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Single Origin Coffee vs Blends (and which is right for you)

If you get your caffeine fix from independent coffee shops, you’ve probably found yourself staring at these two words, written in chalk or on the typical hipster letterboard: ‘single origin’. What an exotic buzzword! Is it just a pretentious way to describe coffee? Let’s see (spoiler alert: it’s not).

What is Single Origin Coffee?

To cut a long story short, ‘single origin’ means that the coffee beans are all sourced from the same place. No major plot-twist. Of course, leaving it here would be like saying that coffee was just a drink. We all know there’s so much more to it.
Let’s dive (not literally) into the depths of single origin coffee.

Bean origin matters because factors such as the soil type, climate, production and processing methods shape the final flavor -  from the aroma to the aftertaste.

So what does ‘single origin’ actually mean? Well, there are different types of geographical origins that are included in this umbrella term.

Single country or region

The beans are all sourced from the same country. You might have heard of Colombian or Peruvian beans, for example. Nowadays, though, the term feels far too broad, almost more appropriate for a blend (don’t panic: we’ll get to those later). Think of a big country like Brazil: with its different microclimates, it’s only natural that there will be undeniable differences between beans that are harvested in northern regions and those in the south.

A map of peru to display a single origin country

As an example: a 'Peruvian coffee bean' is a single origin, but a bean from a certain farm in Peru is also single origin.

Single farm and cooperative

These are beans that are grown within a single farm. Shaped by the levels of rain, farmers’ traditions, specific growing conditions and processing methods, this coffee is a unique product of that particular time and place. Because it’s bound to a harvesting season and has very limited availability, it’s more expensive, but also of very high quality.

Since some farms aren’t big enough to supply satisfying amounts of coffee, it’s common to find beans that come from the same cooperative instead.

Micro-lot and nano-lot

The finest coffee connoisseurs can purchase beans that come from a particular lot (or an even smaller nano-lot) in a specific farm. It certainly doesn’t get any more exclusive than this.

Single Origin vs Blends

Blends, as the name suggests, are a mixture of coffee beans sourced from different locations and processed together. The majority of coffee blends combine beans that come from two to four places, but some coffee roasters might mix even eight or nine. They can come from different regions within the same geographic area, or from totally separate countries around the world.

Coffee roasters create blends to craft a unique, consistent flavor. The next time you get lost in front of the blackboard of your local independent coffee shop, try and spot their house blend.

Bear in mind that mixing single origin beans is not easy: combining the wrong types might result in a bland or unpleasant taste. It requires both skill and extensive knowledge (1).

“Blending is an important skill set of the roaster, and blending different single-origin coffees can show the roasters’ understanding of coffee as well as a greater understanding of flavor profiles.” - Danny Pinnell, Specialty Coffee Association

Let’s look at the main differences between single origin beans and coffee blends.

Availability

Due to its geographical limitations, single origin coffee has extremely limited availability. Especially when it’s sourced from a specific farm, it’s seasonal and can’t be produced in abundant quantities. Because blends combine different types of beans, they are available all year round.

Single origin coffee from a farm in Central America

Hunting down single origin coffees from Micro lots like this one in Panama is what its all about!

Cost

Rare = more expensive, of course. Since single origin beans are so exclusive, they’re also more expensive than blends.

Traceability

When the beans are all grown in the same place, you’ll know exactly where your coffee comes from. This helps promote sustainability and fair-trade, which have often been lacking in the coffee industry, both historically and presently.

Flavor

Many people and coffee connoisseurs in particular seem to prefer the immersive experience offered by single origin, which is regarded as coffee in its purest form (1):

“...Drinking a new single origin is a way to mark time. By their very nature, single origins are ephemeral, limited to just one harvest. Each is a time capsule that begs to be relished until it is gone.” - Blue Bottle Coffee Lab

On the other hand, given an infinite amount of mixing possibilities, each blend is also unique and consistent, and offers a more layered and well-rounded drinking experience.

So, Which is the Best Single Origin Coffee?

Well, you decide! As I’m sure you know by now, single origin and blends are very different, so it all depends on how you prefer to enjoy your cup of joe.

If you usually drink coffee on the go, add lots of milk and sugar, and appreciate the consistency of its flavor, then you should probably go for a blend.

If you’d rather sit down and take the time to enjoy the raw and unadulterated taste of coffee, then we are confident you’ll love a single origin (rigorously black, I’d like to emphasize).

A good place to start - a guide of all the best coffee beans and regions - we have one here.

Why Not Consider a Single Origin Coffee Subscription?

They say you can’t buy happiness, but you can get different single origin beans delivered straight to your door periodically, and that’s kind of the same thing.

If you want to take your coffee knowledge and experience to the next level, you’ll love trying different exotic types of beans and discovering the unique story behind each harvest. There are several companies that offer this type of service, but, if you don’t know where to start, you can check out our favorites.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it past all the technical terms (they weren’t as bad as you thought, were they?) and are still here, I’ll take it that you enjoyed learning about the provenance of beans.

Now that you know what single origin coffee is, I’m sure the blackboard of your local café will be much easier to decipher.

So what do you think? Are you more of an ‘I’ll have the usual house blend on the go’ type or an ‘Ethiopian Nano Challa, please. Black’?

FAQs

Is single origin coffee better?

Many coffee connoisseurs insist that, yes, single origin coffee is better because it’s coffee at its purest form. Blends tend to have a bad reputation since some big roasters mix the beans with lower quality ones to skimp on the price. However, blends that are passionately crafted by expert coffee roasters are just as unique as single origin beans. Therefore, while coffee that is sourced from the same area or farm is certainly rarer and more exclusive, it’s not automatically better than all blends.

What is the best single origin coffee?

The best single origin coffee is probably different for different people. It’s hard to decide on the best beans when there are thousands of options to choose from and they all come with their unique characteristics and nuances, but here you can find a list of the ones that we and other coffee lovers recommend the most.

How do you make single origin coffee?

To make single origin coffee you need beans that are sourced from the same geographic area or farm. The best way to enjoy them and appreciate their unadulterated taste is to brew them as an espresso shot or a filter coffee, without adding milk and sugar.


References

  1. Why Do We Source Single Origins?. (n.d.). Retrieved June 18, 2019, from https://blog.bluebottlecoffee.com/posts/why-single-origin-coffee
  2. Pinnell, D. (2014, December 4). Coffee Talk: Blends. Retrieved June 18, 2019, from https://scanews.coffee/2014/12/04/coffee-talk-blends/
Scott
 

Hi, I'm Scott, and I've traveled extensively through North America and Europe, exploring food and drink pairings around the world. My Love of coffee began during my teen years when a friend's family introduced me to the glories of the classic Italian Moka pot. That technology got me through too many early-morning final exams in college and eventually led to a manual espresso machine after graduation.

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