Single-origin coffee is coffee sourced from one location, rather than many different locations.
Generally, the selling point of single-origin coffee is that it is characteristic of only one terroir, and therefore really represents the environment in which it is grown.
However, what actually constitutes a ‘single’ origin is not exactly clear. While it can and is often taken to mean one single producer or farm, it can just as easily mean one large area of land containing many farms (and significantly, terroirs).
Therefore, single-origin coffee is not as straightforward as it would seem.
Is single origin better?
Single origin is no better than a blend. They both have strengths in different areas. Quality single-origin coffees can be desirable in terms of their uniqueness and limited availability but are unsuitable for the wider coffee industry due to their seasonality.
Even when they are available, their characteristics are largely determined by environmental factors, rather than remaining consistent.
Although it is exactly this unpredictability that makes single-origin coffee an exciting product, it also makes quality blends far more suitable for many areas of the coffee world.
What is a blend?
Blended coffee is made by sourcing and carefully blending different coffees from many sources to create a precise final product.
This is usually done at the point of roasting, although home-brewers can also create their own blend from roasted beans themselves.
Commercial blended coffees can be expertly crafted, allowing the skilled producer to maintain the characteristics of their coffee by highlighting the perfect balance of flavours, aromas, acidity, bitterness, sweetness and body.
This makes blended coffees invaluable for both large-scale coffee production, which requires consistency, as well as for small-scale speciality production, which demands the very best flavour profiles possible.
Do single-origin coffees mean speciality?
‘Speciality’ and ‘single origin’ mean very different things. A speciality coffee is one that scores 80 or above in a 100-point test by a speciality coffee taster.
These coffees typically are grown in highly desirable environments, with minimal discernible defects.
However, these coffees can either be blended or come from a single origin, because the only thing that matters from a speciality perspective is the quality of the final product.