What does Single-Origin Coffee Mean?
If you spend enough time in coffee shops, you’ll likely begin hearing about more and more niche products and brands. Where once you only had to decide between large, medium or small, suddenly you’re hearing things like, “French press or drip?”, “Arabica or Robusta?” and perhaps even, “Single Origin or Blend?” But what does that mean? What’s single-origin coffee and how is it different from what you’re drinking now?
Single-origin coffee is the name given to any coffee that is produced solely from beans grown in a single location. Single Origin Coffee is simply a coffee that has been grown in one specific location. It is usually differentiated from blended coffees which may contain beans or grounds from different farms/provinces/countries, etc.
Single Origin Coffee is sometimes more preferred as the production process is easily monitored and thus the quality of the ingredients is ensured.
What’s so great about single-origin coffee?
Most of us probably don’t care whether the coffee beans are grown in one location or several and it may seem like a negligible difference either way but the experts maintain that when it comes to a truly great cup of coffee, the devil is in the details.
The main draw of single-origin coffee is a strong, unique flavour. As you can imagine, beans grown in a single location are all going to taste quite similar to each other and quite different from beans from anywhere else. Additionally, the contents of the coffee can be stringently monitored and tracked to ensure it’s quality (it’s easy to confirm that the beans are of a similar quality if they all come from the same place).
Conversely, a coffee blend might potentially mix two or more contrasting tastes together thus ‘muting’ one another or, (maybe even worse) the blend could combine two existing ‘weaknesses’ and increase their influence, for example, if two highly acidic beans are combined, the resulting blend may be almost unpalatably bitter.
By putting the focus on taste and quality rather than universality and quantity, single origin coffees also help small farmers to compete with the more established brands.
If then, you feel like a new and original cup of coffee, single origin is the way to go, however, don’t fool yourself into thinking that there are no downsides.
What’s not so great about single-origin coffee?
Let’s assume that you try a cup of single-origin coffee and you really like the taste. Well, go buy some more right? Not so fast. Unlike coffee blends that are normally tried and tested until the flavour is firmly established, single-origin coffee can be heavily influenced by factors like weather, soil quality, altitude and many, many more. As such, single-origin coffees are like fingerprints, each one is unique, unfortunately, that means that it may be challenging to replicate that one great cup you once tried.
There’s also an elephant in the room, the price. As you’d imagine, the practice of obtaining all your coffee beans from one farm or a few farms in a specific location does not lend itself to the mass production process. This means that the prices of single-origin coffees are usually quite a bit higher than their blended brethren.
Perhaps the biggest issue with single origin coffee is this – What do we mean by single origin?
Here, there and everywhere
As demand for single-origin coffee increases, more and more producers are emerging to fill this gap in the market, sadly though, there will always be ways to stretch vague meanings and expand loopholes until they can be exploited. This is exactly what has been happening within the single-origin coffee market.
Eagle-eyed consumers have noticed that some ‘single origin’ producers have begun identifying multiple farms, massive districts or, in some cases, entire countries as single-origin points. What this means is that certain coffees labelled as single-origin might in fact be blends that include beans and flavours from many different areas inside a single country.
Obviously, this creates a massive problem, if the ‘single origin’ is an entire country, you’re basically dealing with a coffee blend. With all this in mind, coffee enthusiasts normally refer to coffees as being either traceable or untraceable.
So what about the alternative then? When you buy some blended coffee, what are you really getting?
What’s great about blended coffee?
Most people won’t need to be sold on the idea of blended coffee as you’ve most likely been drinking it all along. Most major coffee chains and brands specialise in blended coffees. The best parts of a coffee blend are the consistent flavour, the availability and the price.
Coffee blends are like a home recipe passed down through your family. They’ve been poked, prodded and perfected over the years and most of us enjoy the taste, unlike single-origin coffee, which can vary wildly depending on a myriad of factors, specific coffee blends tend to taste the same wherever and whenever you taste them.
Coffee blends are also tailored to the cycle of mass production and consumption, as such, they are generally available around the world and in plentiful qualities. Good news for the addicts among us! Although, the better news is the price. Universal availability coupled with a stable production line means that blended coffees can usually be sold at a fraction of the price of their single-origin counterparts.
There are however, some downsides…
What’s not so great about blended coffee?
As mentioned so far, the components of blended coffee can come from almost anywhere in the world, as such, the quality of the beans/grounds can often come into question. Major suppliers can be counted on to use less than stellar ingredients if it means making a profit.
Another issue is the flavour (or lack thereof). Blended coffees are usually designed with the consumer in mind, specifically, they are designed to appeal to as many people and palates as possible. So if you’re looking for something unique and striking, a taste you’ve never encountered before, blended coffees are not likely to be your best bet.
The last, and perhaps most philosophical problem, is what blended coffee means for the little man. As noted before, single-origin coffees don’t require thousands of acres of farmland to produce. Actually, smaller plots of land may entice a more dedicated fanbase. As such, single-origin coffee is sometimes seen as fostering a more open coffee market.
Blended coffees, on the other hand, are normally mass-produced by gigantic titans of the coffee industry, thus, if you’re concerned with helping small starting businesses trying to make their mark on the world of caffeine, blended coffee is probably not the way to help them.
Pros and Cons
All that may be too much too read through, so let’s put this all together in as simple a manner as possible.
|Single Origin Coffee||1. Strong, full, unique flavour|
2. Closely monitored and tailored production process ensuring quality and flavour
3. Supports and encourages smaller, newer businesses.
|1. Difficult to replicate/maintain flavour|
2. High price and low availability
3. ‘Single Origin’ descriptor may include entire countries, undermining the original attraction
|Blended Coffee||1. Stable, reliable flavour |
2. Generally cheaper
3. Higher availability
|1. Low quality coffee may be included in the blend|
2. Fewer, less unique flavours
3. May encourage low quality mass production over small businesses
In Conclusion – What is single-origin coffee and how does it compare with blended coffee?
Single-origin coffee is the name given to any coffee that is produced solely from beans grown in a single location. It is generally seen as the alternative to blended coffee which may contain beans and flavours from anywhere in the world. It is important to note however that some single origin coffees may consider an entire country to be a ‘single origin’ thus undermining the original draw of the product.
Single-origin coffee is viewed as being highly unique with a focus on high quality. It may also incentivise small business owners as the required farmland is very small. It is usually more expensive and esoteric than blended coffees and may be viewed as more of a luxury.
Blended coffees, by contrast, are generally mass-produced resulting in a more generic taste coupled with a lower price and wider accessibility.
It is impossible to say which form of coffee is ‘better’ as the desired flavour is dependent on the consumer. Many individuals may enjoy the familiar, unchanging comfort of a blended coffee while others may prefer the more distinctive, tailored flavour of a single original product.
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