Coffee Basics: Single Origin vs. Blends

Wednesday, 4 April, 2018

Coffee Basics: Single Origin vs. Blend

Whether buying beans, or placing an order in a cafe, you might often be presented with a choice between single origin versus blended coffee. It’s not an easy choice – both have their virtues. So, what exactly is the difference, and why does it matter? These days, there’s a lot of variation in flavour and roast levels, and both single origin and blends are suited to different drinks and brew methods.

What makes Single Origin special?

A single origin coffee is what it sounds like – all the beans come from one specific region, which could be an entire country, a co-operative of local farms in the same area, a single farm, or a single micro lot on a farm. For example, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe comes from the Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia. Coffee ‘purists’ tend to prefer single origin beans for their distinct flavour based on the area in which they were grown and the nuances that soil, climate, altitude, shade and multiple other factors can create. Even lots on a single farm can produce dramatically different coffee!

For coffee connoisseurs who want to enjoy coffee in its purest form, single origin coffee offers incredible flavour diversity – no two bags of coffee are the same and requires different brewing methods to really get the best out of the beans. Syphon, filter, French Press, cold drip, or cold press brewing methods are all ideal for highlighting the subtle flavour nuances. Generally, single origin coffee is enjoyed black, with no sugar or milk, to truly taste its unique characteristics.

Single origin coffee tends to be more expensive because it is seasonal and only available at certain times of the year, and the taste can be overpowering for coffee lovers who prefer milk-based drinks like lattes or cappuccinos. The biggest strength of a blend, however, is its consistency. The beans are spread out to ensure a consistently good cup and buffer against seasonal changes and availability…

What’s so great about a Blend?

Blended coffee is a combination of beans from different origins (one of our favourite blends has up to 9 different beans!) with a mix of flavour profiles, designed to get the best of multiple coffees in one complex cup. The aim is to produce a more well-rounded and full-bodied coffee with a smooth balance of flavour, aroma, body and acidity. The seasonal variations are less noticeable in a blend, and blends take the edge off the harsher flavours of single origin coffees, and are not as overpowering.

Blends have a mixed reputation as in some cases a sub standard coffee is used to save money and blends can hide bean defects, but in the specialty coffee industry, a talented roaster can bring together diverse flavours to create the best possible coffee. Roasters get really creative with their blending craft – there’s great skill in understanding how various coffee flavours work with each other to create the perfect mix of coffee, and creating harmony from these different flavours is something of an art form.

Blended coffee is generally geared towards the mainstream consumer – the intensity and richness of flavour works well as an espresso shot which can be discerned through the milk of a latte or cappuccino. Single origin beans generally aren’t suitable for espresso because of the finer taste nuances, and espresso needs a mix of sweetness, acidity, and crema, which a single source usually can’t offer. A roaster typically goes through an in-depth trial and error process to find the perfect balance between one type of bean that’s more bitter and the other one that’s sweeter.

So, which is better?

There may be times when you’re feeling adventurous, and times when you just want a blend that you know and love… It really comes down to personal preference. If you want a well-rounded, strong flavour profile that’s consistent, go with a blend. If you’re interested in the unique characteristics and exotic flavours of coffees from different regions, choose single origin. So, what’s your take on the great debate? Is one better than the other?

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