While many coffee drinkers swear by blends, others are convinced that single-origin coffees offer the true essence of coffee. So, what is the difference between these two types?
Let’s look at single-origin coffee vs. blends!
Single-origin coffee comes from, you guessed it, a single farm or crop or region in one country. Single origin coffee is usually advertised as exotic, unique, or special because it comes from a particular country or region. Single origins are generally preferred by coffee purists, who enjoy the characteristics of single-origin beans from one specific area of the world.
Coffee blends are exactly what they sound like: several (two or more) different types of coffee blended together. Coffee roasters create blends to combine and balance the unique characteristics of multiple beans and develop flavors that aren’t present in a single origin. A typical case for coffee roasters is to pair a bright, exotic coffee with a deeper noted bean, which is why most blends you find are dark roasted.
Why do we have both single-origin coffees and blends?
Single origin coffee has risen in popularity relatively recently, particularly the specialty coffee scene. For years before that, though, coffee in North America was more big business than artisanal passion, so coffee companies just did what made economic sense. And what made sense was roasting beans from different regions, blending them together, and selling the blends.
When you’re supplying supermarkets and coffee shops, you’re dealing in a high volume of coffee beans. It’s going to be difficult to get a single farm or region to produce such a high volume of beans. And even if they could, what if that farm or region has a bad year and the quality of the coffee plummets? Or what if the bean simply becomes unavailable after the growing season ends in that part of the world? Customers become used to a certain flavor and consistency over the years and suddenly a coffee company can’t give it to them – that would be bad for business.
If a company makes a blend, they use several different types of beans to achieve a certain flavor profile. It’s extremely unlikely that they’d all have a bad year or disappear at the same time, and if one of them does, there are plenty of places in the world for a coffee company to look for a replacement that could contribute similar qualities to their blend. They can keep supplying a high volume of consistent coffee to their customers.
High-volume coffee distributors are also trying to please a fairly mainstream crowd. While it’s true that single origin coffees can have very special and unique flavors, it’s also true that their distinctness can turn some people off as easily as it can delight others. When beans are blended, a skilled roaster can tone down the funky, sometimes overpowering characteristic of one bean by pairing it with beans that bring something different to the blend. The result is a coffee that pleases most tastes and offends none. And that makes economic sense.
Single Origin Coffee
Single origin coffees have risen in popularity because of their exotic tastes, the beans’ traceability, and high quality processing methods. Each specific coffee is allowed to show off its individual qualities. This makes each coffee drinking experience a new adventure.
Each bag of single origin coffee usually has tasting notes written on the outside of its packaging to let you know what flavors to expect in your brew. There is a surprising number of tastes available in single origin coffees from sweet to sour, or salty to bitter. Different climates, altitudes, soils, and seasons will affect the taste of the beans.
A great advantage of a single origin brew is its traceability. Coffee can be traced directly back to a single estate farm, mill, co-operative or micro lot. The farm-to-cup process is much more transparent. Coffee roasters and consumers are usually able to know important information about the owners, workers, soil types, sustainability, and fair trade practices. This allows farmers who are conscientious about their practices and product to get the recognition they deserve and to continue to make high quality coffee.
The single origin coffee market has greatly influenced the quality of coffee that is being grown by farmers. Roasters can visit bean farms and talk directly with bean growers to compare tasting notes and flavor profiles as the beans are processed. Roasters are also able to inform farmers of the trends they are seeing in flavors consumers are buying and farmers can take this into consideration while processing the beans.
Beans are usually processed on the farm using a natural or wet process. Naturally processed coffees tend to work well in hot climates such as Yemen or Ethiopia. This process helps the beans keep a fruity, sweet taste as the berry dries with the coffee. Other beans are allowed to ferment then are washed and dried. Most beans are processed using a wet method which tends to have brighter, more acidic qualities than the natural, dry processing method.
French press can be a great choice for darker roasted single origin coffees. This method gives the brew time to steep and each ground to be surrounded by water for an even steeping.
For lighter, single origin roasts, a pour over method provides a superior cup that allows the brews’ aroma, clarity, and body to be fully experienced. Brew temperatures will be more critical for lighter roasted coffees as they are less water soluble. If the grounds remain in contact with water for too long, the water begins to extract less desirable qualities and can lead to an oversteeped or insipid tasting coffee.
popular Single Origin Coffees
Indonesian coffees are dark and bold and have an earthy taste. Their flavor profile can contain earthiness, spice, tobacco and leather. As you finish a cup of Indonesian coffee, it leaves you with a feel of dark cocoa.
Ethiopian coffee is not too strong and it’s mildly acidic. This coffee leaves you with a taste of jasmine flower, bergamot, and blueberry.
Kenyan coffee leans toward a brighter taste of fruit and berry and is known for its wine-like acidity. It has a consistent rich flavor.
Brazilian coffee tends to be lower in acidity than other coffees. It contains flavors that are sweet to bitter sweet with a nutty and chocolate roast finish.
Fans of Single Origin Coffees
Single origin coffees are a great pick for coffee drinkers who are fascinated with the intricacies and discrepancies of a coffee brew. Trying single origin coffees can become a new hobby for those who have a long history with coffee drinking and want to branch out to new and wilder flavors.
Coffee blends have the advantage of taking all the good aspects of individual beans and combining them for a smooth, rich flavor. They are able to balance the bitterness and acidity present in some coffee beans with more mellow beans.
Blends can pick up many combinations of coffee notes pleasant to the taste buds like chocolate and berry or nutty with brown sugar. The quality of the taste is dependent on the types of coffee being used. If a blend is well made it can create a harmonious taste that is hard to rival.
Another advantage of a blend is its consistency. Since coffee beans ripen in different areas at different times of the year, it can be difficult to provide the same single note coffee flavor year round.
Many blends use a combination of 2-10 different coffees per blend. The more coffees used in a blend, the easier it is for coffee roasters to replace unavailable flavors with others in the same flavor profile. This provides the consistent flavor that many coffee drinks want.
Blends are also a cost effective option for coffee roasters and the savings trickle down to the consumer who is purchasing the coffee. A high-quality taste can still be achieved when good coffee is blended with cheaper or more easily accessible beans. This allows roasters to strategize which beans they use in each season to provide quality tasting brews that consumers can still afford.
While blends can have specialty flavors such as a Christmas blend or Summer blend the most well-known blends are the breakfast blend, house blend, and espresso blend.
Many coffee drinkers are looking for routine with their first coffee of the day. The breakfast blend tends to be a brighter, more acidic blend. The beans are usually processed with a light roast and this coffee is consequently higher in caffeine. This blend is most often brewed in a drip coffee machine.
House blend is often the roaster’s or coffee shop’s specialty blend. This blend usually takes the middle road for acidity and bitterness and generally makes a well-rounded brew. This blend is usually a best-seller and includes coffee flavors that will hit the mark for many consumers.
An espresso blend is generally made from beans with a smoky, full-bodied flavor that leans towards bitter and away from acidic properties. This blend is roasted longer than the previous two blends giving it a stronger taste (but less caffeine). This blend works well with drinks that are created with milk, such as lattes and cappuccinos.
While single origin coffees won’t necessarily make a bad espresso, the individual notes may be overwhelmed by this particular brewing method or the cup of coffee may taste too one-sided. Espresso will taste best with a complex, well-rounded blend.
Fans of Coffee Blends
Coffee blends are a great choice for those who are looking for consistency in their morning cup of coffee. Blends provide complex, well-rounded flavors for a reliable cup of coffee all year round. The coffee drinkers that choose blends are usually the steady type who find something they like and stick with it.
Single Origin Coffee vs. Blends – Which Is Better?
If you read this post expecting us to crown a champion in the eternal debate between single origin coffee and blends, we’re going to have to disappoint you.
The truth is neither is better. Neither is worse. They are very different, so different, in fact, that it’s like trying to compare pears and oatmeal. (Not really. We were just trying to avoid the old apples/oranges cliche. You get the idea.)
Coffee drinking is a matter of personal preference and style. What tastes good to me, may not be your cup of coffee. We leave you with some thoughts.
Choose single origin if:
- You want to compare and explore the unique characteristics of different coffee
- You want to try more exciting flavors like strawberry, jasmine, or even spicy coffee
- You don’t mind spending a little more for distinctive unique coffee
Choose blend coffee if:
- You want a well rounded coffee, with consistent taste that you can enjoy for a longer period of time
- You are just beginning to enjoy coffee drinking and you want a simple, straight forward type of coffee, nothing fancy, no surprising undernotes
- You want an affordable variety of coffee that you can enjoy
Single origin and blend coffees each have their place in the world. Many times, an easy going blend is all that you need at the moment. But other times you need a single origin to jump start your day. Many times, the coffee you choose is dependent on your mood, what you want at that moment out of your cup of coffee.
There are no coffee police – you can always mix it up.
And always remember, no matter what kind of coffee it is, it’s all just a cup of coffee in the end. If you weren’t all that pleased, there will be another cup in a few hours.