What Is Single Origin Coffee?

Coffee 101: What Is Single Origin Coffee?

If you’ve been engaging with the specialty coffee world at all within the last decade, you’ve certainly noticed the uptick in “single origin coffee” being sold by roasters around the world. For the uninitiated, the concept can be a bit confusing, especially when it comes to differentiating single origin coffees from more traditional blends. 

So what does single origin coffee really mean? And why has it become so popular?

Defining Single Origin Coffee:

At it’s core, single origin coffee refers to any coffee that is sourced from a single (get it?) region, farm, co-op, estate, or any other individual coffee producing entity. Unlike blends, which combine different coffees from various regions to create a desired flavor profile, single origin coffees showcase the distinct character and terroir of their individual origin and cultivation. Through the experience of drinking single origin coffees, you can explore the nuanced flavors associated with different regions, varieties, processings, and terroirs. 

Understanding Terroir:

The concept of terroir, which comes from the world of wine, emphasizes the influence of environmental factors on agricultural products. So in the context of coffee, terroir encompasses a range of variables including the soil composition, altitude, climate, and cultivation methods used not he farm. These factors all work in harmony to shape the flavor profile of a coffee.

This is also why, going back to wine, you are able to taste the differences between a Pinot Noir grown in France versus one grown in California. It’s all about terroir, and the same applies to coffee. 

Seasonality:

Another element that drives interest in single origin coffee is seasonality. Coffee is produce, and at its core, the freshness of the coffee from harvest matters a lot when it comes to the quality in the cup. A single origin coffee menu allows a roaster to showcase what coffees are fresh from harvest throughout the year, which means you'll always be drinking coffees that are fresh and at the peak of their flavors, and that there will always be something new to try. 

Flavor Profiles:

Perhaps the biggest draw of single origin coffee is their ability to deliver distinct flavor profiles that are reflective not only of terroir, but also the processing of the coffee (washed, natural, honey, etc), as well as the varietal of the coffee plant. 

For example, a washed coffee from the Agaro region of Ethiopia will have tasting notes reminiscent of floral honey, stone fruit, and jasmine, while a washed coffee from the Antigua region of Guatemala may have a much nuttier profile, with notes of caramelized sugar and apple. The possibilities are nearly endless, which makes exploring a menu of single origin coffees a really exciting, educational experience. 

Transparency: 

Beyond drinking the coffee, single origins also provide a much higher degree of transparency. When you buy a single origin coffee, you know exactly where it was grown, and often even the name of the person who grew it. As a coffee consumer, this is where you can begin to not only build and refine your palate, but to just generally create more connection with and understanding of different coffee growing countries, regions, and producers. 

Conclusion:

All of these factors distill down into the main draw of single origin coffee: connection and experience. When you choose a single origin coffee, you’re making a deliberate choice to sample the flavors of a specific time and place, and the flavors that make every region and coffee totally unique. 

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