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What Does Single Origin Coffee Really Mean?

what is single origin coffee?what is single origin coffee?

Even an aspiring coffee snob will tell you that they understand the difference between single origin coffee and a coffee blend. But there’s knowing, and then there’s knowing.

In truth, there are very few people who have a vast knowledge of coffee, and that includes single origins. But that’s just because there’s a lot to know. You may understand what a single origin coffee is at the surface, but a truly sophisticated coffee drinker also understands the ins and outs.

And if you don’t yet know about single origins, no worries. Just click here for a simple definition.

There’s a ton to learn in the world of coffee appreciation, so no judgement on where you stand currently. And hey, there’s a lot of room for confusion.

Like, have you ever heard of a single origin blend? Even though it sounds like an oxymoron, it’s a real thing that exists, and we’ll break it down for you right now.   

What are single origin coffee blends?

The biggest draw behind single origin coffees are that they’re from a small geographic area, so they likely have many of the same characteristics and a recognizable flavor profile. But then, what about single origin blends? What exactly are they?

Roasters often put together blends from larger growing regions that include coffee beans from vastly different terrain within that region.

Let’s take Ethiopia, for example. A roaster could take beans from all over this coffee-growing country and label it as single origin. And it is. But the resulting coffee could also be considered a single origin blend because it would contain coffees from various growing areas within the region. Ethiopia has four main coffee regions within the country. They are Sidamo (Yergacheffe), Harrar, Ghimbi, and Limu.

By definition, the truest single origin coffees would come from only one of those four regions. As examples, a single-origin coffee from Yergacheffe or Harrar should have pure tastes that you could identify with common flavor profiles of those regions.

The reason why roasters often blend coffee beans from various regions within a country might surprise you. It’s not always about price. Most often, it has to do with two things:

  1. Creating a unique flavor profile
  2. Producing consistent flavor

By varying coffee beans from regions within a country, roasters can play around with the various flavor profiles to create something unique to their brand. They can also keep the quality of the coffee more consistent without being tied to the production yields of one area.  

We used Ethiopia as an example because it’s a large coffee-growing nation, but there’s another layer that makes it difficult for roasters to use more specific regional coffee beans. It has to do with the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange and governmental control. But that’s a story for another post.

How to evaluate single origin coffees

Are you feeling like you’re getting duped with all these different types of single origin coffees? In reality, that’s not the case. Actually, the term single origin is probably just broader than you originally thought.

And there’s definite value to buying a single origin coffee that’s from various growing regions within a country. There’s also value in buying a more specific single origin coffee.

The key is to know what you’re looking for. If you want a coffee that’s blended to bring out the best of a country, a single origin blend is where it’s at. Just read the label and you’ll see whether the coffee comes from one growing region or many.

And if you want a coffee that has a very specific flavor that’s unique to only one growing region, opt for an area or estate specific single origin coffee. These are also great for getting to know the flavor profiles within a country and how they can vary.

Bottom line: If the bag says something like “Ethiopian coffee,” it’s probably a single-origin blend. And if it says something like, “Ethiopian Yergacheffe coffee,”  it’s region specific.

Have you ever tried a single origin blend? How does it differ from a region-specific single origin coffee in taste? What are your thoughts?

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