What Is Single Origin Coffee?
Did you know that coffee is the second most sought-after commodity in the world, second only to oil? For people all over the world, drinking coffee is an important part of life.
You don't need to be a high-level coffee connoisseur to have heard the term "single origin coffee." This term has become more common in recent years, with a variety of sources weighing in on the topic. For the most part, you'll hear people singing the praises of single origin coffee. And these aren't just baristas. A writer for Forbes Magazine, for example, concluded that single origin coffee is worth the extra cost it typically entails, but why?
What makes single origin coffee special? We're going to answer that very question, along with plenty of others related to the topic, in this post. If you're interested in expanding your knowledge of coffee and possibly introducing some excitement into your coffee routine, stay with us.
Where Does Coffee Come From?
Before we explain what single origin coffee is, you should have a basic understanding of coffee's origins in general. If you're thinking, "coffee is ground up beans, and it comes from the grocery store," it's time to take a step back and look at the true origins of your favorite drink.
Coffee plants look like thick shrubs that can grow up to 12 feet tall. These shrubs bloom and produce coffee cherries. The beans we know and love are contained inside the cherries, like pits. These beans come in different varieties. The four main varieties that make it to coffee cups all over the world are Arabica, Robusta, Liberica and Excelsa.
Coffee plants grow best in what's known as the Coffee Belt or Bean Belt. This belt includes the regions around the world, including Central and South America, most of Africa and part of Asia, that offer the rich soil, mild temperatures and heavy rain coffee plants need to thrive.
Because coffee plants are so dense and grown in densely lush areas like rainforests, they typically can't be harvested mechanically. Instead, farmers must harvest their coffee by hand. Mechanical harvesting, which is sometimes used in larger, more commercial plantations, could also damage the coffee beans.
Harvesting the coffee cherries is just the first step. Next, coffee farmers must get the beans out of the surrounding fruit. To do so, they can either use water to break up and wash away the fruit (known as wet or wet-hull processing) or leave the cherries to dry in the sun so that the fruit breaks down, revealing the beans (known as dry or natural processing). These beans are then roasted to bring out the flavors and prepare them to make that beautiful cup of joe that wakes you up each morning.
What Does It Mean When Coffee Is Single Origin?
Now that you understand where coffee comes from in general, let's take a moment to unpack a term you might have seen on a package of coffee beans or overheard at your local coffee shop. The term is "single origin."
If a coffee is single origin, it means the coffee beans were all sourced from the same place. There's no official definition for what "place" means in this instance. It could mean the coffee beans came from the same country, region or farm.
You may also hear the terms "single farm" or "single estate," which are more specific ways of denoting that a coffee is single origin. In these cases, the coffee plants were grown on the same farm or estate rather than just in the same region or country. In most cases, single origin coffee comes from more than one plantation within the same geographical region.
To better understand what single origin coffee is, compare it to coffee blends. Blends are the default for most coffee-drinkers. A coffee blend is comprised of a mixture of beans from different sources. Artisans can combine beans from different regions or even roast them in different ways to engineer a blend with the quality level and flavor profile they want.
In the case of single origin coffee, there's no flavor engineering involved. Instead, roasters focus solely on bringing out the natural flavor and aroma of the beans. When you get a single origin coffee from Ethiopia, for example, you get to taste Ethiopian coffee in its truest form. It's direct from the farm to your cup. We'll talk more about the flavor of single origin coffee in a bit, but the key fact to know about it is that you can trace it back to one single source.
Why Does Coffee's Geographical Origin Matter?
You may be wondering why some people look for single origin coffee. Why does the coffee's origin matter? Isn't coffee just coffee? In a word, no. As with other crops, coffee plants are affected by the soil, climate and even altitude where they grow. Coffee plants grown in one region will produce beans that are distinct from beans grown in another region. Mexican coffee beans, while differing from region to region, farm to farm and even plot to plot, will have some general characteristics that distinguish them from beans grown in India, for example.
Let's take a look at three of the top coffee-producing countries as examples to see how the distinct features of each region tend to affect coffee's flavor.
Brazil produces more coffee than any other country. Most of the coffee they export is Arabica, though they also export a good deal of Robusta beans. Much of the coffee you get at coffee shops in the U.S. is Arabica blend Brazilian coffee. It usually has a mild, nutty taste.
Brazilian coffee farmers use both wet and dry processing for their beans. Brazilian coffee is mostly grown in grasslands at lower altitudes. These conditions work well for producing plenty of coffee, but it's not considered ideal for quality. Because Brazilian coffee plantations tend to be large in scale, they often use mechanical picking methods, which means not every bean is at its ideal ripeness when it's picked.
Ethiopia is another major exporter of coffee beans and is even credited with being the birthplace of coffee. Ethiopia's climate and conditions are perfect for growing coffee, particularly in the southern mountainous region. Coffee from Ethiopia is typically Arabica, but it doesn't taste the same as Brazilian Arabica beans.
Ethiopian coffee has a distinctly bright flavor that is usually either fruity or floral. The flavor partly depends on whether the beans were wet or dry processed. Dry, or natural, processing is more common in Ethiopia, but both methods are used. Dry-processed coffee from Ethiopia typically features a heavier body and more fruity flavor notes, while the wet-processed beans will be lighter with more floral flavor notes.
Colombia also produces a lot of coffee. Colombia's geography and climate offer an ideal combination for growing it — the climate is wet and tropical, the soil is fertile from volcanoes and the altitude is high.
Colombian coffee beans are typically Arabica. Three types of Arabica coffees from Colombia are popular enough that they're grouped together under the acronym "MAM." Each variety is named after the region where it's grown: Medellin, Armenia and Manizales. Colombian coffee tends to be fairly mild, with hints of sweetness and citrus in the flavor.
How Does Single Origin Coffee Taste Compared to Blends?
When we're talking about coffee, it can be easy to get caught up in a geography or an agriculture lesson and forget one important aspect of coffee: the taste. Taste is a tricky thing to pin down since we all have different preferences when it comes to flavor. Still, certain types of coffees tend to be prized more for their superior taste, while others might be described with unfavorable descriptions like burnt, bland or overly bitter.
So what does single origin coffee taste like, and how does that taste compare to the blends most of us are used to? We just talked a bit about the different flavor profiles that characterize coffee from various regions across the world, so you may already be thinking that the taste of single origin coffee depends on where that coffee came from. If so, you're absolutely right. A single origin coffee from Guatemala won't taste the same as a single origin coffee from Vietnam.
That said, we can make some general statements about how the taste of single origin coffee differs from the taste of coffee blends.
The Taste of Blends
Coffee blends tend to be more economical, which means even if they contain some higher quality beans, they also contain lower quality bean fillers. This mix results in a diluted rather than strong, pure flavor. Blends certainly aren't all bad though. In fact, blends can consist entirely of high-quality beans of different kinds. Roasters sometimes pair high-quality beans that complement each other well to create a more balanced and full cup.
Blends are usually created to deliver a taste experience that hits your front, middle and back pallet. In other words, each sip is like a journey that involves a series of flavors. Blends are also designed to be consistent and predictable. As coffee canisters from the same brand come and go, they should taste the same. Part of making blends predictable is designing them so that they combine well with milk and sugar.
With a blend, you may not know exactly what kinds of beans you're getting, but you'll know what sort of experience you're likely getting — a well-rounded, typical cup of coffee.
The Taste of Single Origin Coffee
If you're interested in the adventure of tasting stripped-down coffee in its original form, single origin coffee is the way to go. It tends to offer a bolder, more unmatched flavor experience. Coffee roasters often roast single origin beans only lightly so that they can maintain their inherent flavor with minimal interference.
Rather than hitting your pallet at different levels like a blend typically does, a single origin coffee will have a more one-dimensional flavor profile. In this case, you could call the coffee "one-note" and mean it as a compliment. In the world of coffee, sometimes a purer, punchier flavor is just what your routine has been missing.
Most coffee drinkers who opt for single origin coffees are interested in enjoying the coffee in its simplest form, so they aren't as likely to add milk or sugar. Many single origin coffees won't pair as well with these add-ins and are better enjoyed black.
Because single origin coffee has a more extreme flavor, you won't find it as often in espresso drinks. The intensity of a single origin coffee compounded by the concentration of espresso can lead to a drink that may be too strong in a certain flavor for many people. However, a great single origin espresso is certainly achievable, especially if you can isolate what flavors you enjoy in your coffee.
Why Has Single Origin Coffee Become Popular?
Single origin coffee has risen in popularity in recent years. This increasing popularity came with what's known as coffee's third wave. This era in the coffee world has emphasized enjoying high-quality coffee that tastes like itself rather than like other flavors such as caramel or vanilla.
The current coffee culture has also emphasized going to the source to better understand the process that leads up to that bold cup of coffee. This change fits in with a broader cultural movement in the U.S. to become more aware of the origins of what we consume. For instance, some people prefer to purchase fresh eggs and produce from local farmers rather than the supermarket because of the personal connection they have to the source.
When it comes to coffee, roasters and even some coffee enthusiasts are benefiting from origin visits, where they can see the farm and visit the workers who produce the coffee beans they use. Connecting farmers to the people they're growing their coffee for can lead to a meaningful and rewarding relationship wherein growers take an extra measure of pride in their work and can communicate more openly with roasters about the process.
It isn't just the movement toward greater transparency in sourcing that has helped single origin coffee become more popular. It's also the fact that artisans in the coffee world are always innovating and coming up with new ways to help people experience coffee in a way that's anything but mundane. Single origin coffee offers an exciting way for coffee drinkers to enjoy something out of the ordinary compared to the house blend they're used to.
Perhaps the simplest answer for why single origin coffee has risen in popularity is because it has some unique positive qualities that make it stand out. Let's take a look at what those qualities are in the next section.
Is Single Origin Coffee Better?
Single origin coffee tends to be more expensive, but is it really better than the blends you're used to drinking? In a nutshell, both single origin coffee and coffee blends offer some unique advantages. Blends tend to provide a fuller bodied flavor experience and are more consistent. They also tend to be cheaper. Single origin coffee, on the other hand, offers its own unique advantages.
Single origin coffee is celebrated by many coffee enthusiasts for a number of reasons, including its:
- Clarity: Many people are attracted to single origin coffee because of the clarity of taste it provides. This isn't just about the taste itself but also what it symbolizes. You're tasting beans that all came from the same area. You're getting to taste pure, unadulterated coffee without the fillers or frills that many people are used to in coffee blends.
- Quality: Because single origin coffees are pure, you can expect them to be higher quality than many of the beans that make it into typical coffee blends. In the case of single origin coffee, you can't make up for the shortcomings of lower quality beans by adding in some higher quality ones. Single origin coffees, on the other hand, are typically picked, processed and roasted to a high standard of quality.
- Diversity: The variety of single origin coffees you can find are as diverse as the places where these coffee plants grow. Tasting different single origin coffees from across the world can be like going on a journey with your taste buds. If you enjoy the adventure of trying new and interesting coffees, you'll love the fact that there are always new single origin coffees to try.
- Transparency: Because single origin coffee is all about being able to trace the coffee back to its source, you'll find these brews with more detailed information about what you're getting. At Barnie's, our single origin coffees are labeled with information about the roast level, varietal, process, geographical origin, altitude and even the name of the farm where the coffee was grown.
So is single origin better? It depends on your personal preference, but we recommend everyone trying a few single origin coffees so that they can enjoy this experience and decide for themselves whether they prefer single origin coffees or blends. Many coffee drinkers enjoy a well-crafted blend as well as a high-quality single origin coffee.
How Should Single Origin Coffee Be Prepared?
If you decide to purchase a single origin coffee and brew it at home, you'll want to capitalize on the unique flavor of it by brewing it properly. Single origin coffee can be brewed using the same methods you would use for coffee blends, including French press, pour over and more.
While you can use any method you like, some coffee connoisseurs will recommend using a pour over method for single origin coffees. A French press tends to work better for darker roasts. Since single origin coffees tend to be lighter roasts, you'll typically want to use a pour over method instead. This method should bring out the coffee's aroma and flavor with impressive clarity.
You can brew pour over coffee either manually or automatically with the right equipment. Remember to grind the coffee to a finer consistency than you would for a standard paper filter. Follow our guide for how to brew the perfect pour over coffee to know the exact measurements that should help you achieve an aromatic, delicious cup of single source coffee.
Make sure you wet the coffee and allow it to bloom for about 15 to 20 seconds before pouring the water over the coffee grounds. When you start pouring, move in a circular motion for even results.
As we mentioned earlier, if you want to have the quintessential single origin coffee experience, you should drink your coffee black. Adding milk or sugar will interfere with the drink's natural taste. Drinking a quality cup of single origin coffee truly is an experience — it will connect you with a far-flung part of the world where your coffee was grown, cultivated and harvested. This coffee is not one you want to guzzle down on your way to work — it's one you want to take the time to enjoy.
Taste the Single Origin Difference
For almost 40 years, Barnie's has been innovating and perfecting the art of coffee creation to bring you a variety of flavors that will elevate your coffee drinking experience. Whether you prefer single origin or blend coffee, we have plenty of premium options for you to try. If you're interested in tasting single origin coffee, you can taste the single origin difference by selecting a Crop Ex small batch coffee from Barnie's.
These coffees come with detailed information about the coffee's origins, down to the family farm where the coffee plants grew. We roast our Crop Ex beans in small batches and sign each bag on the day it's roasted for complete transparency and authenticity. We don't just see coffee as a commodity. We also stay connected with the communities and farmers who make each delicious, steaming cup possible.
If you're interested in a great cup of single origin coffee, shop our Crop Ex collection, which includes delicious, authentic single origin coffees from all over the globe.