Get over your first sticker shock and give it a try. Single origin coffee is not just for snobs anymore, and you will be pleasantly surprised when you open up to a fascinating new taste experience.
Single origin – a concept for connoisseurs, not snobs
The concept of single origin has been around for a long time already in other products like single malt whiskey, or wine being the best example. That’s the prime area of refined sophistication. Ordering “red wine” in an upscale Paris restaurant would immediately out you as a philistine. A waiter would at least expect from you asking for wine from a specific region, like Bordeaux, Loire, or Bourgogne. And only when you name your preferred chateau and the vintage will you be taken seriously.
In coffee, a similar trend of increasing quality and sophistication of consumers has been evolving since the turn of the millennium. That’s what third-wave coffee is all about. Not to worry, everybody can learn and train his taste buds.
What is single origin coffee?
Don’t be fooled by labels. When you read the name of a country on the label, you know that this coffee is sourced from that country, nothing more, nothing less. In the broadest sense, you could say that coffee from Brazil is of a single origin. But this does not make much sense as Brazil is a vast country with several production areas. These areas have different altitudes, soil, microclimate, and post-harvest processing methods typical for that location. Consequently, their taste profiles will be worlds apart. Even in small countries like Costa Rica or Panama, you will have significant differences in quality and flavor profile between growing areas.
Therefore, it makes a lot more sense to use the term single origin coffee when talking about coffee from a distinct geographical region within a country. Most coffee-producing countries have designated areas, often controlled and protected by law. To name just one country, Guatemala has eight designated regions, which each have a very distinct flavor profile.
In many countries, the designation of growing areas is government-controlled. This is quite similar to the wine industry. The French, for example, have the designation AOC (Appelation d’Origine Controlée) or AOP (Appelation d’Origine Protégée), which is also government controlled.
From single origin coffee to single estate coffee
Inside a geographical area, you can further narrow down your choice and select a single estate. This would be equivalent to choosing a vineyard or a Chateau. You can find these single estates in most coffee-producing countries. Here, I list only three of my favorite estates, which also have won top spots in coffee auctions with a large international following:
Finca El Injerto in Huehuetenango, Guatemala
Lamastus Family Estates in Boquete, Panama
Finca Sophia, in Chiriqui’s highlands, Panama
Estate Coffee Fresh Roasted. Free Shipping on all Orders $60+. Sold by Volcanica Coffee.
You can go even one step further; a single estate may have several plots. They could be at different altitudes, facing another direction, or planted with a unique varietal on an experimental field. These plots might produce outstanding coffees in micro-lots or even nano lots. You will have a hard time finding these coffee beans unless you go to the source. But they are worth hunting for.
Does single origin coffee taste different from blended coffee?
Yes, because a single origin coffee consists only of beans from a single location with the same taste profile. This unique taste profile results from the growing conditions and post-harvest processing of that location. That’s why not two different single origin coffees will taste the same.
A blended coffee consists of two or more different kinds of coffee beans possibly sourced from opposite corners of the world. Different taste profiles will be combined into something new by the coffee roaster. A blend can be a very balanced creation by using complementary taste profiles. The result is a highly consistent taste profile throughout the year but at the expense of individuality.
Are single origin coffees better than coffee blends?
Not necessarily. It depends on your personal preference. If you prefer a smooth everyday coffee, reliable and without surprises, then a blend will be the right choice.
Are you adventurous, curious, and willing to learn about the whole range of flavors coffee can offer? Then you should embark on a journey through the universe of single origin coffees. Each single origin coffee will be different and have its personality. You may prefer one over the other, but that’s ok. At least it is not the same thing every morning….
Why should you care about single origin coffee?
When you can find a single origin coffee, you know it has received utmost attention from the grower from seed to harvest. To ensure top quality, coffee beans are handpicked, which is quite labor-intensive, and quantities are generally limited. The grower deserves your respect and a fair price to compensate him for his dedication. Rewarding ambitious growers with a fair price may also be an incentive for other farmers to improve the quality of their coffee.
And don’t forget the roaster. Single origin coffee has to be roasted, matching the characteristics of each type of coffee bean. The ideal roast profile is not the same for all coffee beans. Single origin coffee is not a mass product, and the roaster deserves your respect for expertise and craftsmanship.
Where can you buy the best single origin coffees?
In an ideal world, you would buy the green beans directly from the grower and roast them yourself. This, unfortunately, is not practical for most of us. For the perfect roast, you would need the right equipment and the know-how to use it properly.
Please note that your favorite single origin coffee or single estate coffee may not be available year-round. Coffee beans are harvested only once a year over a harvest season of 2-4 months. Take advantage of the fact that coffee is grown in both the northern and the southern hemispheres; this gives you a much wider choice.
Volcanica – a coffee roaster with an amazing choice
Volcanica has probably the broadest selection ranging from a single country, single origin coffee, and single estate coffee from the most attractive coffee-producing areas in the world. And yes, if you prefer blended coffee, they offer that as well. They import green coffee beans and roast them freshly to perfection in Atlanta, GA. Shopping on their website is made extremely easy.
Estate Coffee Fresh Roasted. Free Shipping on all Orders $60+.
Altruistic Joe – determined to bring outstanding coffee to you
Another excellent choice is Altruistic Joe, a veteran-owned company. They have an excellent choice of a few single origin coffee and single estate coffee. Choices are still a bit limited since it is a very young company. But I am convinced they will continue to source interesting coffees for us and roast them to perfection. Another charming point is their policy to donate 20% of the net proceeds to carefully selected charities. Buying from this company enriches your coffee experience and gives you the satisfaction of doing something good. Below is an ad showing my favorite single origin coffee from Huehuetenango, Guatemala. I will always be a fan of that coffee producing region.