side 0–5 points 
  • Natural 
    • 10 = Ethiopia Natural – Bright and fruity
    • 5 = Brazil Natural – Medium fruit, heavy chocolate
    • 0 = Chocolate, caramel, pulped natural profile 

Y Axis

  •  -10 = Under roasted 
  • -5 + Microlot profile 
  • - 3 = Light roast
  • 0 = Medium roast
  • +3 = Medium dark 
  • 5 = Dark 
  • 10 = Charcol 

We have devised a set of blend profiles that allow us to visually plot flavor [or sensory] components and create blends that are truly distinct, resulting in a blend for every palette.
 

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After mapping our current drip coffee blends, it was immediately apparent that we were missing a dark component with a natural fruity attribute. To fill that gap we needed to blend coffees that have the smooth dark chocolate body, floral aromatics and stone fruit flavor. After trying a few variations with our LC base dark and our LC natural blender, we decided on 70% LC base dark and 30% LC natural blender.

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We named the resulting blend...

THE GRACKLE!

 

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The next step in creating blends is likely the hardest, at least for me. We had to write copy for the bag sticker. But what can you say about a blend named after a dastardly bird that no one really likes? Here are a couple of our attempts.

 

  1. “The grackle is a black bird whose song crescendos to an irresistible chorus as she flocks with her peers in treetop clouds. Like this coffee, the collective spectacle is a natural delight. The Grackle Blend brings dark chocolate, almond, and blackberry voices to the ensemble, and our roaster's alchemy renders a rara avis indeed: a natural-inflected dark roast coffee that will hold your attention through a second cup and counting. Who cares why the black bird sings when she inspires such things!” - John Outler

    • Nice try, John, but this let the grackle off way too easy. We were looking for something a little (a lot?) more edgy.

  2. “That loud rusty gear and shattered glass cacophony overhead is a flock of grackles that want to darken your horizon and peel the pain off your car. That's why we named our new coffee The Grackle Blend. It's a natural dark roast with almond, blackberry and dark chocolate notes, so of course it will remind you of a terrifying flock of black birds that loom in illogically large numbers so they can gut you when you turn your back. Everyone deserves a great cup of coffee.”  - John Outler

    • OK, maybe this is too edgy? There’s got to be a happy medium.

  3. “The dark full bodied flavor covers the pallet like the black birds at the HEB parking lot. While the smooth chocolate and blackberry finish gleams through the darkness like the violet on the grackles coat. For as many similarities the bird may have with this blend, we are sure this coffee will have you singing a softer tune. “ - Ian Myers

    • Good one, Ian, getting there, but I’m struggling with the image (and flavor) of black birds on my palate. 

  4. The grackle teams, swarms and shreiks; they are like a slow-moving avian train wreck you can't look away from; their attraction is entirely negative, if utterly compelling. They raise more questions, some bordering on existential, than answers... why do they do what they do? why the fucking parking lot, FFS? what did we do to them? and why, in the name of all that is logical, did you name a coffee after them? seriously... Answer. That. Question.” - John Outler

    • OK, John, now you’re just showing your ass. Relax and have a cup of Grackle Blend.

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Eventually landing on:

 

The Grackle—dark chocolate and ripe berries that will give you the confidence to ruffle your feathers, raise your beak, and shriek at the sky. Well, maybe not, but we're confident that one day the Grackles will not be content to scare the hell out of us when we go to the supermarket, so we figure we better start currying some favor.