A Guide to Single Origin Coffee
Single origin coffee is one of the biggest coffee trends to emerge in the recent decade. These days, walking into most café, you’re bound to find single origin options on their menus. This guide will walk you through what single origin coffee is and why and how it matters to you as a consumer.
Single Origin, Single Variety and Blend
Single origin coffee is produced with beans from a certain geographical origin. It can mean coffee from a country, certain region of a country, or as precise as a single farm. The beans may be of a single species or a combination of different species. A batch of Arabica beans that comes from the same plot of farm is considered single origin, but so does a mix of Arabica and Robusta beans from different regions of a single country. Single variety coffee contains beans from the same species and a single production area. A mixture of coffee of different species or varieties, or from different zones, is known as a blend.
Does single origin coffee taste different?
The short answer is, yes.
A carefully curated coffee blend can produce a wider range of taste and aroma. By combining different elements of various beans, mix-origin coffees or blends produce a balanced flavour profile where various beans complement each other. Consistency in flavour and quality throughout time is also achievable through constant adjustment made according to the quality and characteristics of each batch of coffee that goes into blend.
Single origin coffee presents the most original flavour profile, allowing us to distinctively savour the characteristics and unique flavours of beans from a region. Flavours tend to be bolder and sharper as there’s nothing to offset outlier flavours. With single origin, each batch may taste slightly different from the last as a result of seasonal conditions or other factors. This is part of the appeal of drinking single origin coffees — no two coffees are the same.
Why do people love it?
Beside the exciting flavour and aromatic profiles being the most obvious reasons, many value the traceability and quality of single origin coffees. Being able to trace back to where the coffee was grown and how it was cultivated matters to aficionados because they have a major impact on the flavour of the brew. The added benefit is that coffee producers can more directly be held accountable for the quality of their coffee. Consumers’ demands on high quality coffee and their ability to make informed-decisions encourage coffee farmers to better their crop quality through improving farming practices.
Getting to Know Your Coffee Origins
Compared to blends, single origin coffee has a less well-rounded flavour profile. However, coffee from each origin boasts unique personalities and characteristics. Environmental factors such as climate and soil influence, along with cultivation practices, habits and traditions, heavily influence the final quality of the coffee, determining its taste, body and aromatic qualities. This is another reason why many coffee lovers like single origin coffee — each origin tells a story of its own.
Similarly, at illy, we look at our unique 100% Arabica blend as an orchestra, with the individual instruments represented by various Arabica origins and varieties. This has inspired the Arabica Selection, which shines a spotlight on some of the most distinctive origins of the unique illy blend. Each illy Arabica Selection single origin coffee has its own unique roasting temperature and length of time to highlight the aroma and flavour of each origin.
Among approximately 70 coffee producing countries, Brazil is the world’s largest producer of Arabica coffee. Well-defined wet and dry seasons create the perfect climate for coffee cultivation. It is no wonder that Brazil is home to five billion coffee plants. Coffee grown in Brazil is often used as the foundation of espresso blends for its low acidity and non-overbearing flavours. By itself, Brazilian coffee possesses an intense and full flavour with a nice balance between acidity and bitterness, characterised by unmistakeable notes of caramel and dried fruit.
Colombia is routinely listed on the top three coffee producing countries, growing 10% of the world's Coffea arabica. The coffee’s subtle sweetness, smooth finish and distinctive acidic taste characterised by fruity notes of citrus and red berries make for a beautiful flavour profile coveted by coffee connoisseurs. Colombian coffee is ideal for slow brewing methods such as cold brew, pour over, and French press.
Ethiopia is believed to be where coffee, or more specifically Coffea arabica (the Arabica coffee plant), originated. Coffea arabica in Ethiopia is grown both in the wild in forests where they are shade-grown and hand-picked, as well as in gardens and plantations. Considered some of the finest washed Arabica coffee in the world, Ethiopian coffee has balanced taste with delicate floral notes of jasmine, orange blossom and camomile.
Guatemala has some of the most diverse terrain for coffee cultivation including highlands and subtropical forests. Guatemalan coffee has a full body with a distinctly bitter taste and an intense aroma. The Arabica from Guatemala is a popular bean for blends with its acidity and bold notes of chocolate, especially as a drip coffee.
illy’s Arabica Selection brings out the special taste and sensory properties of a specific origin. The highest quality coffee from Ethiopia, Colombia, Brazil and Guatemala are offered in their purest form with their respective properties enhanced by a dedicated roasting curve designed by illy’s experts and research laboratories to enhance the unique aromatic notes and distinctive taste of each country of origin.