If you’re a coffee of lover of any kind, you’re likely to have heard of a term called single origin coffee before. Many savvy shoppers are aware that it loosely translates into “higher quality” coffee. But what does this designation really mean and why does it matter? In this article, we take a look at this question while recommending our picks for the best single origin coffee beans we’ve come across to date. Before we get right into it, check out our top picks below that are certain to give you a taste of what single origin coffee beans are all about.
As someone who has reviewed coffee for the last 8 years and had the pleasure of visiting numerous coffee farms in exotic coffee-growing regions, I’ve certainly had my share of amazing single origin brews. It’s from these experiences that I offer the following tips for getting the most bang out of your coffee buck. But first, let’s cover a few basic definitions.
- What is Single Origin Coffee?
- Blends versus Single Origin Coffee
- What does the Best Single Origin Coffee taste like?
- Interesting Stats about Single Origin Coffee:
- Tips for Buying the Best Single Origin Coffee
- The Future of Single Origin Coffee
- Best Single Origin Coffee: Final Thoughts
What is Single Origin Coffee?
Coffee can be categorized as either single origin coffee or a blend.
However, the definition of single origin coffee is quite nuanced…much like the complex flavors they offer. So let’s start with the simple and commonly-accepted definition.
Blends versus Single Origin Coffee
Blends mix together beans from various geographical regions or farms, unlike single-origin coffee, which comes from a single “location.” This location can be a specific geographical region, farm, estate, or co-op.
The Subtleties of Single Origin Coffee
The multiple interpretations of “single location” lead to vagueness in the term “single origin coffee.” speaking though, single origin beans will at least come from the same country. Let’s briefly discuss where the lines can get blurry.
For example, say a company sources all of their beans from Ethiopia. They can technically claim their beans are single origin even if these beans came from 100’s of farms within that region. Is this given bag of coffee still considered single origin even though it’s still a blend of different “farms”? As you can see, it all depends on how it’s defined.
At this point, this is left up to the brand itself to make this determination as there is no official standard. When any company claims its beans to be single origin coffee, I recommend reading the label to get a better idea of what they actually mean.
The Subtleties of Blends
Contrary to single origin beans, blends take the opposite approach. Coffee roasters create blends by mixing different beans, typically sourced from various countries.
In many ways, the quality offered by blends can sometimes seem like a roll of the dice. In the famous words of Forrest Gump, they are like “a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re going to get”. The reason for this is that blends are notorious for including lower quality beans that serve as fillers. While this is certainly not always the case, it’s common enough to still mention here.
Being that single origin coffee maintains a consistent level of quality, many coffee connoisseurs favor single origins over blends.
What does the Best Single Origin Coffee taste like?
Single origin coffee, like all coffee, varies from one bean to the next. However, when comparing blends to single origin beans, the latter yields a more consistent and uniform taste. This is because single origin beans grow in the same geographic region and climate. Single origin beans also tend to offer a more complex and nuanced flavor than blends. Some single origin coffees have fruity or floral notes, while others are earthy or nutty. These beans offer a wide spectrum of flavors and it’s this that has made them beans of choice when it comes to specialty coffee and Third Wave Coffee.
So do the best single origin coffee beans taste better than blends?
This isn’t a question with a simple yes or no answer as taste is subjective.
Many believe single origin coffee offers the most authentic coffee experience, particularly for those who prefer it black. This is partly because the drinker gets to experience a given bean’s pure and natural coffee flavor in full. There are no filler beans to influence or adulterate the purity of the bean’s flavor.
Compared to blends, single origin coffee usually has a more refined flavor with multiple layers of complexity. In this sense, they can yield a richer and fuller flavor profile than blends. Many coffee lovers assert that the average blend which contains fillers tend to taste like a hodgepodge of unrelated flavors.
Personally, I will almost always prefer a single origin to a blend. The exceptions come when there’s a a specialty roaster that blends together coffee from different regions while still maintaining the same quality across the board.
Other Reasons to Choose Single Origin Coffee
Coffee connoisseurs appreciate the best single origin coffees for not just their taste alone. With the best single origin coffee beans often comes an origin story that helps add depth to the coffee experience. Learning about how coffee is grown, harvested, processed, and roasted has been a personally rewarding part of my journey as a coffee drinker. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but knowing about the story of a bean makes the drinking my morning cup of coffee more meaningful.
In this way, the best single origin coffee can offer a glimpse into a specific coffee-growing region’s culture and history. Each bean carries a unique story and represents the hard work of the farmers who grew it. By exploring single origin coffees, you can discover new flavors and learn about different coffee-producing regions worldwide.
A common trait of single origin coffee is that the beans sourced ethically and sustainably. Coffee farmers who produce single origin beans typically have a vested interest in maintaining the quality of their product. They may use traditional and environmentally friendly farming methods, such as shade-grown techniques that promote biodiversity and protect the soil. Choosing ethically-sourced single-origin coffee directly helps small-scale farmers compete against large producers.
Supply and Demand of Single Origin Coffee
The best single origin coffee beans typically grow in small quantities and only during certain times of the year. This means low supply coupled with high demand. Single origin coffee is also commonly subject to higher quality control measures than standard commodity-grade coffee. Due to these factors, single origin coffees cost more than blends in most cases.
As a general rule of thumb, specialty coffee roasters usually favor single origin beans. For those who may not know, specialty coffee is technically defined as coffee that’s been rated at least a score of 80 by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA). These specialty coffee roasters prioritize sustainability, ethical sourcing, and flavor which can also contribute to the higher price point.
Related Article: What is Specialty Coffee
Interesting Stats about Single Origin Coffee:
Market Growth and Popularity:
- Booming Demand: The global single-origin coffee market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 8.25% from 2022 to 2027 (Mordor Intelligence, 2022).
- Driving Force: Millennials are a key driver of this growth, with their preference for specialty coffee and willingness to pay higher prices for quality and ethical sourcing (Mordor Intelligence, 2022).
- Third Wave Impact: The “Third Wave Coffee” movement emphasizes quality, transparency, and origin stories, further propelling the demand for single-origin coffee (Allegra Strategies, 2022).
Sustainability and Ethics:
- Direct Trade Growth: Direct trade coffee purchases, ensuring fair prices for farmers, grew by 19% in 2021 compared to 2020 (Specialty Coffee Association, 2022).
- Sustainability Focus: Over 70% of coffee drinkers express interest in ethically sourced and sustainable coffee (National Coffee Association, 2023).
- Environmental Benefits: Single-origin coffee often involves traditional, shade-grown farming methods, which benefit biodiversity and soil health (World Wildlife Fund, 2023).
Tips for Buying the Best Single Origin Coffee
While single origin coffee can certainly be an indication of quality, it’s not the only thing you should look for. Below are a few addition things to consider when making your purchase.
Know your flavor preferences
One of the biggest advantages of single origin coffee is the wide range of flavor profiles available. From fruity and floral to earthy and nutty, there’s a single origin coffee to suit every palate. Sure, these flavors are reproducible to some degree in blends, but there’s a noticeable difference in clarity in flavor from single origin coffee beans. To pick the best single origin coffee for you, start by identifying your flavor preferences. Do you prefer a bold and full-bodied brew or a lighter, more delicate flavor? Do you like hints of fruit or chocolate in your coffee? Knowing your preferences can help you narrow down your options and find a coffee that you’ll love.
Look for fresh beans
Like all coffee, single origin coffee is best when it’s fresh. Freshness matters and this is especially true when it comes to coffee.
Prioritize beans recently roasted, ideally within the past few weeks. Fresh beans will have a more vibrant flavor and aroma, and they’ll be more likely to offer the full range of flavor notes that make single origin coffee so special. Buying from retailers like Amazon can be convenient, but you’ll almost always get a fresher beans when buying direct from the roaster’s website.
Consider the roast level
The roast level of a single origin coffee can also have a big impact on its flavor. Lighter roasts tend to bring out the more delicate and nuanced flavors of the coffee, while darker roasts can emphasize the deeper, richer notes. If you’re looking for a specific flavor profile, pay attention to the roast level and how it might affect the coffee’s taste.
Research the origin
The origin of a single origin coffee can provide valuable insight into its flavor profile. Factors such as soil type, elevation, and climate have a direct influence on the flavor expressed by the coffee bean. By researching the origin of a single origin coffee, you can gain a better understanding of its flavor profile and what to expect from the brew.
Consider the Post Processing
Did you know that coffee processing plays a major role in determining its taste? After all, it’s all about chemistry.
Washed, natural, and honey are the most common methods of processing coffee.
Washed coffee is when the outer part of the coffee cherry is removed, leaving the sticky layer that surrounds the beans. The beans are then fermented in water to get rid of the sticky layer before they are dried. The result yields a coffee that tastes especially bright, clean, and full of clarity.
Natural coffee processing is when the entire cherry is dried in the sun, including the skin and the fruit that surround the beans. The fermentation process infuses the bean with a sweeter, fruity, and wine-like taste. If you appreciate more complex flavors, natural processed coffee is the way to go.
Honey coffee is a mix of the previous two methods. In this method, farmers remove the skin of the coffee cherry while leaving the remaining sticky layer. This creates a flavor that is both sweet and acidic.
Again, each processing method can have a significant impact on how coffee tastes, so it’s essential for coffee producers to carefully choose a method that produces the specific flavor profile they’re targeting.
Consider the ethical and sustainability factors
Finally, it’s important to consider the ethical and sustainability factors associated with single origin coffee. Look for coffee that is sourced ethically and sustainably, with fair prices paid to the farmers who grow the beans. Single origin coffee can be a great way to support small-scale farmers and promote environmentally friendly farming practices.
The Future of Single Origin Coffee
This article discusses the pros of single origin coffee over blends. While it’s true that single origin coffees have dominated the specialty coffee market, it would be totally unfair to write off the role of blends in the global coffee economy. Blends are actually becoming more popular in light of recent economic factors. For example, Arabica Coffee which makes up a majority of the best single origin coffees has increased in price to over $2/lb. This makes blends increasingly appealing for average consumers and businesses alike.
Best Single Origin Coffee: Final Thoughts
Regardless of how the coffee landscape turns out in the future, single origin coffee offers coffee lovers an experience that’s worth having in more ways than one. It’s gained massive popularity in recent years due to the rise of specialty coffee and the third wave coffee movement. This fact clearly demonstrates how coffee lovers are looking for more out of their coffee experience than just a morning energy boost. And coffee roasters are looking to source the best single origin coffee beans as a way of meeting such demand.
As the saying goes, knowledge is power. The more you know about your coffee the more informed your purchasing decisions will be.
What are your favorite brews that you think rank as some of the best single origin coffee roasters out there? Please let us know about them in the comments.