Single origin coffee: How location affects taste

Imagine with every sip of coffee, the aroma and taste transports you—perhaps to the lush landscapes of Ethiopia or the high-altitude terrains of Colombia. This isn’t just any coffee – it’s the magic of single origin coffee.

But what exactly is single origin coffee, and why does location have such a pronounced effect on its taste? Join us as we answer these questions and more, taking a closer look at the single origin coffee culture phenomenon.

What is single origin coffee?

Whether on coffee shop menus or store shelves, you may have noticed the coffee terminology of ‘single origin’ becoming more and more common. But what is single origin coffee exactly? 

Let’s demystify this term by delving into what makes single origin coffee so unique:

● Location singularity – As the term suggests, single origin coffee is all about purity of source. These beans come from one unique location, whether that's a particular country, a distinct region within that boundary, or even a lone farm. Because of this, each single origin bean encapsulates a narrative of its own. It speaks of a specific geographic cradle, sometimes as precise as a particular micro-lot or nano-lot on a coffee farm.

● A flavorful odyssey – Unlike other types of coffee blends that maintain a uniform flavor by mixing beans from a variety of terrains, single origin offers an audacious and intricate taste map. In fact, each sip can introduce new notes, sometimes unexpected.

● Transparent roots – An undeniable charm of single origin coffee lies in its traceability. Not all coffees claiming the title of single origin contain the truth of transparency, but it’s a step in the right direction. Focusing on one location greatly improves the availability of information and if the roaster/importer is careful, a lot of additional information can be passed on to the consumer. 

● Seasonality – Coffee beans, borne from the humble coffee cherry, adhere to seasonal rhythms like any other fruit. This cyclical nature gives single origin coffees a unique flavor profile that can be directly tied back to other variables like variety, elevation, and process type. These direct links to flavor can offer coffee aficionados a taste spectrum more specialized than what some blends can offer.

At its core, a bag of single origin coffee beans embodies the profound culture of third-wave coffee. In other words, it accentuates and focuses on the intricate journey from bean to brew. Far more than a mere morning pick-me-up, single origin unfolds as a lesson in taste and a voyage of discovery.

While single origin beans tend to be more expensive, this premium isn't arbitrary. It reflects their exclusivity, distinguished flavor nuances, and the strong commitment to ethical practices and sustainability they champion.

Is single origin coffee better?

Given the discerning levels of care that go into each bag of single origin coffee, this raises an interesting question: is single origin coffee better than blends?

To untangle this long standing, highly subjective debate, we must first establish what we value in our coffee experience. If you find yourself nodding to the following preferences, then single origin may be your cup of choice:

● Do you relish the experience of tasting coffee in its most authentic form, reveling in its layered notes and multifaceted flavors? Single origin coffee lets you explore the very essence of its birthplace, unmasked by any other influence.

● Are you someone who thirsts for a unique experience with every sip? Single origin coffee offers a delightful challenge to conventional tastes, letting you embark on an exclusive flavor journey.

● If you enjoy understanding the subtleties that shape your coffee—such as the regional differences, farming techniques, and the peculiar traits of each bean—single origin coffee provides this connection.

As you can see, single origin goes beyond simple taste preferences. It reflects a desire to connect more deeply with your coffee, to understand its roots, and to experience each cup as an expression of a specific place and time.

While single origin offers a unique experience, it’s not objectively ‘better’ than blended coffee beans. Blended coffee, with its own unique charm, has carved out its own dedicated following. 

If you identify with the following preferences, blends could be your brew of choice:

● If you prefer adding condiments like milk, sugar, or flavored syrups to your coffee, the balanced flavors of a blended roast may better complement such additions.

● Should you value a consistent experience over seasonal fluctuations, blends deliver a steady flavor profile.

● More so than the fruity, floral, and earthy tones of a single origin, if you prefer darker blends and exploring different types of coffee roasts, blends tend to highlight these features. 

It’s also worth noting that blending isn't a simple game of mix and match; it demands the knowledge of an experienced roaster. Crafting a balanced blend necessitates a deep understanding of how different single origin beans harmonize.

So in the end, the choice between single origin and blends is not a battle of superiority, but a matter of personal preference. Are you more intrigued by the bean's journey from soil to first sip, or do you prefer exploring the roasting artistry of a skilled blend?

When it comes to how you enjoy coffee, there’s no right or wrong, better or worse. Your coffee ritual is intrinsically personal. And regardless of your inclinations, there’s a brew out there poised to delight your palate.

How origin impacts the taste of coffee

As any coffee aficionado would be happy to tell you, even the tiniest alteration in coffee preparation can dramatically transform the final taste. The same principle applies to single origin coffee itself, with the final flavor impacted by the soil it grew in, its life cycle as fruit, and how it was harvested and washed.

Let's delve into some key factors from the bean's origin that contribute to its unique flavor profile:

● Soil composition – Every soil type imparts its unique minerals and acidity levels to the bean. Coffee from volcanic terrains like Java, Indonesia inherits a rich, earthy flavor with a touch of alkaline smoothness. On the flip side, the acidic soils of Kenya produce beans renowned for their wine-esque sharpness.

● Altitude – The Ethiopian highlands, perched at lofty altitudes, gift their beans with tart acidity, delicate floral undertones, and intense aromatics. Meanwhile, single origin coffee beans cultivated in lower altitudes, as seen in regions of Brazil, tend to lean toward nutty hints accompanied by a more robust body.

● Climate and weather – Temperature and rainfall can affect the flavor of beans, and regions with defined wet and dry seasons, like Colombia, can produce specialty coffee with distinct seasonal flavors depending on the time of year.

● Shade and sun – The balance of shade and sun can shape the taste of coffee cherries. In Central America, shade-grown beans take their time to mature, accumulating sugars that translate to a sweeter, more pronounced cup. Direct sunlight, on the other hand, tends to give the coffee a more robust intensity.

● Natural chemical reactions – Coffee is a byproduct of nature’s own alchemy, supported by a myriad of microorganisms and invisible processes that can affect its profile. Some coffee processors are even experimenting with methods such as altering oxygen levels in the coffee cherries to tweak flavors to their specifications.

These are just a few of the natural factors involved in specialty coffee’s development. The coffee plant species and variety will also inject a distinct character, such as a vibrant Bourbon or the elite Gesha.

Beyond such environmental elements, another major influence on the final taste of single source coffee beans is their processing. While many farms harbor their bespoke processing traditions, there are three widely recognized methods that can profoundly alter the coffee's taste:

● Wet processing (washed method) – This is the most common method. With wet processing, coffee beans are thoroughly washed to remove fruity remnants after being de-pulped. This often yields coffee with a crisp, uncluttered profile.

● Natural processing (sun dried method) – This ancient technique, a favorite among Yemeni farmers, involves sun-drying and fermenting the coffee cherries prior to milling. The resulting beans offer fruity, wine-like undertones.

● Honey processing (pulp natural method) – A midpoint between natural and wet processing, honey-processed beans are stripped of their fruit but retain their mucilage. As fermentation occurs, this 'honey'—varying from white and yellow to red and black—infuses its essence into the bean, introducing flavor notes that range from a gentle tang to a robust fruity burst.

From the manner in which a bean is nurtured to the way it's processed, every step infuses it with a distinct essence. And we've merely touched the tip of the iceberg.

So, the next time you take a sip from that steaming cup, remember you're not just tasting coffee—you’re experiencing the culmination of geographical, climatic, and cultural factors from faraway lands. Such is the magic of single origin coffee.

See related: How to Store Coffee Beans

Journey from bean to cup, with Breville

At Breville, we understand the nuances that make each brew unique. That’s why we offer a range of products designed to honor, elevate, and bring out the most of these individual taste profiles, ensuring each cup you craft is a perfect reflection of its origin. 

If you’re ready to elevate your coffee experience, explore our line of top-quality coffee machines and accessories today. 

 

Sources: 

1. Perfect Daily Grind. Experimental coffee processing in Panama. https://perfectdailygrind.com/2021/06/experience-trial-and-error-experimental-coffee-processing-in-panama/

2. Perfect Daily Grind. Everything You Need to Know About Single Origin Coffees. https://perfectdailygrind.com/2015/09/everything-you-need-to-know-about-single-origin-coffee/

3. One Village Coffee. Three Coffee Processing Methods. https://www.onevillagecoffee.com/blogs/ask-steve/coffee-processing-primer-14


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Single origin coffee: How location affects taste