Great Lakes Blend
- August 2019
- Written by : Geoff Watts
Vice President of Coffee / Coffee Buyer
There are some wonders of nature that are so powerful in their majesty and grand in their scope they transcend time, cultures and borders. The Great Lakes of the world have captured humankind’s attention throughout history and never fail to make an impression when encounter them; we cannot help but be inspired by their profundity and calmed by their presence. They connect countries and peoples, serving as a shared source of freshwater and food as well as a medium for both transit and exchange.
Chicago is blessed to exist alongside one of them, the stunning Lake Michigan, fifth-largest in the world by area and fourth-largest by volume. Across the Atlantic in Africa, many of our Direct Trade partners live and work and grow coffee in the Rift Valley, home more than a dozen lakes, including the three largest on the continent: Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika, and Lake Malawi. The African Great Lakes are vital to people living in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Malawi, and Uganda.
We have created a blend that celebrates the shared connection and the ability of lakes to cut across national borders. Great Lakes is our homage to one of the most important natural resources we have in common, and in recognition of the role of these massive bodies of water in sustaining life, agriculture, and coffee — both the seed and the cup.
What’s in a Blend?
We’ve been blending coffees for nearly 25 years, for various purposes. The art of blend-making is often lost in the conversations about the utility of blends or their pragmatic nature. Most of the time, blends are means of creating consistency in a medium that is inherently inconsistent.
We celebrate single-origin coffees for their uniqueness and idiosyncrasies, and seemingly endless dynamic range. They are the purest expression of nature’s work, and no two harvests are identical despite the best efforts of farmers to control the many variables that affect the quality of their crop. Single-origin coffees are also the most direct communication between a farmer and coffee drinker, a sensory experience that helps to give us a taste of place. That’s why we generally reserve our very best coffees from each harvest to release as single-origin offerings bearing the individual farmer’s name, as ambassadors that showcase the craftsmanship behind the coffee and represent the top quality that each farmer was able to produce that harvest season. But that can often be less than 10 percent of a grower’s harvest — the veritable cream of the crop.
The second tier of quality — those coffees that score over 85 points and constitute the majority of a talented farmer’s output — are what we use as ingredients to create most of our blends. Every blend we make has a purpose, whether it is tailored for use as an espresso like our Black Cat or designed to be a universally pleasing, steadfast, and balanced coffee for everyday use at a restaurant like our House Blend.
The Great Lakes blend is cut from a different cloth. Much like our seasonal blends, which are built anew every two months using the freshest and highest-scoring coffees in our inventory, the Great Lakes is meant to stand toe-to-toe with the best of our single-origin offerings and serve as a bridge between the realm of blends and the top-shelf lots that make it into our single-origin bags. We realized recently that many of our customers don’t get to experience the thrills of our most compelling East African coffees, either because they are deterred by the price points of those top-shelf coffees, or just prefer to drink blends because they learn to love a particular profile and find comfort in the familiarity. Whichever the case, the Great Lakes blend is an answer.
Great Lakes was designed to capture the exciting and highly refreshing flavors of East African coffees and present them in full, high-definition clarity. It is tuned to deliver maximum, high-fidelity pleasure throughout the year. It is built around Kenyan SL-28 coffees — arguably the most intensely flavorful and exhilarating coffees we sell — and complemented with coffees from Rwanda and Burundi. It is the most vibrant blend on our menu, and among the most beautiful. Curated throughout the year to maintain its character, the Great Lakes is your gateway to East Africa rendered with steadfast balance that reflects our midwestern sensibility. Like the Great Lakes themselves, it is at once energizing, breathtaking and endlessly comforting.