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Single Origin Coffee: What Is It, and Is It Worth the Premium?

8 January 2020
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You’ve seen it emblazoned on bags of coffee beans and touted on cafe menus everywhere: the words “single origin”. But what does it mean and what’s the big deal, really? Is it just another meaningless marketing buzzword?

If you’ve ever wondered what single origin coffee is and why it matters, sit back, relax (preferably with a freshly-brewed cuppa) and read on.

What is “single origin”?

a scoop of green coffee beans in a plastic bag
Why buy single origin over coffee blends? Photo from René Porter

“Single origin” means that the coffee beans were sourced from a single location, usually a region or country. Nowadays, however, it even goes as far as to mean that the beans were sourced from a single farm, estate or co-operative, which does make a difference to the end product that you drink.

Factors such as how the beans were grown and processed affect the taste of your coffee, as does the variety, soil, climate and altitude. For example, beans that are grown in higher altitudes tend to be sweeter and more acidic in taste. To earn the designation of “single origin”, the coffee beans must be traceable back to one source and are of one type or variety.

Pro-tip: Single origin coffee is best taken black. As the coffee beans come from the same location, it provides a consistency in taste and allows you to fully savour the subtle nuances of that particular type of coffee. You won’t even miss milk or sugar due to the complex flavour.

Here’s a beginner’s guide on how to appreciate black coffee.

There are three prominent industry bodies that were set up to assess the quality of single origin coffee, namely Cup of Excellence, Coffee Review and Coffee Quality Institute. This helps to keep a standard of quality so that consumers know what they’re getting.

How is single origin different from coffee blends?

green coffee cherries on a plant
The keys to growing good coffee: rich soil, mild temperatures, plenty of rain, a dry season, and shade from the sun. Photo from Rachel Clark

Don’t get us wrong: coffee blends are perfectly fine. The best blends are carefully chosen combinations of various coffee beans to create a unique flavour. In fact, many coffee houses even have signature in-house blends. But single origin is another level altogether.

Single origin coffee is often seasonal, as it is hard to come by in large quantities all-year-round. Due to its higher standards of production, farmers usually cultivate single origin coffee beans in small batches. This is why single origin coffee is highly-sought after and more expensive compared to coffee blends.

Single origin beans are also roasted lighter than blends to allow their unique flavour to truly shine, whereas the beans for coffee blends are roasted to the point where the flavours are balanced out.

From dark to light, here’s a serious coffee lovers’ guide to coffee roasts.

Pro-tip: To make the most of single origin beans, buy them soon after roasting (1-2 days) and try to finish them by about three weeks from the roasting date – this ensures that you’ll enjoy maximum flavour.

Where does single origin coffee come from?

There are four main coffee bean-growing regions around the world: Central America, South America, Africa and Indonesia. These regions are collectively known as the Coffee Belt or the Bean Belt.

Each region produces coffee beans with their own distinctive flavour profile, so of course, every coffee drinker develops a regional preference when it comes to the coffee they like best.

Central America (e.g. Costa Rica, Guatemala): Bright and acidic

South America (e.g. Brazil, Colombia): Smooth and sweet

Africa (e.g. Kenya, Ethiopia): Light and fruity, often citrusy

Indonesia: Full-bodied and earthy

As you can see, a lot of time and effort goes into every cup of single origin coffee. If you’re looking for recommendations of single origin coffees you should try, check out our coffee bean bucket list!