To sip a single origin coffee is to experience a coffee right where it was grown—through taste. Simply put, single origin coffee means that all of the beans in a particular coffee come from just one country or region, which imparts its own unique attributes on the beans. That’s the simple version, but for you coffee connoisseurs (like us!) who want to understand even more of the nuances of single origin coffee and refining your palate to identify different coffees, we’ll explore what makes single origin coffees so special and unique.
What Does Single Origin Coffee Mean?
“Single origin” refers to the country or region where coffee was grown. If a coffee is labeled with this, that indicates the beans are from the same region of land in a country, allowing you to pick out the characteristics of beans grown in different environments. This is useful for palate-building and making more educated choices about coffee purchases and exploring preferences.
What is a single origin coffee bean? At the core of single origin is the ability to trace a single origin whole-bean coffee’s roots. That means knowing where they came from, how they were grown, the conditions they were grown under, and—in many cases—who grew them. The specificity of the single origin coffee is sometimes denoted with other words, like “single farm” or “single estate.” Most common, however, is to see the term “microlot,” which will refer to a specific farm selected for its culture of growing—organic, for example—or caretaking of the beans.
But, the most important subtext of the single origin is what it says it is not: a blend.
What Makes Single Origin Coffee Different From Other Types?
Think of single origin coffees like wine: while there are specific wine varieties associated with regions of the world, like France or California, so too are there coffees associated with countries and regions. Ethiopia, for example, produces a specialty-shop-favorite coffee known as the “Guji coffee,” an acidic and fruity bean that’s typically roasted light and grown in Southern Ethiopia.
And while you can pick out these discernible flavors from a Guji harvested in Ethiopia with its acidic soil, it would hardly stand out in a coffee packaged with beans of different origins and varieties, commonly referred to as a blend or, in a shop trying to stand out, a “house blend.”
Coffee blends are made using coffees from as many as nine different locations. For the coffee aficionado, that makes it hard to pinpoint exactly what it was about the coffee that was so satisfying—or off-putting. (The tradeoff being that blends have a very consistent flavor profile.) There are certainly tasty perks to combining different coffee beans, but it is harder to communicate what your coffee palate is that way—especially since many blends are designed with milk and sugar in mind.
Espresso, it’s worth noting, is usually served as a blend because, under the intense high-pressure brewing conditions to make espresso, single origin coffees are, in a sense, over-extracted to result in an overly citrus-like flavor that does not pair well with milk.
Another difference: blends tend to be less expensive, because single origins whole bean coffees are typically seasonal and limited in quantity.
Lastly, single origins are commercially reserved for a pourover experience; a drip brew at most coffee shops will get you a medium roast blend of the shop’s choosing.