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Coffee: Single Origin and Blends

Most coffee drinkers have encountered the term “single origin”, even if the exact meaning is a bit hazy.  “Blends” are more familiar, as they’ve been around for a very long time.  Perhaps you’ve been convinced by advertisers or the local barista that one is far superior the other.  Here we are going to clear up the question “what coffee is in my coffee”.  We hope this inspires you to enjoy the best that both worlds have to offer.

Quick Comparison

Single Origin

Blend

DescriptionA single origin coffee is sourced from one location. Because there is no standard definition as to what “origin” means, it differs from roaster to roaster. Single origin could refer to a single country, a geographical region within a country, a collection of farms, one farm, even one lot from a single farm.A coffee blend is a combination of multiple different single origin coffees. The number of coffees included in a blend can be as few as two or as many as five or more.
FlavorSingle origin coffee allows the individual characteristics of the locality to shine through in the flavor. Every different combination of soil, water, weather, altitude, geography and farming methods creates a unique coffee flavor.Blends enable roasters to combine complementary flavors from different coffees and create unique tastes that don’t occur naturally. The possibilities are almost limitless, and roasters show their skill by creating new flavor profiles.
QualitySingle origin coffee is usually a premium quality at a premium price. But as with anything, there can be exceptions.A coffee blend is as high quality or low quality as the coffees used. Instant coffee is typically a blend of lower-quality beans, while a blend from a specialty roaster is much more likely to use high quality beans.
AdvantagesWith single origin, you can explore the natural flavors from a specific location. However, a particular coffee may be limited in availability due to crop size or seasonality.With a blend, you can get your favorite coffee consistently over time. Roasters can maintain the flavor profile even if they need to change their sources for various reasons.

Coffee Blends

It used to be that virtually all of the coffees available on supermarket shelves, in restaurants, and at cafes were coffee blends.  Over time, the quality of these blends declined, which played a part in the current trend of high-quality single origin coffee.  But blends still offer their own particular advantages for everyone in the coffee chain, from growers to roasters to sellers to drinkers.  And the quality and selection of blends available today is better than ever.

What is a coffee blend?

In a blend, two or more coffees are combined to create a unique new flavor.

Blends are recipes, where multiple ingredients are combined to create something altogether different.  The coffees are chosen carefully for their complimentary characteristics and mixed in specific proportions.  These recipes are developed so that the results can be achieved consistently month after month and year after year.  And just like any recipe, ingredients can be substituted, if needed, to approximate the results of the original.  For example, if a roaster loses access to one of the coffees used in a blend, another coffee with the same charactertistics can be sourced to keep the overall flavor the same.

Here is an example of a coffee blend recipe:

  • 40% Colombian, Nicaraguan or Brazilian roasted Full City to preserve body
  • 30% Mexican (or other mild Central American) roasted French for sharp, carbony flavors
  • 30% Kenya Estate roasted City for bright acidy snap (var. bright Costa Rican or other Central American)

Blends can contain purely Arabica beans, purely Robusta beans, or a combination of both.

Why blend coffee?

At one end of the spectrum, blending occurs for economic reasons.   For items such as instant coffee or inexpensive commercial coffee, lower-quality beans may be the only ingredients.  Or, the weaknesses of a lower-quality coffee can be masked by blending it with a higher-quality coffee, and result in a lower cost.

At the other end of the spectrum, blending is used by specialty coffee companies to create a signature flavor profile.  Its ideal to find a taste your customers come back for again and again, and this can become a major part of a coffee company’s brand.  The recipes for these proprietary blends are closely guarded secrets.

Also, there is consistency.  A blend allows a company to maintain a popular flavor profile year in and year out.  Whereas a single origin coffee will have some sort of limited availability, a blend can be offered without interruption.

What’s to love about coffee blends?

  • Your favorite signature blend will not be limited by season or availability
  • You can enjoy almost endless new flavor profiles created by talented roasters

Single Origin Coffee

Single origin coffee as a category is a relatively new trend, but it has taken the coffee-drinking world by storm.   Thanks to open trade and better communications, growers are able to work more closely with coffee roasters to share the uniqueness of their locally-grown coffees. This is a win for coffee drinkers who enjoy tasting the natural flavors produced by a particular region or farm.  It also allows consumers to know more about all aspects of the coffee production and support the farmers, encouraging growth in the single origin market.

What is single origin coffee?

Single origin coffee contains beans from a limited geographical area.   This type of coffee should be easily traceable to a single source.

The geographical extent of an “origin” can vary quite a bit, because it has no standard meaning in the coffee industry.  The roasters determine how narrowly their single origin source is defined.  It could be from a single country, a limited region within a country, a particular farm, or even a specific location on a farm.

High quality single origin coffee allows you to taste the natural flavors produced by the growing environment in a single location.

Examples of origin flavor profiles

Certain geographic regions of the world are known for the characteristics that they produce in coffee grown there.  But there are so many variables that affect coffee flavor, even beans grown on the same farm can have different tastes.  So while some general profiles do apply, there are endless variations.

Here are some examples of generalized flavor profiles from different growing regions:

South America:  Mellow acidity with chocolate, nut and caramel tones
Central America:  Bright with low sweetness and other flavors from nuts to fruits
Africa:  Big body with strong sweetness and fruity or floral flavors
Asia:  Heavy and musty notes

What’s to love about single origin coffee?

  • Explore the world in your coffee cup by experiencing the natural flavors from around the globe.
  • Support specific growers and roasters whose coffee you love and whose businesses embody ideals that are important to you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which will I like better … blend or single origin?

That’s almost a trick question!  You may very well like some of each, but the only way to know is to try them.

Which is better quality … blend or single origin?

It all depends on the beans.  Blends have gotten a poor reputation, and you can easily find low-quality blends.  But you can also now find plenty of high-quality blends. Single origin coffees are generally high quality, but of course exceptions can be found.