Is it a Single Origin Coffee or is it a Blend? Knowing the Differences and How they Affect Your Favorite Cup
A “single origin” coffee is identified by the geographical location of where it is grown. All single origin coffees are titled with the producing country’s name, and become the the ingredients of any and all blends. There are three main regions in the world where specialty coffees are produced: The Americas (Central and South), Asia / Oceania, and Africa. Also included within the origin title can be a region, designating specific areas of growth, appellation, denoted by specific ecosystems in which the coffee is grown, an estate name, , and any mark, which includes registered trademarks and certifications, further identifying and distinguishing the coffee. It’s much like specialty wine; the more details a person knows about their favorite origin, the greater the consistent enjoyment will be through having a refined knowledge of specific flavor profiles relative to that location, as well as procuring specific and consistent sources of a favorite origin (country, region, appellation, estate and mark).
Oftentimes the grade of the coffee is listed in the title, such as Supremo, AA, SHB, etc. For the aficionado and science and detail folks, knowledge of the cultivars within the origin can further define a favorite coffee. Grades of beans will also have an affect on cup character and flavor.
One of my favorite single origins is Colombia (enter Juan Valdez, one the busiest growers on the planet). Colombia is the second largest producer of specialty coffees in the world and offers beans from seven different regions. Known as “milds”, Colombian coffees possess foundational flavor characteristics of mild acidity, sweet, caramel aroma and flavor, and medium – full body. Aftertaste can vary in all coffees, determined predominantly by the processing, storing, roasting and age of the beans. But, a Colombian coffee from the Huila region tends to be more acidic, with citrus and floral flavors than those of the Bucaramanga region, which come the closest to the aforementioned general flavor profile of Colombians. The very finest and coveted Colombians are believed by many, the author included, to hail from the Narino region.
Within the spectrum of single origin coffees and differing foundational flavor profiles, Ethiopian (East African) coffees are the antithesis to Colombians, in that they are generally of bold and assertive acidity with fruit, floral and earthy flavors and heavy body. Sumatran (Asia / Oceania) coffees correspondingly exhibit mild acidity, woody, nutty and earthy flavors with big body. Central American coffees vary the most within the predominant three world regions because of the longitude the countries cover, offering a broader difference in soil and climatic effects.
“Traditional” blends are those known as French, Italian and Viennese. Although these titles do represent geographical locations, the flavor profile of each of these blends is loosely determined by broadly-accepted standards, which also encompass a specific degree of roast, namely on the “dark” side. French Roast is known on the west coast of the U.S. to be the darkest of roasts, which should offer a complex flavor that is sweet and smooth, resulting from the use of mild origin coffees, most-often those of the Americas and Asia / Oceana regions. Italian Roast is known on the US east coast as the darkest of roasts, which traditionally is used for espresso preparation, offering a deep and intense flavor that is spicy, sweet and bold, primarily resulting from the use of natural or pulp natural (semi-washed) East African, Central- and South American coffees. Vienna Roast is smooth and sweet, milder in the cup with less intensity due to its lighter development on the dark roast spectrum.
Most specialty roasting companies offer a signature or “house” blend, which is guaranteed to be different from anything or anyone else’s blend, regardless of the individual origin coffees used in the recipes. Single origins are roasted on different machines to different degrees and blended together in different quantities. It is in this action that one-of-a-kind tasting coffees are created, providing the world with greater variety and selection in the cup. Enjoy!