You may have heard the term “single origin” being used by your favorite barista while they’re whipping up your creamy cappuccino, and you might not have paid much mind to it. But what does it mean? And should you care? The coffee industry has become increasingly complex as more and more baristas are taking their passion and experimenting with it, and discovering new ways to brew. But what does this mean for your morning cup of joe? Would buying single origin coffee make your cup better, or just more expensive?
What Does “Single Origin” Mean?
Single origin beans are those that come from a single producer, crop, or region, (more about that here). Single origin beans can be traced back to a single farm, in which case we call it single estate coffee. Estate coffees are usually sourced from renowned farms, and they are head and shoulders above the average sourced bean.
Furthermore, a farmer might differentiate between different areas of his farm. The harvest from specific sections might have a greater value because of the altitude, or the specific soil, or the amount of sun. This is called micro-lot coffee. Micro-lot coffees can also be selected based on the harvest day. They are usually the most expensive, and they have the most unique profile of all the single origins. Some micro-lot coffees barely resemble any coffee you have ever tasted, and in a good way.
Single Origin vs Blends
Single origin coffee has a flavor specific to the region which it is from, where a blend, on the other hand, samples beans from multiple locations and combines them for a more complex coffee. Single origin beans are often lightly roasted to maintain their unique flavor. An experienced barista or connoisseur will be able to tell where a single origin coffee is from just by tasting it. A single estate is the ultimate coffee selection, because the beans are identical. Size, flavor, density, humidity, and other factors are the same. This allows the master roaster to experiment and get the best out of the beans. With blends, the perfect roasting degree is different for the various sources; hence there is no perfect roasting, but rather a perfect average. if you want more details, here is an article that talks about the difference between single origin vs blends.
What Are Single Origin Beans Used For?
In the past, baristas have typically preferred blends due to their complexity and their ability to pair with milk for lattes and cappuccinos, but single origins have been getting more popular. Why? For one thing, single origin coffees are more traceable. Like we mentioned earlier, the origin of a single origin coffee is easy to determine by taste because the flavors are reflective of only one particular region. This helps baristas learn to pick out different beans in blends.
More importantly, specialty cafés have been innovating the way we brew coffee and discovering different brew methods, which require stronger flavors. Single origin coffees taste better standing alone, without milk or sugar. They’re perfect for pour overs and slow drip methods, which are rapidly growing more popular.
Espresso is still the number one application where blends can outperform single origins. An espresso needs to combine several attributes: some acidity, but not too much, sweetness, and crema. A single origin will make a great espresso, but will definitely lack in certain aspects. Don’t get me wrong, I just finished a bag of Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, and I brewed it almost exclusively as espresso. It was fantastic. The espresso blends though, have their appeal, and the balance between sweetness, crema, acidity and body can’t be matched by a single blend. On the other hand, if you are looking to get the amazing floral notes of Yirgacheffe, or the sweetness of an Indonesian Sulawesi, you go for single origin, or SO espresso, as it is commonly called. Here is a nice article about espresso blending.
Single Origin Guatemalan Coffee Beans
Two Volcanoes Coffee is a single origin coffee, grown in the mountains close to the Tajana, and Tajumulco volcanoes. The volcanic soil and growing conditions produce a fine coffee bean. The region where it’s sourced from is called Barrancas, San Marcos. This region is known for producing great coffee beans, with a full body, no bitterness and floral notes.
The beans are medium roasted, to fully preserve the identity, and they are roasted in small batch, to ensure a uniform roast. The package has a degassing valve to allow the gas to go out without the air coming in.
Does Single Origin Equals Better Quality?
This is a debatable topic, but many would say yes. A single origin coffee presents a better experience to the consumer. This is because of the increased communication between roasters and farmers, and a new level of pride taken on by everyone involved in the process. More roasters are visiting the farms they’re buying from to personally help cup the beans, and the exchange of information that takes place helps improve the quality of the coffee. Furthermore, this increased dedication has led to a sophistication that consumers are noticing, and therefore getting more interested in. As more consumers become educated about coffee, more single origin beans are harvested, and the quality is improved upon even more.
Why Is Single Origin Coffee Better?
Absolutely! Single origin coffee offers a completely different experience than that of a blend. Many times blends are just a way to mask poor beans quality. In a single estate or single origin, the quality is perfect, as there is nothing to cover the bad taste. More than that, for certain brews, they will bring into your cup certain notes that you can’t find in other beans. The soil and the local growing conditions give the coffee beans their unique taste. The terroir effect can span over a wide area, such as a region of the country, but most often is a small area, such as a group of farms. Some big companies have created single origins using beans from an entire country. These are just blends, at the end of the day. A blend is an average between all the components. The aim of a blend is to bring consistency, but at the expense of the individuality.
You might be surprised to find yourself ditching your usual cream and sugar for the full-bodied flavor of stand-alone single origin coffee. The best way to enjoy a single origin is as a pour over, or a French Press. You can always ask your barista what their favorite method is for the specific coffee that has piqued your interest. If you’re a home-brewer, you might consider investing in a Chemex. The Chemex uses a filter to provide a clean taste that exemplifies the flavors of the beans. Whatever method you choose, definitely skip the milk. It might come as intriguing for you, but espresso is also a great way to enjoy single estate. The high pressure and the lower brewing temperature will highlight the specific notes in the beans. With some origins you will get less crema, but the taste section will compensate.
Video – Single origin vs Blends
Single Origin Coffee Contributes to More Ethical Production
Another reason you should consider giving single origin coffee a try is that it is helping to make the production of beans more ethical. The communication between roasters and farmers that we spoke of earlier? That communication increases the likelihood that farmers in other countries are getting paid fair wages. If this is important to you, there are many coffee roasters out there that are specifically dedicated to producing only ethical, single origin coffee so consumers can enjoy their coffee with a clear conscience.
Different Regions and Their Flavors
Interested in educating yourself on how to determine the origin of a bean by its flavor? Here’s a guide to help you on your way.
- Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua) – smooth, sweet, tart, fruity acidity, “clean” flavor.
- South America (Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia) – sweeter, less acidic, chocolatey, creamy.
- Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda) –fruity, floral, complex, fragrant-rich, full-bodied.
- Asia (Indonesia, India, Philippines) – less acidic, more complex, savory.
Even within regions, specific countries can have varying flavor profiles. Going beyond the term “single origin,” the terms “single farm” and “single estate” are even more specific in pinpointing the origin of the bean. It’s definitely safe to say that our coffee preferences are leaning more towards transparency and quality.