Coffee lovers often find themselves in a delightful dilemma when faced with the choice between single origin and coffee blends. I had an interesting conversation with a busy cafe owner about the benefits of both and perceived strengths/weaknesses. Each offers a unique flavor experience that can cater to different preferences and moods. In this blog post, we'll dive into the world of coffee to understand the characteristics, benefits, and potential drawbacks of both single origin and coffee blends.
Single Origin Coffee:
Single origin coffee, as the name suggests, comes from a specific geographical location, typically a particular country, region, or even a single farm. Here are some key aspects to consider when indulging in single origin coffee:
Distinct Flavor Profiles: Single origin coffees offer a distinct taste that reflects the terroir and/or processing of the region they come from. This means you can savor unique flavor notes like fruity, floral, nutty, or earthy, depending on the origin and processing method
Seasonal Variations: Single origin coffees are often influenced by seasonal changes, resulting in different flavor profiles throughout the year. This adds an element of excitement for coffee enthusiasts who enjoy variety. Its important to note that blends should also have the benefits of seasonality if the roaster has bought well
Coffee Education: Exploring single origin coffees is a journey of coffee education. It allows you to appreciate the nuances of coffee and understand how factors like altitude, climate, and processing methods impact the final brew.
Ideal for Purists: Single origin coffee is perfect for those who appreciate the unadulterated essence of coffee from a specific region and want to experience the purest expression of that region's coffee culture.
Coffee blends, on the other hand, are created by combining beans from multiple sources, which can be different regions or even different varieties of coffee beans. Here's why coffee blends have their own charm:
Consistency: Blends can be known for their consistency in flavor. Roasters carefully craft blends to achieve a particular taste profile, making it a reliable choice for those who prefer a consistent coffee experience. Say we as roasters want a rounded, sweet blend to serve in our cafes. We can choose seasonal beans, roast and blend them to maintain that taste profile for consistency, despite the input beans having changed through availabilty, age etc
Balanced Flavors: Blending allows roasters to balance the strengths and weaknesses of different beans, resulting in a harmonious flavor profile. This can be especially appealing to those who enjoy a well-rounded cup of coffee.
Versatility: Blends are versatile and can be tailored to suit various brewing methods, making them a great choice for espresso, French press, pour-over, or drip coffee lovers. I argue that single origins are too but more on that later
Custom Creations: Coffee roasters often create signature blends that showcase their unique expertise and style, offering coffee enthusiasts a chance to explore and appreciate the artistry behind coffee blending. This is definitely true, but to be completely honest, its often more a marketing exercise. Customers love to imagine added mystery behind a blend recipe
Here's my argument as a roaster. A batch of roasted coffee made entirely of the same single origin bean will roast evenly, assuming the roaster knows what they are doing. Why? The water %, screen size, density of that coffee is the same. That coffee when put through a grinder and dosed into a portafilter will all be evenly cooked, evenly expanded and caramelised and therefore more likely to be evenly extracted.
Take a blend on the other hand. Say a blend contains a softish naturally processed Brazil, a high grown hard Guatemalan and a small, yet vibrant Ethiopian bean. Assuming the roaster roasted these individually and then blended them, these beans would all extract slightly differently after they have been ground. In theory you have some over extracted coffee, some under and some just right, taking into account the variances in those beans. It takes a highly skilled roaster to be able to roast those input blend beans to extract at the same rate when put through an espresso machine.
What does any of this actually mean or solve? Not much. But, it does highlight that finding a good roaster is very important. If your coffee is unbalanced (just like food sometimes is) in that it is unpleasant with acidity, or lacks sweetness or mouthfeel or just doesnt give you "feels", maybe its time to explore. This coul dbe form badly blended coffee. If you taste ash or smoke or harshness, this could be a result of badly roasted coffee. Avoid oily, shiny, rough smelling coffee. Too much oil on the surface of roasted coffee beans indicatyes bad roasting - that oil should be on the inside of the bean!! That oil will oxidise and go stale much faster than non oily coffee too.
Start with fresh coffee. Try out a single origin. Ask your roaster about brewing better to avoid unwanted flavours or to maximise your current flavours, or both. They might recommend a blend. Explore! Its fun
I write this while drinking a filter coffee made with our Magnitude blend. :)