Coffee can be many things to many different people. For some, it’s the pop of energy they need to start their day off right or the opportunity to gather around the table and share a few moments together. For others, a good cup of coffee isn’t a means to an end: it’s the main event. That’s where single origin coffee shines.
Pour yourself a delicious cup of knowledge and dive into the marvelous world of single origin coffee – where it’s grown, how it’s made and what flavors you can expect.
Blended Versus Single Origin Coffee
Coffee blends are just what their name implies: an assortment of beans from different farms and regions mixed together to produce a rounded, balanced taste and aroma. Single origin coffees, on the other hand, come from one geographical region – and occasionally from one grower, although combined crops from a couple farmers in a small area isn’t uncommon.
Single origin coffees came into vogue during what’s called the third wave of coffee, a period when baristas and roasters alike reexamined how we appreciate and consume our favorite morning pick-me-up. Flavored coffees like hazelnut, French vanilla and caramel brews were out; black coffees with bold, natural profiles were in. Brewing with one bean means that a coffee’s flavor, body and aroma stand out for a more scintillating cup.
What Are the Big Flavor Factors?
The ideal climate for growing the tastiest Arabica coffee beans is somewhere with an average temperature between 64- and 70-degrees Fahrenheit, and elevated territories – anywhere between 2,500 and 6,000 feet – typically offer the best blend of temperate climate and oxygen-rich air to grow cherries. Beans produced in lower lying environments tend to have the traditional flavors and aromas associated with your morning cup: chocolate, toffee, tobacco and dark fruit. The further above sea level a coffee plant grows, the less oxygen the plant can use to bear fruit. Therefore, coffee plants grown at higher elevations literally produce cherries differently than their low altitude cousins. This low-oxygen method of flower development is known as anaerobic growth, and it can lead to some unexpected, delicious flavor notes: stone fruit, citrus, berry and jasmine flower.
How a coffee is prepared before it reaches your kitchen is just as important to your brew’s character as whether you decide to take cream and sugar in your morning cup.
Naturally processed coffee beans are left to dry in the hot sun on palettes with their skins and pulp intact. The cherry skin and fresh slowly falls away, leaving behind bold, fruity flavor notes and a full-bodied coffee.
Wash processed coffee beans are de-pulped manually and fermented in containers, stirred in water until the last bits of pulp and cherry shells separate from the pit. The washed beans are then laid out to dry. A squeaky-clean coffee bean leads to a clean coffee flavor, with notes imparted more from the bean itself than the washed fruit.
Since bone-dry beans are not a realistic goal for coffee farmers in Indonesia – thanks to the wet, rainy climate of the region – wet-hulled coffee beans are in a category all their own. Instead of laying out depulped coffee seeds to completely dry in the sun, Indonesian growers let the seeds ferment overnight, partially dry them, remove the drying parchment and then sell the seeds to a middleman, who will dry the beans to between 12% and 13% moisture. This Indonesian processing method leads to big, full-bodied brews, low acidity and muted sweetness.
Many of the nutrients a growing coffee plant needs are extracted from the fertile ground it calls home. Was your morning cup rooted in volcanic ash or trampled undergrowth? Slick mud or loose topsoil? A soil’s composition and quality greatly impact a coffee bean’s flavor and moisture retention.
Where Do Single Origin Coffees Come From?
Some of the world’s most exciting coffees come from the farms and micro lots in this mountainous region. The famous candied, grapefruit-like sweetness of Ethiopian coffees. The slinky mouthfeel and savory tomato flavor of a perfectly brewed Burundi. The cocoa and toffee notes of a dark-roasted Kenyan coffee. East African brews can be an adventurous departure from the ordinary morning cup for new hobbyists and seasoned sippers alike.
You should try: Ethiopia Ayehu
From Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and beyond, these are some of the most popular coffees in the world — for good reason. With robust aromas, chocolatey flavor notes and a dash of spice (think nutmeg, not cayenne), these full-bodied brews Rich soil and not-so-sky-high elevation lead to medium acidity and well-balanced sweetness.
You should try: Colombia Cauca
Sumatran coffees took your local café by storm as the third wave of coffee crested in the 1990s. The moist soil in this rainy region enriches this coffee with an earthy, almost smoky character. Relatively low elevation, a tropical climate and the unique wet-hulling processing method come together for a distinctive aroma and mouthfeel.
You should try: Sumatra Gayo
This island has been paradise for coffee lovers long before the surfers and sightseers found it. The combination of varied elevations and nutritious soil makes Hawaii a go-to destination for coffee drinkers looking for rich, warm flavors, apple-crisp acidity and a touch of nuttiness.
You should try: Hawaiian Kona Greenwell Farms