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Coffee Basics

What Is Single-Origin Coffee & What Makes It Special?

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Workers on an Ethiopian coffee farm sorting single-origin coffee beans

If you’ve ever visited a local coffee shop or ordered coffee from a specialty roaster online, there’s a good chance you’ve come across the term “single-origin coffee” a time or two. While its definition may seem straightforward, in actuality, it isn’t all that cut and dry. 

So, what is single-origin coffee? And why should you care about it?

In this article, we not only answer these questions but provide a simple way to help you determine if single-origin coffee is right for you.

What Is Single-Origin Coffee?

What is single-origin coffee infographic
Filtered Grounds/Dylan Van Gerpen

It’s not uncommon to hear the term “single-origin coffee” being used to describe a coffee that comes from a singular country. The problem with this definition is that it’s way too broad.

Growing regions within a single coffee producing country can vary dramatically in terms of microclimates, soil quality, production processes, and so on. All of these factors play a major role in developing a coffee’s unique characteristics and flavor profile, thus making a country-only classification insufficient.

Because of this, the more commonly accepted definition of single-origin coffee is coffee beans sourced from a specific region, cooperative, or even an individual producer.

There are also additional classifications within the single-origin category. For example, “estate coffee” refers to coffee grown on one estate or farm. Whereas “micro lot” coffee goes a step further, identifying coffee from a single field or specific part of a farm.

Ultimately, the intent of the single-origin label is to convey that every bean in a bag of coffee came from the same place and was produced in the same manner.

What Makes Single-Origin Coffee Special?

There are three main factors that make single-origin coffees special:

1. Taste

It’s impossible to discuss single-origin coffee without first discussing taste. That’s not to say single-origins taste better than any other coffee; it’s just that each one tastes different from the next. 

This is because a single-origin’s flavor profile is a direct reflection of its terroir – the specific environmental conditions where it’s grown, including soil, climate, altitude, and processing methods.

The impact of terroir on taste can play out both globally and locally. For example, African coffees tend to have a more floral, fruity, and acidic flavor profile, while Latin American coffees typically possess more chocolaty, nutty, and caramel notes. At the same time, beans grown on different plots of the same farm can also produce a different-tasting cup of coffee.

This diversity and almost unlimited combination of flavors is a major reason why single-origin coffees continue to grow in popularity.

2. Seasonality

As with all agricultural products, coffee has its own growing and harvesting season. However, these seasons can vary throughout the year depending on where a growing region sits in relation to the equator.

Generally speaking, the further north a coffee is grown, the earlier in the year it’s harvested. The further south, the later the harvest will be.

Since a coffee’s flavor is at its peak within a couple of months of being harvested, most specialty roasters only offer single-origin coffees when in season. 

Moreover, as each season can present a different set of growing conditions, the flavor profile of a single-origin coffee can subtly change from year to year, creating a different kind of unique and exciting taste experience.

3. Traceability

Consumers are more concerned today than ever before about how their food is produced. Coffee is no exception.

When it comes to single-origin coffee, traceability is about more than just indicating where the beans were grown. It also provides transparency into how they were cultivated and processed, highlighting how a specific coffee’s flavor is impacted by everything it experiences from seed to cup.

This transparency also plays a critical role in enhancing the livelihoods of producers and their workers. Better wages encourage producers to implement more sustainable farming practices and invest in better equipment. Both of which lead to higher-quality beans and, ultimately, a more enjoyable coffee experience.

How Are Single-Origin Coffees Different From Coffee Blends?

Different single-origin coffees and coffee blends in a wooden box
LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe Stock

Coffee blends are like the yin to a single-origin’s yang. Where single-origin coffees are comprised of beans from a specific origin, blends are made by mixing beans from various origins. This can involve beans from different countries or even neighboring farms.

Single-origin coffees differ from coffee blends in three primary ways:

  • Taste: Single-origin coffees highlight the distinctive flavors and nuances of their specific region, whereas coffee blends are designed to deliver more balanced and harmonious flavors.
  • Seasonality: Single-origin coffees are more dependent on the harvest seasons, making their availability more variable but also more special. In contrast, coffee blends can be more adaptable throughout the year due to their diverse composition.
  • Traceability: Single-origin coffees offer greater transparency and traceability, whereas coffee blends can be more ambiguous and complex to track.

How Do You Know If Single-Origin Coffee Is Right For You?

Like most things in life, determining whether or not single-origin coffee is right for you ultimately comes down to personal preference. 

Here are four simple questions you can ask yourself that will help make deciding a little easier:

  1. Do you like the idea of your coffee offering unique and varied flavors, or do you prefer a consistent and balanced taste?
  2. When you go to your favorite restaurant, do you like to try something new on the menu, or do you prefer to stick with a familiar dish?
  3. Is the origin and story of your coffee important to you, or will any old beans do when brewing your daily cup?
  4. Are you willing to pay more for a higher-quality coffee, or is affordability more important?

If you find yourself gravitating towards the first option in these questions, a single-origin coffee could be a fun way to start your day. On the flip side, if you resonate more with the latter options, a blend might be more up your alley.

The good news is, there’s no right or wrong choice. The best way to find your perfect fit is to experiment with both single-origins and blends to see which one gets you excited to brew that next cup.

Final Thoughts

Single-origin coffees are a great way to explore the diverse world of coffee and experience how different growing conditions can impact a coffee’s flavor and character. If you were on the fence about single-origin coffees, hopefully, this was the nudge you needed to give them a try. 

Lastly, if you’d like to continue furthering your coffee knowledge or if you’re looking for ways to improve your home barista skills, be sure to check out our brewing guides and the coffee basics sections of our website.

Frequently Asked Questions

Single-origin coffees are often considered superior to blends because they represent coffee in its purest form. However, blends expertly crafted by a skilled roaster can easily rival the uniqueness of single-origin coffees. While both have their merits, which is best ultimately comes down to individual taste and the coffee experience one is seeking.

The best way to brew single-origin coffee is by using methods that naturally highlight its nuances and distinct characteristics, such as pour-over, Chemex, or AeroPress. These methods allow for more precise control over the different brewing variables, ensuring the coffee’s unique flavor profile is properly extracted.

Light or medium roasts tend to be the best roast levels for single-origin coffees because they’re better at preserving and highlighting the coffee’s unique characteristics. Dark roasts, on the other hand, will typically mask most, if not all, of the bean’s distinct flavors.

Yes, it’s absolutely okay to add milk, creamer, or sugar to your single-origin coffee. However, doing so will mask some, if not all, of the coffee’s unique flavors and nuances. This is why most coffee experts recommend consuming a single-origin black. Ultimately though, the best way to enjoy a cup of coffee is the way that ideally suits your personal taste preferences.

Yes, single-origin coffee is typically more expensive than blends. This is due to a number of factors, such as how it’s cultivated, processed, and sourced, as well as its traceability and seasonality.

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AUTHOR

Hey there! I'm Michael, founder and editor-in-chief of Filtered Grounds. In addition to being an entrepreneur, I'm also a bit of an endurance sports junkie. Whether it's working toward my business goals or training for my next Half Ironman triathlon, a good cold brew or cup of French press plays a role in fueling my performance.