If you’re new to the coffee world, you may have seen the term “single-origin” floating around and wondered what it meant. This buzzword is often used to signify high quality and superior taste, but is single-origin coffee actually better than blends? What’s the difference between the two types, and what are the advantages of each?
This article will answer all your questions about the difference between single-origin and blended coffee and explain how to decide which one is right for you.
What is single-origin coffee?
In the simplest of terms, all single-origin means is that the beans came from the same place. Whether it’s a single country, region, or farm, single-origin coffee is harvested from one place and sold as-is, rather than blending it with coffee beans from other areas.
What are the differences between single-origin and blended coffee?
The main difference between single-origin and blended coffee is that blended coffee is made up of beans from multiple places. While some blends only contain two or three types of beans, some blends contain as many as ten or more bean types.
Of course, this isn’t the only difference between the two types. Coffee connoisseurs around the world often tout single-origin as having a superior taste and experience to blends. Let’s take a look at the four major differences between single-origin and blends to determine if one is really better than the other.
Country, region, farm, & lot
“Single-origin” is a fairly general term, since coffee coming from one place could refer to coffee from an area as wide as a country or as small as a particular lot on a farm.
A bag of coffee can be sold under the label “single-origin” if it came from only one country, even if it came from many different places within that country. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the most exclusive coffee enthusiasts might buy coffee that was harvested from a particular lot on one farm.
As a result, when looking to buy single-origin coffee, it’s important to read all the information available. Like any buzzword, some companies will use single-origin as a marketing gimmick rather than as a sign of true quality, so be sure to read the fine print to see where your coffee is really coming from.
Availability, exclusivity, & cost
Generally speaking, the more expensive a single-origin coffee is, the smaller the area it came from is. It’s this exclusivity that attracts many people to single-origin coffees.
Because single-origin is dependent on the growing conditions of a single area, it’s significantly limited in availability compared to blends. In many cases, single-origin beans are not available all year. Of course, single-origin beans from a single farm or lot are also available in much smaller quantities compared to many mass-produced blends.
Specialty coffee shops refresh their single-origin stock all year round. While you might drink a Honduran coffee one week, a completely different Peruvian bean might be available the next. Each selection is therefore tied to a specific time and place. Even the same variety of beans grown at the same farm at a later date will have different characteristics than the first. Single-origin coffee thus offers the specialty coffee industry a sense of both exclusivity and uniqueness.
It’s much easier to trace the sustainability, working conditions, and fair trade practices of a single-origin coffee than a blend. Ensuring their beans are produced ethically is a top concern of many coffee connoisseurs, and single-origin beans make that process simple.
There’s a good reason why most coffee drinkers stick with blends — they’re familiar. Blended coffee tastes about the same every time you buy it because the different beans within the blend are designed to balance each others’ flavors.
It’s more difficult to pick out specific flavor notes from a blend. The combination of beans creates a layered flavor that’s well-rounded and easy to drink time after time. When one of the beans in the blend goes out of season, another can be substituted with minimal effects on the overall taste of the coffee, making it particularly suitable for casual coffee drinkers.
That’s not to say that blended coffee can’t have deep, complex flavors. On the contrary, well-crafted blends will contain a multitude of flavor notes that combine to create something greater than the sum of its parts. However, poorly-crafted blends often have overly-simplistic flavor profiles.
In contrast to blends, the flavor of single-origin coffee reflects the specific place it came from. Each harvest is different and while one variety might be bright and fruity, another might be floral and smooth. That’s why it’s more common for single-origin coffee to be lightly roasted so that the original flavor of the beans shines through.
Single-origin isn’t usually used in espresso, since the high pressure dims the natural flavor of the beans. Instead, you’re more likely to find single-origin available as pour-over or Chemex in coffee shops. The labor- and time-intensive processes required to best bring out flavors of single-origin coffee means that a single cup can often cost much more than a standard blend meant for automatic drip machines.
Advantages of single-origin coffee
There’s a reason that serious coffee drinkers usually go for single-origin when available. If you know a lot about coffee and want to explore all the different flavor possibilities, drinking a variety of single-origin beans is the best way to do that.
Single-origin coffee also provides the coffee enthusiast community with a constantly shifting landscape of new and exciting bean varieties. The taste of a single-origin bean depends on a huge number of factors that change drastically from region to region, farm to farm, and even lot to lot. If you prefer diversity in your coffee, then single-origin is the way to go.
It’s also much easier to directly support coffee growers by buying single-origin coffee, especially if it came from a single farm. In many cases, your money will go right back to the farmer who grew the beans and will support their ability to keep producing high-quality beans in the future.
Advantages of blended coffee
Although blended coffee is sometimes disparaged as being inferior to single-origin, exquisite blends exist with flavors just as complex and interesting as single-origin. If you don’t enjoy the strong acidity or fruitiness of a particular single-origin bean, blends can mellow and balance a variety of flavor notes and create something that can be enjoyed by almost anyone.
The existence of blends also allows for the mass distribution of coffee around the world. Coffee roasters can create balance blends that are available year-round and are cheaper to produce than artisan single-origin. They’re also good for cafes that value flavor consistency over time.
Blended coffee is also usually better for espresso. Since just one variety of single-origin bean is unlikely to have all the desired qualities of a good espresso bean (crema, sweetness, smoothness, robustness, etc), multiple varieties are combined to make a blend that produces an excellent espresso every time.
Is single-origin coffee better than blends?
As you might have guessed by now, whether single-origin coffee is better than blends is a matter of personal preference. There are qualities to both types of coffee that make them more suitable for some coffee drinkers than others.
You might prefer single-origin coffee if:
- You prefer pour-over or Chemex over drip coffee
- You like trying many different flavor profiles
- Sustainability and fair trade practices are important to you
- You prefer drinking your coffee black
However, blended coffee might be right for you if:
- You prefer your coffee to taste the same every time
- You like your coffee smooth and full-bodied
- You use a standard drip coffeemaker
- You like to add your own flavors to coffee
- You’re a casual coffee drinker
The best way to determine which type of coffee is right for you is by trying many different varieties. If you’ve been drinking blended coffee all your life, trying out a few single-origin varieties might be a refreshing and interesting change. On the other hand, if you’re just looking for a quick pick-me-up, blended coffee tastes great and is much more easily available.