Single Origin Coffee vs Blends. 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 letter board: ‘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 beans are all sourced from the same place. And when light roasted, these beans make great cold brew and pour over coffee. 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 flavour – 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 Honduran, 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.
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.
You can learn more about micro-lot coffee here.
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. If you wish to learn more about blends, here’s where we discussed what a coffee blend is in detail.
Coffee roasters create blends to craft a unique, consistent flavour. 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 flavour profiles.
Let’s look at the main differences between single origin beans and coffee blends.
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.
Rare = more expensive, of course. Since single origin beans are so exclusive, they’re also more expensive than blends.
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.
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 (2):
…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.
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.
Best 3 Single Origin Coffees
|The Roastery Peru Guardian Del Bosque Geisha||
|Clumsy Goat Fairtrade Ethiopian Sidamo||
|Pact Coffee El Laurel Honduras||
1. The Roastery Peru Guardian Del Bosque Geisha – Best Overall
Origin: Amazonas, Peru
- Roast level: not specified
- Tasting notes: Jasmine, marzipan, peach
- Whole bean or ground: Either
Once you start exploring single origins, you’ll notice that the specific variety of bean is also one of the coffee’s selling points. The unique growing conditions of a region, or even an individual farm, will make it more suitable for particular plants and bring out different characteristics in the coffee.
The Geisha bean is among the world’s most highly prized. It’s most famously grown in Panama, but other countries such as Peru are now also producing it to Cup of Excellence standards. These beans can be traced to a single farm in the Amazonas growing region of Peru, known for its steep mountain terrain and dense rainforest.
Farmer Carloman Carranza uses wash processing, which is the best method for bringing out the clarity and vibrancy of a single-origin coffee. With this organic Geisha, it allows you to fully experience the delicate floral fragrance and soft body, with sweet notes of marzipan and peach.
2. Clumsy Goat Fairtrade Ethiopian Sidamo – Best Fairtrade
Origin: Sidamo, Ethiopia
- Roast level: Medium
- Tasting notes: Stonefruit, citrus, lemongrass
- Whole bean or ground: Whole bean
As the origin of coffee itself, Ethiopia is one of the biggest names when it comes to specialty coffee. There are more than ten growing regions in the country, all with different microclimates, but the best known are Yirgacheffe and Sidamo.
In these parts, the type of coffee plant usually isn’t specified beyond being Arabica. Most of what’s grown here falls under heirloom coffee – uncategorised varieties that have grown wild in the particular area for centuries, making the region of origin much more important.
Sidamo coffees are known for having a full body and crisp acidity, with plenty of fruit and floral notes These beans from Clumsy Goat are a great introduction to coffees from this area, with light stonefruit flavours, citrus acidity and aromatic lemongrass notes.
One of the reasons to consider buying single-origin beans is traceability. This isn’t just about ensuring you’re buying high-quality beans – it helps to provide transparency about how farmers are treated. All of Clumsy Goat’s coffees are certified Fairtrade, which means that farmers are paid a fair price for their coffee, and their working conditions comply with strict standards.
3. Pact Coffee El Laurel Honduras – Best Microlot
Origin: El Paraiso, Honduras
- Roast level: Light
- Tasting notes: Grapefruit, jasmine
- Whole bean or ground: Either
Microlot coffees are the most exclusive of single origins, harvested from a specific lot on a single farm, so you know you’re getting an incredibly consistent coffee. In this case, it’s the Finca El Laurel in the El Paraiso region of Honduras. Honduras isn’t traditionally a big hitter in the world of specialty beans, but farmers like Oscar Daniel Ramirez Valerio are beginning to make waves.
He was one of the first producers in the country to plant Panareima, a new variety created for its resistance to coffee rust. Disease-resistant coffees aren’t normally considered particularly high quality, but Oscar Ramirez has managed to create some incredible results.
In 2017, his El Laurel Panareima was awarded the Cup of Excellence, later breaking the record for the highest price paid for a COE winner. Coffee crops will of course vary from year to year, but with this track record, it’s safe to say you’re getting pretty good value for money.
So what does this award-winning coffee taste like? It’s full of fruit flavour, but with a brightness that comes from tastes of grapefruit, green apple and lime. On the nose, it’s more floral with aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle.
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 flavour, 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 subscription services.
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. You can even get know what each single origin coffee smell and taste like through coffee cupping! Here’s how to do it.
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’?
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.
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.
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.
- Pinnell, D. (2014, December 4). Coffee Talk: Blends. Retrieved June 18, 2019, from https://web.archive.org/web/20211129200538/https://scanews.coffee/2014/12/04/coffee-talk-blends/
- Why Do We Source Single Origins?. (n.d.). Retrieved June 18, 2019, from https://blog.bluebottlecoffee.com/posts/why-single-origin-coffee