Single Origin Coffees

June 2,2011


During my recent travels through coffeedom, I have seen the term single origin coffee used very often. It is used mostly to describe a coffee from a particular farm. Many coffees are actually blends of different coffees from different farms bound by membership in the local co-op that all the farmers in this region belong to. This does not mean that these coffees are not as good as single origin coffees. The term single origin only refers to the facts stated above, that the coffee comes from a single farm. The quality is still determined by the agricultural aspects of the coffee (elevation, soil quality etc), its grading, cupping and separating (isolating the highest quality beans from the lesser quality ones).

For a long time farms have been branding their coffee as single origin as a means of increasing the value of the coffee and as a way to increase the price they can get roasters to pay for their crop. La Mineta, a Costa Rican coffee, is a good example of this. So are many of the coffees offered from Kona in Hawaii. Again this does not mean these coffees are automatically superior, but it does mean that more care and attention have been given in the growing and grading than might have been by a farmer whose intent was to simply sell their harvest to an accumulator. My personal opinon is that cup quality is most important regardless of the coffee’s origin. The style, or how the coffee looks, is of lesser importance as it doesn’t affect the cup quality unless of course the coffee contains sticks, stones or other debris. This is an indication that the coffee was poorly treated to begin with.

But getting back to single origin coffee. Besides seeing this term used to tout the high quaility of a coffee, I have read tracts saying that single origin coffees make excellent espresso. This could not be further from the truth. And here is why; A single origin coffee is only going to exhibit  charateristics of that particular growth. It may be delicious, sweet, with lots of acid and snap, but it is still singular. I often drink Colombian coffee because it is consistently of very high quality. This is because the Colombians have developed a high skill at growing and processing their coffees. They are probably one of the best in the world at it, second only to the Brazilians, but even so their coffees are singular so when you brew them, whether as an espresso or a drip coffee, the result is going to be the same. And after a time it gets boring. Coffees in my opinion are meant to be blended, because when you blend them together is when the magic happens. The different characteristics come together and form a synogistic relationship that is better than the individual elements. Different thicknesses of crema, varying colors of crema, sweetness, grainyness, softness, high and low notes all become available through blending.

Did you know that some of the highest paid individuals in the coffee industry are those whose responsibility it is to keep the large commercial houses like Chock Full O Nuts and Folgers blends the same year after year while using different coffees? Coffee is a commodity, after all different from crop to crop. In fact the begining, middle, and end of a crop all have different taste charateristics. I personally have preferences when I purchase coffee for my Porto Rico. I will not disclose them here, but trying to keep things consistent with a commodity that changes often is part of the challange of offering excellent coffee.

So after all is said and done, enjoy single origins to determine the characteristics of a singular coffee. It’s part of developing a taste for what you like. And don’t be afraid to buy different coffees and blend them together yourself, that’s part of the fun of making your coffee your own. At Porto Rico any one of the staff will be happy to suggest something. They will ask you how you drink your coffee and then suggest different single origins or blends to satisfy your particular taste.  Light roast, dark roast, strong,  spicy, winey or smooth and full of flavor - don’t be afraid to experiment! Coffee is highly personal, so make it yours and have fun.

Peter Longo

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