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Continental Blend - Mr Higgins Recommends

The name Continental Blend comes from the period between the two great wars when coffee specialists in the United Kingdom faced a challenge that forced them to re-think their ideas. In this period, the selection they offered to their customers was focused on quality coffees available within what was then The British Empire. Origins such as Kenya, India and Jamaica.

However, British travellers returning to these shores in the 1930’s demanded what they called a “Continental Blend of coffee”. The term particularly referred to coffee that they had enjoyed in The South of France, Italy and Spain. It was remarked that you couldn’t get a decent cup of tea, and so reluctantly they had turned to coffee, and they loved it! They loved the way it was made, the way it was served and presented. It was great with breakfast foods and the perfect end to a lovely dinner. It was a coffee experience which they said they could not find at home. One might comment that they were away enjoying themselves in some lovely places, surely everything tastes good in those circumstances? There is some truth in that, but I think the answer was more complex.

One possible reason was the variety of coffee beans, not sourced from the British Empire. Plus, a very different approach to roasting the beans. A much darker roast than generally found in the United Kingdom at the time. As an answer to this demand, some coffee roasters made the mistake believing that quality didn’t matter. Any low-grade coffee would do, because all that was necessary was to roast it until almost burning the beans. Which was, of course, a travesty.

My father recognised that something important was happening. He always had a great empathy with his customers. He listened and obtained samples of the coffees they loved, examining and tasting at great length. After his research, he realised the flavours he was seeking were not to be found in a single variety. Though single origin coffees were his passion, this time the answer was to be found by creating a blend.

Moreover, in order to find those flavours and create the blend, he would have to break with some of the rather rigid thinking of many of his contemporaries by using a much wider selection of varieties.

He went back to researching coffee roasting techniques. To give him the controlled intensity of heat he was looking for, he imported a special roasting machine from France. When I joined the company, he taught me his approach to producing very dark roasted coffees, and I in turn to my son David. So, a whole series of very dark roasted coffees has followed from Continental Blend, such as Creole Blend, Santiago Blend, India Malabar Monsooned, and Brazil Bourbon Very Dark.

Today, Continental Blend is still very popular. Created to be very powerful, rich and sumptuous and able to be enjoyed on its own or as part of any meal. Especially a meal with rich food and red wine. Suitable for preparation in all coffee makers, though perhaps a question mark over Bean to Cup machines because the natural coffee oils have tended to break the surface, but I shall be delighted if you tell me I am mistaken. It has a “kick” at the finish. It is versatile, showing its complete flavour profile when taken black, and is also very good with milk.

So much has happened since then. Just as my father listened to his customers who came home and told him they so longed for what they called “A Continental Blend", we are still listening to you and welcome your feedback.

The whole team at H R Higgins (Coffee-man) Ltd thanks you for your custom, particularly over the past months. We all long for better times, but in the meantime, stay safe and we will do our best to brighten your days with the coffees and teas that you love.


Tony Higgins

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