Vietnamese Espresso Blend Challenge: Battle of the Coasts

Vietnamese Specialty Green Coffee Beans from Mercon Specialty

Mark Inman, our Director of Specialty Coffee, recently organized a competition between our Kansas City office's Thomas Kennett and our Seattle office's Neil Oney to create the best blend using only green coffee from Vietnam that Mercon Specialty offers. This challenge aimed to showcase the versatility of the origin and highlight some outstanding specialty coffee. The competition rules were flexible, allowing for any roast level, a pre- or post-roast blend, arabica, or robusta, as long as it was 100% from Vietnam.

Mark provided warehouse samples, and the competition began.

In a closely contested competition, Neil Oney emerged victorious with a slender 0.50-point lead. We asked each competitor to break down their process and share with us how they came up with their Vietnamese Specialty Coffee Espresso Blend.

Neil’s Vietnam Espresso Challenge Process:

Oney explains his initial thoughts, “When I approach a new blend, I first establish what the goal is for the blend. In this case, I wanted something simple, and I wanted to emphasize sweetness. With my plan in place, I roasted all the components on the sample roaster: Lotus-washed arabica, anaerobic arabica, Opal Bold wet-hulled, washed Robusta, and honey-processed robusta.”

My goal was to make it easy for anyone adopting this blend to use without overcomplicating the process. I used a pre-roast blend with two main ingredients: Opal Bold Wet-Hulled, and Lotus SHG. The Opal Bold brings sweetness, body, and depth, while the Lotus has more acidity and top-end notes.

After tasting it, I decided to add in a very small amount of the honey-processed robusta, which I found added balance and body, and brought out the sweetness in the other components, somewhat like how adding salt improves the sweetness in baked goods.

Blend Components:

45% Lotus

45% Opal Bold

10% Robusta Honey Process

The last question was about the roast profile. On my test batch, I thought it was a bit light for espresso, and didn’t highlight the sweetness I tasted while cupping. I wanted to try, again, to highlight body and sweetness through the roast, so I opted for a longer Maillard period and a slightly extended development. I ended with a 22% development ratio, with an agtron at 70, making a well-balanced roast on the light side of medium.

Then, I tested the espresso 6 days off roast, with a recipe of 18g dose, 38g yield, in 30 seconds. I pulled them into a cupping bowl and swirled the shots to allow them to mix a bit (partly because I do not believe the espresso machine is perfectly balanced).

I found lots of sweetness, chocolate, and caramel, balanced with a bright green apple acidity that settled as it cooled. The robusta added a small amount of salty bitter to the aftertaste which reminded me of salted caramel.

I’m very honored Mark asked me to participate and appreciated the results of my work.

 Vietnamese Specialty Green Coffee Beans from Mercon Specialty

Thomas’s Vietnam Espresso Challenge Process:

Kennett shares his initial thoughts in starting his process, “Due to the high moisture content in each coffee and the difference in processing methods, each one was roasted individually and blended as a post-roast blend. Each coffee was initially evaluated, and use was assigned with the end goal of creating an espresso that stands alone while also shining in a cappuccino. The results are as follows:

Lotus Da Lat:

Cupping results: This coffee cupped well with a clean, medium body and a nice, bright acidity. The tasting notes were primarily that of the sugar-browning family (graham cracker, caramel, cocoa nibs, ginger cookie) with a nutmeg spice note and peach-like acidity.

Use case: Because of its washed process and clean body, this coffee was used in tandem with equal parts Anaerobic Lotus to provide a fully developed medium roast profile as a base and utilize the warm brown sugar notes and the clean acidity to contribute to mouthfeel as well as flavor.

Anaerobic Lotus:

Cupping results: The processing method of this coffee yielded a full-bodied cup with soft but noticeable red fruit notes that were complimented by sweet spice and a balanced acidity that rounded out the finish in the cup. Notes recorded were, cranberry, dark chocolate, black currant, clove, and a pomegranate-like acidity.

Use case: This coffee was cupped cleanly due to the washed nature of this anaerobic process but the cup still yielded a full mouthfeel with a lingering, dry, red fruit finish similar to cranberry juice or red wine. When combined with the Lotus Da Lat’s acidity, the blending of the two elevated the viscosity of the coffee from that of a 2% milk-like body to a mouthfeel more comparable to that of whole milk. The acidity of the Da Lat also helped round out the dry finish of the Anaerobic Lotus as a bonus.

Opal Bold:

Cupping results: This wet-hulled process coffee yielded strong and complex notes of malt chocolate, molasses, and cherry cola, and were complimented with oolong tea-like florals and a juicy body that had an almost boozy and mineral-like acidity on the finish often found in rose wines and grapefruit. The body and finish of this coffee were pleasant but lingering.

Use case: Due to the overpowering nature of this coffee’s flavor profile, only 20% was used in this blend as an accent piece or ingredient to complement the 40/40 blend of the Lotus Da Lat and the Anaerobic Lotus. This added a juicier mouthfeel and helped to enhance the flavor, acidity, and body without taking over the intended flavor profile of the blend.

Flavor Profiles:

All the coffees exhibit a naturally high moisture content. Seeing as how the blend is for espresso, the two Lotus coffees were roasted to a darker-medium roast profile while the Opal Bold was taken to 47 and roasted dark to fully develop each coffee and eliminate any vegetal presence. The idea is to elevate the inherent earthy-spice note found in each coffee due to its origin into a sweeter, more flavorful baking spice.

When cupped as a blend, the flavor profile presented notes of the following:

Caramel, cranberry, citrus, black currant, clove, and toffee, with stone fruit acidity.

When pulled as an espresso shot, these notes concentrate down into the following:

Dark caramel, mulled wine, spiced dates, with a smooth, syrupy body and bright stone fruit acidity.

When combined with steamed milk in a latte or cappuccino, the notes evolve further into:

Spiced sticky toffee pudding (dates, nutmeg, cinnamon, cream, caramel). The caramel and spice notes combine nicely with the milk to present a spicy, buttery, toffee-like dessert.

Recommended espresso parameters:

  • Dose: 19g – 19.5g (assuming a 20g basket)
  • Yield: 32g – 35g out (1.68 to 1.8 brew ratio)
  • Time: 26-27s time. (no pre-infusion used/available in QC)

This full-bodied and complex blend benefits from a slightly smaller dose and a longer extraction time to draw out enough sweetness. A tighter yield also dilutes more nicely when combined with milk.

 Vietnamese Specialty Green Coffee Beans from Mercon SpecialtyAlthough Neil won the competition by a slight .50 points, both espressos were created by truly talented and experienced coffee experts/roasters. Mercon Specialty's expertise in developing blends and roasts tailored to the needs of its clients is precisely what is required to help enhance your overall brand experience. Our team is composed of proficient professionals who are well-equipped to provide comprehensive training programs covering everything from design and execution to full support.

Connect with us if you want to learn more about how we can support your blending and roasting needs or are just curious to learn more about these processes.

Happy brewing!