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What Is Single-Origin Coffee? What Makes It So Special?

The term single-origin coffee is used in contrast to a coffee that is a blend. A coffee blend consists of beans that come from two or more sources, sometimes within the same country. This should be said from the outset in order to prevent confusion: Single-origin coffee must come from one geographic region, not simply one country.

‘Single-origin,’ in some sense, is a hallmark of fair-trade coffee that is ethically and sustainably sourced. If you can track the coffee in your cup through the supply chain to the flesh and blood people that helped produce it, then the way it is produced can be observed.

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Is Single-Origin Coffee Better Than Other Blends?

Single-Origin coffee is not necessarily better. However, it is easier to know from the packaging that it is of higher quality than it is to determine if a blend is of higher quality. Single-origin coffee will usually be very unique since it comes from one region. It has differing characteristics depending on the region. Many roasteries prefer to roast single-origin beans to a lighter roast so that they can taste all of the subtle notes. Sometimes certain flavors only come out when roasted dark. But roasters also make blends of beans of different regions in order to accomplish a specific flavor profile that does not exist in a single-origin bean.

What Makes Single-Origin Coffee Special?

Part of what makes this coffee unique is that much of it is considered specialty coffee. Specialty coffee is subjected to a grading process wherein a certain sample of beans is taken aside. The person examining the sample will sift through the green coffee for defects (sour bean, insect damage, etc.,) and foreign matter. They will also gauge how big the beans are in relationship to each other and other beans of a similar geographic region. This process is also what makes single-origin coffee so expensive, among other reasons.

Fresh coffee cherries Ethiopia
Image Credit: Pikist

Why Is Single-Origin Coffee Expensive?

Single-origin coffee is more expensive for several reasons other than the grading process. The first is that most often the beans are picked by hand rather than by a machine. This allows for a better selection of cherries that are ripe and healthy. The second reason is that since the coffee can be traced to the source, the businesses are examined with a critical eye to ensure that they are paying their workers fair wages and that they are treated ethically. A third reason is that the coffee often takes longer to harvest not only because it is picked by hand, but it is often grown in locations that are harder to access.

coffee beans roasting in a metal equipment
Image Credit: Maria Orlova, Pexels

Which Coffee Origin Is Best?

Just like the question of whether single-origin coffee or a blend is better, the answer to which coffee origin is best is subjective. However, there are countries that in general do not produce good quality coffee. These are countries that historically have imported coffee. Belize and Cambodia, for example, are both within the coffee belt but are not coffee export frontrunners by any stretch of the imagination.

The best coffee origins are those that produce Arabica beans. Arabica grows at higher altitudes than Robusta and only under certain conditions. Many Southeast Asian countries do not produce a significant amount of Arabica beans. Countries such as Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Mexico have larger mountain ranges and export a large amount of Arabica beans.

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Final Thoughts

Perhaps the best and most surefire way to get a solid cup of coffee is to start with single-origin beans. You will be able to trace your bean to the region and group of farms responsible for the delicious cup you’re about to enjoy. Find out what characteristics the bean ought to have and compare it with other single-origin coffees from the same region.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay


Aaron Rice

Aaron is a Pacific Northwest native who enjoys coffee, playing guitar, and playing cribbage with his wife. He is currently a graduate student in Boston, Massachusetts.

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