There are a variety of labels you can find on coffee. From single origin coffee to coffee blends, each label signals a different coffee experience to the customer. But what does “blend” and “single origin” actually mean?
Some believe labeling coffee as “single origin” is a marketing technique to justify a higher price. The truth is, coffee blends are a combination of beans from several places, while single origin coffee comes from only one location. Read on if you’re curious about what makes them different and which one you should pick based on your preferences.
What is a Coffee Blend?
A coffee blend is simply a mix of single origin coffee beans. There are a variety of ways roasters can prepare blends. Some feature a blend of coffee from a specific country or region, while others take beans from different countries. Roasters experiment with a variety of bean combinations that help dial in various notes of coffee, which can create a delicious and well-balanced cup of coffee. Coffee shops usually create blends as a signature or seasonal product, and coffee blends make up a large part of the types of coffee offered at grocery stores. Many people enjoy blends for their consistency in flavor and their relative uniqueness depending on the cafe visited.
Differentiating blends in shops is easy, too. Most, if not all, of the time, blends are clearly labeled as a blend on their respective packaging. For example, you can find our bestselling Downtown Blend clearly marketed as such.
What is Single Origin Coffee?
Single origin coffee means that the coffee beans were grown and processed from the same location or crop (and often the same farm). Usually, single origin coffee is differentiated with a specific country on its packaging (see Kona Coffee or Indonesia Sumatra Coffee as examples).
People who enjoy single origin coffee love its unique tasting notes. Since single origin coffee is "pure," the flavor from its original location is preserved. Different regions have different climates and growing conditions, creating wildly different flavors in the resulting coffee. For example, Colombian coffee is known for its chocolate, caramel, and fruity flavors, while Mexican coffee features chocolate and nutty flavors.
Why do coffee roasters create blends?
If single origin coffee preserves the original region’s flavor, then why do blends exist? While single origin coffees are adventurous, their flavor tends to be inconsistent in the long-term as climate changes lead to changes in flavor. To combat this, roasters create blends because they are consistent in flavor and are less susceptible to seasonal changes.
Blends are often the default espresso coffee in coffee shops because they pair well with milk and sugar. Blends have a more homogenous flavor, so they appeal to a larger consumer audience. Additionally, blends help differentiate shops from others since they are usually crafted for the shop and sold exclusively. (Source)
Why do coffee roasters offer single origin coffee?
Coffee roasters offer single origin coffee as a way to satisfy customers looking for a unique cup of coffee and an experience of an exclusive coffee taste at its purest. Customers can taste coffee from around the world and appreciate the nuances in flavor between different countries. Single origin coffee aroma, acidity, and flavors are often more pronounced than blends. Some coffee shops even have exclusive access and selling rights to certain single origin coffees, making it an even more exclusive coffee bean.
Single origin coffee is often prepared as a pour over or drip coffee, which are coffee preparation methods that best bring out the original flavor of the coffee
Single Origin vs Blend Characteristics
Here are the two main factors that set apart single origin coffee from coffee blends (and vice versa):
The most prominent difference between single origin and blends is their flavor. Single origin coffee is usually brighter, featuring floral or citrusy notes, while coffee blends lean towards the chocolate, caramel, and nutty side. Single origin coffee features flavor at its purest because it is not combined with other beans and is as unaltered as possible.
However, because it is a pure reflection of its original flavor, it is susceptible to seasonal changes, and each coffee season will vary slightly in taste. On the other hand, blends have a more balanced and homogenous flavor, and because it is a bbetterlend of coffee, it is less susceptible to seasons and more consistent in flavor. (Source)
With blends, tracing origins is near impossible and often ambiguous. At most, roasters will include the country the blend is from, but no specific farm or producer information. On the other hand, single origin coffee often can be traced back to a country, farm, producer, and even the lot that it was grown on. This is powerful and valuable information because it gives consumers a deeper understanding of the coffee they are drinking. It can also lead to a deeper appreciation for the farmers and workers who make the coffee. This is a large part of the third wave movement in coffee, which strives to recognize the value of coffee farms and link coffee’s roots to the consumer. (Source)
Which is Right For You: Single Origin or Blend?
There is no objectively better coffee between single origin and blends. What is “better” depends on your personal preference and what you want out of your coffee experience! (If you don’t know, try taking this quiz!) If you’re looking for unique flavors in a clean and crisp cup of coffee, then a single origin coffee may suit you best.
If you are looking for a smooth, balanced cup of coffee that goes great with milk and sugar, then a coffee blend may be a better match. Both coffees offer something different. The next time you pop into your local cafe, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision.