You want to buy delicious roasted coffee, but purchasing what you like can be tricky, especially with so much information displayed on the label. When you see a washed light roast of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe in one hand and a pulped naturally dry processed Full City roast of Yellow Bourbon from Brazil in the other, you start to wonder: what is the difference between these coffees? and, more importantly, how are you supposed to know which one you want?
Along with the green bean processing, roasting profile, and brewing techniques, the taste in your cup is very much the result of where and how the coffee was grown. The country and region, the farming methods, and the coffee plant variety all affect the flavor and aroma of your favorite drink.
We thought it would a great help to do an overview of what is important to know when buying and comparing coffee of your choice, starting with the Origin in this post.
The origin of the beans are viewed by some as a way to get a specific taste, and some independent coffee shops have found that this gives them a way to add value over large chains.
Single-origin coffee is coffee grown within a single known geographic origin. Sometimes, this is a single farm or a specific collection of beans from a single country. The name of the coffee is then usually the place it was grown to whatever degree available.
Single origins tend to be high-quality coffees with unique flavors and aromas – the kind that roasters don’t want to obscure by mixing with other beans.
In addition to "single-origin" on the label, you can also see:
- "Estate coffees" are a specific type of single-origin coffee. They are generally grown on a single farm, which might range in size from a few acres to large plantations occupying many square miles, or a collection of farms which all process their coffee at the same mill.
- “Micro lots” - are another type of specific single-origin coffee where beans come from small sections on a particular farm. Usually, from a single field on a farm, a small range of altitude, specific day of harvest and processing method used. Many of these micro lots are experimental.
A blend, on the other hand, happens when a roaster thinks that two coffees combined taste even better than those two coffees consumed separately. Perhaps they have a light, fruity Ethiopian but think it needs a hint of body to complete it. Espresso-based coffees are often, but not always blended.
The blends could be a mixture of multiple coffees from the same region or beans from multiple farms/lots, and in many cases blending coffee beans of different varietals. Many specialty roasters list the origins of the coffees they incorporate into their blends.
The taste-base blend is where the true artistry of coffee lies—in discovering and melding the unique qualities of two or more coffees to create a new unique coffee that is more than the sum of its parts.
On a bigger scale, however, the blending is frequently cost driven where they combine cheaper coffees with more expensive specialty beans to reduce the price of their offerings. Also, the customers of larger brands expect their coffee to taste the same from one cup to the next day over day, but since the body and flavor can differ significantly between farms, weather and harvesting, to minimize the impact of such variations large roasters will blend many distinct beans together, so variations in each will not impact the cup taste. The result is often a bland cup of coffee with no predominant flavor notes.
When it comes to labeling, however, you need to keep in mind that there are no real rules or governing body enforcing the labeling in terms of origin, and for example, the "single-origin" can be a blend of:
- Coffee entirely from one farm but of mixed varietals
- Coffee from multiple farms in the same general area.
- Coffee from multiple farms in the same country.
While single origins are normally more respected by specialty coffee lovers (more expensive as well), both types of coffee (single-origin or blends) can be excellent. Remember, it all comes down to the cup that YOU like!
At the same time, dive into the world of single-origins by trying coffee from a variety of regions. Try a Guatemalan, known for its acidity, balance, and spiced notes; then, compare it to a Rwandan coffee, which tends to be sweet and well-bodied. Next, sample two different Colombian regions. Understanding the typical cup profiles of the various origins, and how these are affected by roast, can help you make an informed choice among them.
To assist you on this journey, at Kanuck.Coffee we source coffee of different varietals from across the world and make a new taste profile available every month to our Explorer subscribers. For more information, please visit http://kanuck.coffee/collections/subscriptions/products/go-wide
Be open-minded and get to know the coffee origins and profiles you love.