“Is this a coffee shop or geography class? Why are there so many countries listed?”
If you’ve been inside a coffee shop lately, you’ve likely asked yourself some variation of these questions. It probably happened when the barista asked for your preferred origin of coffee beans — Brazil, Ethiopia, or Papua New Guinea. Unfortunately, your knowledge of coffee descriptors extends only to terms like ‘dark roast’ or ‘breakfast blend,’ so you just took whichever one was cheapest. I mean, what is the origin of coffee anyway?
Your barista wasn’t giving you a pop quiz. Those countries listed on the menus of your local coffee shops describe different single origin coffees.
Single origin is a term that has become increasingly popular recently. Today, you seemingly can’t even walk into a coffee shop without hearing the term.
What Does Single Origin Mean?
Put simply, single origin is a fancy way of saying that your coffee came from one specific place. Knowing the origin of your coffee will, at the very least, always let you know which country it was grown and harvested in.
In addition to country, the coffee origin can be used to identify a few other things. The term can specify which region, farm, or specific harvest your country came from (reference). In fact, many coffee roasters name their coffees after the farms that produce them.
Why is Single Origin Coffee so Popular?
Because the term seems to have come out of nowhere, it would be easy to dismiss the idea as an industry fad like coffee ice cubes or cold brew (yeah, I said it). But that’s not true.
There are a couple of reasons why single origin coffee has become so popular.
It Tells You What the Coffee Tastes Like
While some people think all coffee tastes the same, we coffee enthusiasts know that couldn’t be further from the truth. Some coffees are bold, some are sweet, and some can be straight up fruity.
This isn’t by chance. Single origin depicts the unique characteristics and qualities of a region. Coffees from different regions of the world can taste completely different from one another.
The taste of coffee can also be affected by things such as how it’s grown, harvested, and processed. Heck, even the soil plays a role.
Good coffee roasters understand this and select their coffees based on what they want it to taste like.
“[We] search out single origins because growing conditions—soil, weather, and cultivation practices—are the very things that give coffee its unique character.”Blue Bottle Coffee
It provides Transparency and Traceability
When we brew coffee, we want to control as many variables as possible. That’s why we want as much information — grind size, water temperature, brew time — as we can get. It helps us to repeatedly achieve desired results and identify errors. The coffee sourcing process isn’t much different.
Single origin helps coffee roasters be consistent by repeatedly buying from the same regions and farms. If they buy a coffee that they feel is great, they can buy that same coffee, or one just like it, again.
Knowing the origin of your coffee means you have an easy answer to queries like “this coffee is awesome, where can I get some more?” Ethiopia, that’s where!
And don’t forget the farmers! Single origin can be a win-win-win for all of us — the coffee roaster, the customer, and the farmer. It allows the opportunity for direct trade, the term for buying coffee directly from those who grow it. This can mean stability for farmers as they form longterm relationships with coffee roasters who love their product (reference).
“If they understand the quality of the product, it guarantees sustainability for everyone making extra efforts in every step of the coffee-making chain… to me, that’s beautiful and that’s why single origin matters.”Cesar Magana, farmer, barista, and roaster at Lechuza Cafe in El Salvador
Single Origin Coffee vs. Blends
Breakfast blend, original blend, ambiguous blend. It can be hard to make sense of all these names for coffees. So what is the difference between single origins and blends?
Hopefully, by now, you know that single origin means that the coffee came from one place. If you’ve made it this far and don’t know that, are you even paying attention?
As for blends, they’re exactly what their name suggests. Blends are a mixture of coffees from different origins. Some coffee roasters choose their blends based on the larger coffee growing region. For example, a South American blend could feature coffee from Brazil, Colombia, and
Guatemala. Or the blend could be made up of whatever the roaster thought complimented each other well. There aren’t many rules when it comes to blends. It pretty much just has to be coffee.
How Do I Choose a Single Origin Coffee?
There are tons of origins, farms, and coffee roasters to choose from out there. How do you find the one you like? Or, if you’re anything like me, how do you choose just one? You can start by giving these two methods a try.
Ask Your Local Barista
Next time you go into your favorite coffee shop, talk to the person who knows your coffee best. Tell them your likes and dislikes and ask them to recommend the best coffee for you. Maybe you’re trying to quit ash-flavored dark roasts and they can recommend a Sumatra for you to try.
Or maybe you have a sweet tooth and would love to try an Ethiopian that tastes like blueberries.
Sign Up for a Single Origin Coffee Subscription
Are you indecisive? Do you love surprises, especially in mail form? Do you just want to leave it to the experts?
Then sign up for a single origin coffee subscription. There are several reputable roasters who offer subscription services that deliver freshly roasted, high quality, single origin coffee right to your door. We’re currently enjoying Blue Bottle’s subscription which can be tailored to your liking and Driftaway Coffee’s customizable subscription.
The bonus? You’ll never run out and have to drink that emergency stash of Folgers in the cabinet.
So, What is Single Origin Coffee and Why Does it Matter?
To recap, single origin coffee is coffee that comes from one particular place. This could mean a region, country, farm, crop, or cooperative.
Single origin coffee allows us to experience the unique characteristics of specific regions. And it’s not just about us, the consumers. Thanks to direct trade relationships with coffee roasters, hard-working coffee farmers also benefit from the popularity of single origin.
Is Single Origin Coffee Better?
No, single origin coffee is not inherently better than blends. For a long time, single origin coffees were synonymous with high quality, while blends were associated with mass-produced, low-quality coffees (reference).
While this may have been the case at one point, things have changed. There are plenty of coffee roasters that take great care to produce delicious, flavorful, high-quality blends. A good blend uses coffees that balance flavors and complement each other well.
Which is the Best Single Origin Coffee?
The best single origin coffee is the one that you enjoy. There is no hard and fast rule as to what the best single origin coffee is. Some people like the sweet, fruity flavors of an Ethiopian coffee. Other people might enjoy the milk chocolate or brown sugar notes from a Guatemalan coffee.
The best thing that you can do is to simply try different coffee origins. Make note of where each coffee comes from and try to be specific. For example, while they’re both African coffees, coffee from Ethiopian can taste very different than coffee from Kenya.
How Do You Make Single Origin Coffee?
You make a single origin coffee the same way that you would make any other coffee. Think of origins the way you think about different types of apples. There are many types of apples from many different places, but you cut and eat them all just the same. This is also true of single origin coffee.
You can use detailed coffee brewing guides from roasters like Blue Bottle, Stumptown, or La Colombe to make the best coffee imaginable. As long as you’re using fresh beans, solid equipment, and have good fundamentals, you can make cafe-quality single origin coffee at home.
Zach is a writer and content marketer, specializing in coffee. His work has also been featured on Sprudge.