Blends

About our blends
Sweet Maria's offers a few pre-blended coffees for use as espresso and dark roast. There are pros and cons to blending. We feel strongly that good coffee does not need to be blended; we want to discover the "origin taste" in the cup, the singular essence of the place the coffee is from. This is lost in blending. However, there are reasons to blend. Here are some excerpts from our Blending Article.

Our blends are made with our best coffees. We don't treat blends as a way to get rid of older coffees or ones we need to clear out! In many cases, our blend components are sourced just for the blend, based on test roasts and cupping. They are all comprised of coffees on our green coffee offering list.

While some roasters use blends as a way to reduce costs, to promote their name and enforce customer loyalty, let me also add that many good small roasters are like us; they are proud of their single farm, single origin offerings and they are proud of their blends! They too use great coffee in their blends. Whether a roaster adheres to the pre-roast or post-roast blend school, the cup cannot achieve excellence if average quality coffees are used.
Our blends are divided into Standards (blends we maintain throughout the year, like our Espresso Monkey Blend, and Espresso Workshop "editions." "Espresso Workshop?" The latter are blends that are only offered for as long as we have the specific lots of coffee we used to design the blend, and then it's gone. When we maintain an Espresso Standard blend, like Espresso Monkey Blend, we have to find new lots to maintain the flavors of the blend as the coffee crops change. That can be a tough job, to optimize the blend and, at the same time, to maintain the "spirit of the blend" ... its original intent. There will be shifts in the blend, inevitably. In a sense, Workshop Espresso editions are pure and uncompromising: specific coffees are found that inspire testing, and a new blend idea is born. Instead of maintaining the blend and making ingredient substitutions down the line, the Workshop editions follow the crop cycle of the coffee.

Blending Basics

Coffees from different origins are blended together for several reasons. Presumably the goal is to make a coffee that is higher in cup quality than any of the ingredients individually. But high quality arabica coffee should be able to stand alone; it should have good clean flavor, good aromatics, body and aftertaste. So one reason coffees are blended in the commercial world might be the use of lower-quality coffee in the blend. Another reason might be to create a proprietary or signature blend that leads consumers to equate a particular coffee profile with a particular brand image. Consumers don't often call Starbucks by the origin names used in the coffee but simply as "a cup of Starbucks" as if the dark carbony roast tastes were somehow exclusive to that brand. Coffees are also blended to maintain consistency from crop year to year. This is done with major brands that do not want to be dependent on any specific origin flavor so they can source coffee from the least expensive sources. Such blends generally reduce all the coffees included to the lowest common denominator. But let's put aside the less-than-noble reasons that coffee is blended and focus on details that concern the quality-oriented roaster. Before blending any high-quality coffees you should know the flavors of the individual coffees and have some goal for an ideal cup that cannot be attained by a single origin or single degree of roast. It would be a shame to blend a fantastic Estate coffee; after all, you are supposedly trying to attain a cup that exceeds the components and it's not likely you can do this with top coffees. Given that you have both a reason to a blend and a logical process for doing it, there will be little need for more than around 5 coffees in the blend. Blends with more than 5 coffees are considered to be fanciful, or indulgent, or confused by more than a few expert coffee tradespeople I know.

The Case Not to Blend

While blending requires the expert skill of knowing each ingredient coffee, having a clear cup profile as the goal in mind, and knowing how to achieve it, blends should not be considered a "higher" form of coffee by any standard. As indicated above, the opposite case is often true. For me personally there is much more satisfaction in enjoying single-origin and estate coffees roasted to their peak of flavor. In my opinion, even a so-so single-farm coffee is more intriguing than a blended cup, even if the blend is admittedly superior! Why? Because when I taste an unblended coffee it is the end result of a long road from crop to cup, without any one person deciding what I will be experiencing. While I enjoy that cup, I like to think about that process, and it informs my opinion about that region or that specific farm. I enjoy feeling connected to the origin of the coffee and the process in this way.

Blending Before or After Roasting

I get a lot of questions about blending before or after roasting ...which is better? If you have an established blend it certainly is easier to blend the coffee green and roast it together. If you are experimenting with blend ingredients and percentages you will want to roast each separately so you can experiment with variations without having to make a new roast with each change. The case for roasting coffees individually is strong with the Melange-type blend, and with a handful of particular coffees, such as Robusta in espresso blends. Some coffees are more dense or have extreme size variations. These will roast differently than standard wet-processed arabicas. All dry-processed arabicas require roasting to a slightly higher degree of temperature. But in most cases the coffees can be roasted together and I would recommend this: roast the coffee together until you encounter a situation where the results are disappointing and for success you must roast them separately. Every coffee roasts a bit differently but there is a great deal of averaging that occurs between coffees in the roast chamber, especially in drum roast systems. And then there's the coffees that do not roast evenly as single origins either: Yemeni, Ethiopian DP coffees, etc. Uneven roast color is not a defect, and only when it occurs in a wet-processed arabica that should roast to an even color (and sometimes not even in this case) is it of any consequence.Please see the reviews of the blends below. We tend not to rate some blends with cupping scores, especially with espresso. Espresso must be cupped as espresso and standard terms are undeveloped at this time. More Information: Our Blending Article.

Espresso Workshop #30 - Harmonic Tremor
$6.50
$12.35
Like an earthquake - new Workshop #30
Arrival dateVarious current crop arrivals
Appearance.2 d/300gr, 15+ screen
GradeTops
ProcessingWet Process (Washed)
RegionRwanda, Guatemala, El Salvador
Varietal(s)Various
Intensity/Prime attributeMedium Intensity / Browning sugars, layered chocolate, defined acidity, subtle fruits
RoastEspresso is great from Full City to Full City+ (even replete with some 2nd snaps!); as a brewed coffee it's best right around Full City.

Here's our latest and…well, really really good espresso "Workshop" blend (I hate to use "greatest" - because, how can I actually know if it's the absolute greatest?). This is the 30th installment, which feels very strange to say. Have we really been at it this long? Yes we have, and it's been fun to piece these blends together around interesting new crop arrivals. This one's based around a fresh crop Rwanda coffee that we were very impressed by in the espresso machine. On it's own, it makes for a viscous shot, and one with a thick, dark chocolate syrup flavor and backed with an acidic snap. In many ways, this coffee cups more like a Central American coffee, and so it made sense to pair it with one of our El Salvador offers as well as a coffee from Huehuetenango, Guatemala. All three coffees have a developed sugar sweetness, with layered chocolate flavors, and gentle yet present acidity. They work well together and are functional as a multi-use coffee - both as expresso and brewed. We roasted to both City+ and Full City+ for the review in order to get a good read on both uses. City+ is about as light as I'd take this coffee, with Full City getting my vote as the proverbial 'sweet spot', and Full City+ making for a more classically profiled espresso. As espresso, this blend finishes long, with shifting flavors of sweet chocolate, and a nice creamy caramel flavor that lingers. And so we call it "Harmonic Tremor", a long duration of sweetness that is sustained long after the initial sip. It is also worth mentioning that our score is based off of espresso. Brewed coffee is more dependent on roast - with Full City being easy 86+.

There's a nice malted sugar scent to this coffee right out of the grinder. At City+ the smell is centered around dark sugar, warming spice, and a faint raspberry note. Full City+ roasts are more dark chocolate oriented and with a nice sweet cinnamon sauce smell. Adding hot water brings up several levels of browning sugars, and the break lets off a strong note of butter toffee in light roasts, and fudge caramel brownie in the more developed roasts. I'm fairly certain most folks will use this as espresso, so I'm going to start with reviewing that use. Shots are very, very creamy and with a flavor of high percentage dark chocolate bar. It's oh so sweet, and with notes of caramel sauce and a sort of salt water taffy flavor. The acidity is not over the top at all, but is defined by elements of cranberry juice and spritzed orange peel. The finish is very long and goes from flavors of dark cacao to a pleasantly bittering flavor of fine baking chocolate. It's a very nice set of flavors, and is less 'wild' and more in line with our classically profiled espresso blends. As a cup of coffee, this one's in the daily drinking category. Don't get this confused with 'boring', that's not at all what we mean. But rather, this is a coffee that we personally would like to literally drink every day because of its overall balance - not too acidic, fruity, floral, etc. With the right roast (City+/Full City) this coffee strikes a nice balance of spiced caramel flavor and apple-like, malic acidity. We actually preferred our brewed version right at Full City - smooth, balanced, and sweet.

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Sweet Maria's Moka Kadir Blend
$7.75
$14.73
$33.71
$64.33
$122.35
Sweet Maria's Moka Kadir Blend
Arrival date
Appearance1d/300gr, 15 to 18 scr
GradeTop grades
ProcessingDry Process (Natural)
RegionYemen, Sidama, Yirga Cheffe
Varietal(s)Heirloom Varietals
Intensity/Prime attributeBold Intensity / Fruity, earthy, rustic sweetness, chocolate layers
RoastCity+ roasts will produce the most fruited profile; Full City and beyond will tone down brightness and underscore chocolate roast tastes. Darker roast levels make a great espresso!

This is a powerful blend of coffees from the Arabian Peninsula and Horn of Africa, from Yemen on one side, and Ethiopia on the other. I intended this blend for the exotic espresso shot or intense filter drip coffee. It's even better in a French Press, where the slightly gritty intensity suits to boldness of fruit, chocolate, exotic spice and earth notes. The base of this coffee is made up of two excellent natural Dry-Processed coffees from Ethiopia and Yemen. Each contributes to a huge body, strong bittersweet chocolate roast-taste, and intense fruited aromatics. This year we decided to try a small amount of a washed Shakiso in the blend as well, and had great results. It adds an ever so slight floral flavor as well as builds on the already intense sweetness found in the cup. Since it is a blend of dry and washed processes, this pre-roast blend should probably be taken to the outer edge of City+ where roast level begins to even out. My favorite roasts were Full City and Full City+ as both brewed coffee and espresso. All that said, the basic blend idea here is to use coffees from the same "family of taste" rather than greatly opposite or complimentary coffees, marking a difference in blend rationale, as well as in result. Also, I feel these coffees need to be pre-blended to equalize moisture content with each other, something that works well in larger batches.

The dry fragrance has a strong rustic sweetness that's like Rapidura sugar at both light and dark roasts. It would be impossible to talk about this coffee without mentioning the intensely fruited aromatics. Dried apricot and peach, red berries, spiced apple, and ...the list is long, and the most complex at lighter roast levels, with slight florals compliments of the 2 Ethiopian coffees. At Full City+ there's pungent chocolate, charred sage, and a nice, sweet smell peanut sauce. Adding hot water brings about burned sugar, especially in our light roast, as well as malted chocolate, ripe fig, and berry pie filling. The cup is the culmination of all the intense aromatics, and more. Dense, thick body adds to the sense of "brooding" cup character here. Full City roasts produce a tarry dark molasses sweetness, thick inky body, and a smokiness in the finish that reminds me of chicory root. Moka Kadir has an "oily-ness" to it that coats the mouth, leaving behind a long finish dominated by fruit nectar and bitter-sweet chocolate. Moka Kadir is a true dual-use bland - filter drip as well as espresso. The latter will produce such creamy shots packed full of layered chocolate and fruit flavors. It's definitely on the wilder side of what we tend to think of as "classic" espresso profile, and is so sweet and complex.

Moka Kadir cups best after at least 48 hours ... we like to wait even 3+ days. Also consider that because the majority of the blend is dry processed, hand sorted coffees, it is not unusual for the roasted coffee to vary in color - some slightly lighter beans, some darker, and with a range of expansion. And I hate to say it but we find the occasional small rock in this coffee. Be sure to cull through the green and the roasted carefully. The small bean size of Yemeni and other coffees here can be problem in some drum roasters, such as Behmors with the large grid drum (oldest models - all the new ones have small grid drums). But, with the coffee in the drum, you can shake the drum before roasting to remove the few super small beans than might be lurking in the mix.

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Espresso Workshop #29 - Uso Doble
$6.30
$11.97
$27.41
$52.29
$100.02
"Uso Doble" motorcycle in Guatemala
Arrival date
Appearance.2 d/300gr, 16-18 screen
GradeTops
ProcessingWet Process (Washed)
RegionMixed
Varietal(s)Various
Intensity/Prime attributeMedium - Bold Intensity / Clean, layers of chocolate, bright acidity, subtle fruits
RoastEspresso is great from Full City to Full City+ (replete with some 2nd snaps!); as a brewed coffee it's best between City+ and Full City.

Wow, are we really up to #29? It seems like not that long ago that we started up this Workshop program, yet here we are, with our 29th espresso blend. Now that we're knee deep in fresh crop Central American coffees, we thought it's an optimal time to introduce a blend incorporating coffee from the region. Our Guatemalan coffees have been outstanding as single origin espressos, and for this blend, we decided to start with a solid base coffee from the rising slopes of Volcan de Fuego. This particular Guatemalan coffee made a deeply sweet, juicy coffee, and translated to a classic, bitter-sweet chocolate, and viscous shot of espresso. Added to this are two Ethiopian coffees and one from Rwanda - all three made incredible espressos on their own, and add elements of berry, citrus, and body to this blend. This is truly a dual purpose blend, hence the name "Uso Doble". All four lots included in this blend scored 88+ on our cupping table as brewed coffees. For reference, we roasted our "cupping" roast to City+ and did both Full City and Full City+ roasts for espresso. Taking this to the darker end of the spectrum works best for espresso. Partly due to the fact that as a pre-blended lot there are varying bean sizes and densities, and roast level seems to even out at the latter stages of 1st crack. That said, our City+ roast looked fairly uniform in color, and tasted incredible as a brewed cup. Espresso or brewed coffee, the choice is up to you, but one thing's for sure is this is one of the best dual-purpose blends we've had in a long time.

Where to begin. Since this is a Workshop blend, let's first talk about how this handles as espresso. At Full City to Full City+, the dry fragrance is loaded with layered chocolate roast tones. These are especially sweet at the lighter end, and are spiced with notes of cinnamon, clove, and a hint of florals. Our darkest roast had pungent cacao smells along with hints of dark fruits like ripe peach and plum. This makes a fantastic shot of espresso. Up front there is a citrus brightness, that while lively and bracing, is anchored by a sweet, but high % dark chocolate flavor. At Full City, fruit flavors like raspberry, mandarin, and fig are tethered together by a syrupy, viscous mouthfeel. Fruits are slightly muted at Full City+ and make way for big flavors of chocolate roast. The finish remains very sweet and winds up in the realm of salt caramel filled dark chocolates. All four coffees cup extremely well on their own, scores ranging from 88 - 90 points, and blend together nicely in the cup. The dry fragrance at City+ has honey, cinnamon, and a slight jasmine note. The sweetness is bolstered when adding hot water and the crust has a strong smell of brown sugar and butter. The aroma is very nice, and the same can be said for the cup flavors. There's a nice solid honey sweetness, and as the coffee cools, flavors of peach and apricot really come through. The acidity is clean and defined, like lemon water, and the finish reminds me of graham cracker crust. Should you decide to give this lighter roast a whirl in your espresso machine, expect slightly aggressive high notes with fruited chocolate trailing behind. All in all this Workshop blend is very versatile, living up to the name "Uso Doble"!

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Sweet Maria's New Classic Espresso
$6.50
$12.35
$28.28
$53.95
$103.10
New Classic Espresso Blend
Arrival dateAll current-new crop
Appearance.6 d/300gr, 15-18 Screen
GradeTop Grades
ProcessingVarious Process
RegionVarious
Varietal(s)
Intensity/Prime attributeMedium / Balance, complexity, moderate fruit, mouthfeel
RoastWe recommend a range of roasts from FC, FC+ to light Vienna. That means just ending the roast just before 2nd crack (FC), a few snaps into 2nd crack (FC+), or as second crack begins to gain some momentum (Vienna).

Once there was "Classic Italian," our espresso blend to set the benchmark for traditional European-style espresso. It was a blend based on quality Brazil coffees, with a touch of aromatic Central American coffee to add a grace note to the cup, and it had a small percentage of premium robusta in it for crema, mouthfeel, and to add traditional flavors found on the continent. But times change and tastes change. Espresso culture is much less Euro-centric, and for good reason. While Italy gave us espresso, the general quality of street-level espresso there can be exceptionally poor. Don't even talk about coffee in France. The big brands in Europe are largely run by multi-nationals who keep a close watch on price, and gleefully buy lower quality green coffee if they can save .01 Euro. The privates follow suit, in order to compete. Of course, there are the exceptions, but the darker roast styles, well into 2nd crack, to cover up the use of low quality green coffee ... well, that is NOT something to emulate. For Sweet Maria's, espresso has never been our dumping ground for coffees we can't sell, old lots, or ones with mild defect. It's been a program where we have dedicated much time, focus in cupping, and roast testing. With this in mind, we want to start over again, and offer New Classic, a somewhat silly name, an oxymoron, and overused ... but it says what I want it to say: Here is the new benchmark espresso with sweet-bittersweet balance, body, crema, and finesse, the core definition of the espresso beverage, and defines it in the established West Coast espresso style (clean, bright notes) without the burden of European espresso conventions. In other words, no robusta! No obsessive interest in crema! (You can produce buckets of crema in espresso and still have a very mediocre-tasting cup. What ... do you make espresso just to look at the beautiful crema? No dummy, you make it to drink it!)

While this blend is designed primarily for a lighter roast, stopping the roast before 2nd crack, it also works well with a darker roast treatment. It does not have the extreme brightness that have been the trademark of some of our Espresso Workshop blends; it is a bit more restrained in it's overall demeanor. The cup has a balance between sweet and bittersweet flavors, moderate bright accent, soft traces of fruit, body and depth. The lighter roasts have a very sweet aromatic, fruited with plum and a hint of spice (cinnamon stick, cardamom). Darker roasts tend toward chocolate laced with dark fruit tones, in both aroma and cup flavor. Both have a firm, opaque body, with toasted almond roast notes as the espresso cools. In the aftertaste, peach tea flavor (and it light roasts a bit of jasmine tea) are evident. Of course, results vary with how the espresso machine and grinder are set up. We use 8.5 bars of pressure at the head, with 202 degrees water temperature (measured at the head) to start, dropping to about 198. At higher temperatures, it's a more aggressive espresso with a bittersweet edge and well-suited to milk drinks.

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Sweet Maria's Espresso Monkey Blend
$6.25
$11.88
$27.19
$51.88
$99.25
The Monkey
Arrival dateAll current-new crop
Appearance15-18 screen
GradeTop Grades
ProcessingVarious Process
RegionVarious
Varietal(s)
Intensity/Prime attributeMedium / Balance, complexity, fruit
RoastI prefer Northern Italian style re: Illy's Normale blend. I like this blend best when the roast is stopped just as second crack becomes rapid, and shows no sign of slowing down. Actually, I like it a lot lighter than that too! I don't like this roasted to a dark, dark roast stage, Full French or Italian. This is because Brazilian coffees become ashy and began to bitter when roasted extremely dark. I believe strongly in a 36+ hour resting period before use for espresso extraction! It wont kill you to use it sooner... but you might notice sharp unpleasant notes.

A longtime favorite espresso blend intended solely for pump and piston type espresso extraction. This is a sweet but punchy little cup, and roasted fairly light it is a shock to the palette, but has great body and a smooth, sweet, stunning aftertaste. The joke behind the name: I imagine a fancy roaster charming a client in the cupping room, effusing about their "Master Roaster" and "Master Blender" and "Master Cupper", all in the trade for decades of course. Then I imagine the scene in their warehouse where hired apes rip open bags of green coffee and randomly hurl handfulls into the hopper for roasting. In other words, there's a lot of BS in the coffee trade, and blending is NOT really a noble art ...it's done to save cost and disguise coffee defects 80% of the time.
The Irony? I have never worked so hard to develop a blend as this one, designed to cup well at a full range of "espresso" roasts, and developed as a pre-blend (all coffees roasted together to same degree of roast). Am I going to tell you exactly what is in it? No! I am feeling a bit snobby today! Espresso Monkey has become our signature blend for some reason or other, perhaps because it is a true standard that we have sought to maintain for so long, and that we put such nice coffees into it.

We blend this for body, balanced between high and low tones, chocolate roast flavors, and slightly rustic fruited accent notes. Those are our goals, that is the "spirit" behind the blend, and we check it to make sure it meets those targets. Our roast goal is in the beginning stages of 2nd crack ... we never "let it roll".

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Sweet Maria's French Roast Blend
$6.75
$12.83
$29.36
$56.03
$106.95
SM French roast blend
Arrival dateAll current-new crop
Appearance16 to 18 screen
GradeTop grades
ProcessingVarious Process
RegionVarious
Varietal(s)Varietal Blend
Intensity/Prime attributeMedium to Bold / Balance, Body
RoastI like this blend best roasted to the point where 2nd crack slows, but has not yet ended. Roast to the absolute end of 2nd crack, and you might as well be drinking roasted radish. I believe strongly in a 24 hour resting period for darker roasts.

This is my favorite blend designed to endure the rigors of dark roasting, and produce excellent pungent tastes, attractive bittersweet/carbony flavors, and great body. Body is so important to a darker roast. Extended roasts incinerate body, and a thin cup of burned water IS NOT what French Roast coffee is about! You do not want to fully burn up all the sugars, you want some degree of bittersweet, overlayed on the carbony charcoal tones of the burned woody structure of the bean itself. You want something still voluminous, and something sharp that stings you a bit down the center of the tongue. Well, at least if you do want these things, then we share common ground, and you might like my blend.

Please note that we made changes to improve the blend on 7/20/01. I have changed the percentages and added a new coffee that became available that really enhances the chocolatiness in the Vienna stage, and the pungency in the darker French stage

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Sweet Maria's Liquid Amber Espresso Blend
$6.50
$12.35
$28.28
$53.95
$103.10
SM Liquid Amber ...a potent espresso blend
Arrival dateAll current crop
Appearance0 d/300gr, 17-19 Screen
GradeAll top grades
ProcessingVarious Process
RegionVaries
Varietal(s)
Intensity/Prime attributeBold / Pungency, Power, Aftertaste
Roast I advocate a Northern Italian style roast (really a Vienna roast, stopped 30-45 seconds into 2nd crack), but the blend works very well at the darker Southern Italian style roast (a full French roast actually, at the peak of a rapid 2nd crack). Either way, get this into 2nd crack and allow proper resting that espresso demands: 48+ hours is best. This blend works great in air and drum roast machines and I developed it testing-roasting on both. If you notice a tingly "baking soda effect" in your mouth, then the coffee could use more rest.

I wanted an espresso blend that was potent, sharp, intense; but without excessive mustiness, fruitiness, or earthy flavors. But I wanted it also to be complex and hint at all of those tastes, and more! Here's the product of a lot of overly-caffeinated days of experimentation: the Liquid Amber Espresso Blend. It is named for the rich color and multitude of crema it produces. The blend was fairly complex to come up with ... after I found the general tastes I wanted, emerging from aroma and first sip through the very long aftertaste (if I don't cleanse my palate with water I will taste this coffee for 20+ minutes) I needed to play with the exact percentages. The specific blend, hey ... it is my secret! But I will tell you that the 5 coffees that really worked toward the flavor goal I imagined ended up surprising even me! I will say that there are Dry-processed, Wet-processed, and Monsooned coffees in here. I will also admit that there is a modicum of quality Robusta. And to keep this a mystery, the blend contains some coffees not on our list. Extracted in a properly functioning, clean espresso machine the blend produces a lot of crema, making the mouthfeel very thick and creamy. The sharp pungent bite to the blend is not bitter, and fades into a rich tobaccoy-milk chocolate aftertaste. If properly roasted (not scorched) the blend will not be ashy, something I really don't like in espresso. (With any espresso, if the aftertaste turns acrid and bitter after 3 minutes or so, clean the heck out of your machine.) In the Liquid Amber Blend there are hints of fruit, mushrooms, sweet smoke, caramel, and cream in the extended aftertaste. This blend works extremely well in milk drinks, meaning by that a true cappuccino (6-9 oz.) or machiatto. I make no claims for Latte ... is there any coffee that tastes potent mixed down 8:1 in a Slurpee-sized cup of milk? Please note: in 2005 I changed the type of Monsooned coffee. It is paler, sweeter, and is not a coffee we offer on our list. It's a special purchase for the blend to increase sweetness and reduce mustiness. -Tom

Liquid Amber Note:If the coffee arrives and doesn't appear evenly blended, this is because of the vibration during loading and shipment. I can positively guarantee you that the blend was packed in the exact, correct proportion (we are extremely careful about this), but the difference in size/density of the Monsooned/non-Monsooned can make them separate a bit with vibration. Just give it a stir....

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