What is Single-Origin Coffee?

R.Watanabe, 29 January 2014


The single-origin concept started in 1999 when the Cup of Excellence was started and the focus on individual farms was, for the very first time, really highlighted and explained on a broad scale. George Howell was one of the founders of the Cup of Excellence and he has said many times over that the goal was to highlight individual farms doing excellent things with growing coffee. There is still much debate on how single-origin should be really defined with some wanting to focus more on geography, i.e. region, locality, single estate, microlot, etc., while others focus on processing methods and roast profiles, and still others proposing a mix of both and more.


A simpler definition of single-origin coffee which came out in 2010, which is a selection of coffee beans from a single coffee farm, processed one way, and roasted with one roast profile.” The idea behind this definition is that you highlight the coffee as much as possible, and present a coffee with a certain amount of clarity in its taste. It could be a microlot, it could be a specific processing method, or it could be a general selection of beans from an entire farm.

Most premium brands of roasted coffee sold in the mainstream market is blended - usually only specialty coffee retailers and roasters offer single-origin coffees that is, exclusively from individual origins.


Mainstream coffees are of average to good quality and offer an average to good taste experience. These brands are well presented and accounts for over 90% of the world market. Mainstream coffees are produced, traded, and roasted in large quantities by leading multinational coffee companies and marketed through supermarkets. They are expected to taste the same all the time and that is why they have to be blended. For example, a washed or mild arabica will be used to achieve a fresh, clean cup with some acidity, then added with a natural arabica to give more body to a cup, and for higher cup yield and lower prices, robustas are added.


Mainstream coffees are also blended to create a taste or flavor profile that can be maintained at the lowest possible cost. This means that coffees are inter-changed, not only on the basis of quality but also on the basis of their cost. So the more flexible the blend is, the greater the money saving possibilities. This fact unfortunately further decimates any morsel of quality in coffee, especially in the lower end of the market.


On the other hand, single-origin coffees have a high intrinsic value because of their fine or unique cup quality (taste). Some of the best arabica plants grow only in a particular region of the world, are low in yield, and their berries mature longer on the tree than other coffee varietals. And because of the nature of these beans, single-origin arabicas are usually of limited availability. And similar to artisanal wines, changes in rainfall, microclimate, and weather patterns in the farm influence the beans’ flavor profiles, hence - coffee taste may not exactly be the same from year to year. Some flavors may be more prominent and others more subtle. Still, other flavor profiles not usually present in previous harvests show up in the cup.


Single-origin coffees may offer more quality and value to your cup.

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