Should you buy single origin coffees or stick to blends? Just ten years ago most people didn’t even have to ask that question. Most coffees tasted pretty much the same.
These days, there’s more variation between roast levels, coffee blends, and flavours than ever before. In fact, there are so many choices to make that it can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re just getting into coffee. We encourage you to channel that feeling of overwhelm into excitement—because there’s so much great coffee to explore and discover.
Let’s take a look at an important question every coffee lover must ask when they buy coffee beans: single origin or blend? We’ll break down the differences in flavour, easy of use, and who each type is best geared toward. For an overview of everything you need to consider when buying coffee beans check out our top level coffee bean guide here.
Let’s dive in.
Single Origin Coffees
For a coffee to be a single origin coffee, it has to come from a single location. Sometimes this means a single farm. Other times it means a single lot on a big farm.
Because these coffees are hyper-focused geographically, there’s an amazing amount of flavour diversity—so much that it can seem unbelievable to newcomers to specialty coffee.
It’s probably not too surprising that coffee beans from different continents have different flavours, but it turns out that beans from neighboring countries do too. In fact, two farms in the same valley can have dramatically different coffee. And to get even more precise, specific lots on a single farm can have some pretty incredible flavour diversity.
The point of single origin coffees is that a roaster can highlight specific flavours that are unique to certain farms or regions. This opens up an incredible world of coffee flavour that can be explored with every new bag of coffee.
Flavour Profile Examples
Here’s a look at how complex and diverse single origin coffees can be. The following coffee examples are not based on any specific bean, but are generalizations that are well-known and recognized in the specialty coffee community.
- Guatemala — Bright red apple-like acidity, a smooth chocolate flavour, mild floral aromas, and a pleasant honey sweetness.
- Sumatra, Indonesia — Mild citrus tang, a pleasant earthy flavour, refreshing pine aromas, and a gentle molasses sweetness.
- Ethiopia — Gentle lime-like acidity, a mild fruity flavour, intense blueberry aromas, and a satisfying fruity sweetness.
- Peru — Crisp hibiscus acidity, a gentle fruity flavour, rich floral aromas, and a pleasant fruity sweetness.
As you can see, coffee flavour isn’t as limited as it once was—and this only scratches the surface. It takes years to taste enough coffees to get a sense of what different countries or regions can taste like on a general level.
Strengths And Weaknesses
The biggest strength of single origin coffees is the flavor diversity and clarity. Not only do these coffees give us a way to explore the world of coffee at the farm-level, but they also help us identify and reward farmers who are doing a fantastic job easier than blends, where the skills of a particular farmer may be hidden.
The biggest weakness of single origin coffees is their tendency to be inconsistent. Naturally, with such a wide array of flavours, it’s only to be expected that each bean will require different brewing techniques to “dial in” the flavour. This may sound like a fun challenge to the most science-minded coffee enthusiasts, but it can become frustrating for coffee lovers who enjoy a smooth, consistent mug for long periods of time.
Back in the day, blends were an easy way for roasters to smooth out the rough edges of low-grade beans. They’d take a few mediocre beans, roast them together, and the outlier flavours of any single bean would be calmed down by the flavour elements of the other beans.
Blending used to be about avoiding bad flavors. In the specialty coffee industry, blending is more about creating complimenting flavour profiles.
By selecting coffees with complimentary flavours, roasters can create smooth and complex flavour profiles that would otherwise be rare or unheard of with single origin coffees.
So, while blending does still typically smooth out the rough edges of each coffee (like the bright tang from a Honduran or the deep earthiness of a Mexican), there’s still a large amount of diversity possible—just not quite as much.
Specialty roasters often like to pair a bright, exotic coffee with a deeper-noted bean. This gives the blend both high and low notes, creating a sense of “fullness” and balance that’s often missing from single origins. The world of blend flavour is still diverse, but it’s more rounded and a little less wild.
Flavour Profile Examples
Let’s take another look at how roasters may pair two or three coffees to create a flavour profile that’s both complex and well-rounded. Once again, these aren’t based on any specific blends, but you’ll certainly see them out in the wild..
- Ethiopia + Sumatra — The exotic fruity aromas of the Ethiopian coffee blend into the earthy, spice, and woody notes of the Sumatran. The result is a low-acidity blend with a full body and complex contrast between fruity and earthy notes.
- Guatemala + Kenya + Mexico — The bright acidity of the Guatemalan pairs perfectly with the floral aromas of the Kenyan. When the earthy, full-bodied Mexican bean is added, the blend turns into a well-rounded symphony of bright flavours, smooth flavours, and deep flavours.
Roasters can really get creative with their blends, and they especially love creating them for the purpose of becoming espresso. While there may be a little less diversity overall, there’s a greater potential for balance and consistency.
Strengths And Weaknesses
The biggest strength of coffee blends is their balance and consistency. The roughest edges of any coffee are smoothed out and the complimentary flavours create an experience that’s smooth and well-rounded. They’re not just more approachable and easier to drink, but roasters can also carry them for longer periods of time since the beans are being spread out.
The biggest weakness of coffee blends is the lack of the most exotic, outlying flavours. Even with the boosted complexity, blends sometimes like a certain pizazz and flashiness that are more common with single origins. Sometimes those most strange flavours of single origins are the ones that inspire us the most.
Serious coffee lovers can appreciate both styles of coffee beans, but most tend to gravitate towards one more often than the other. Will you explore the more diverse corners of coffee flavour with single origins, or will you enjoy the consistent and complex flavour profiles of blends?
To decide, move away from the hypothetical and into the practical. Take a look at our lineup of specialty coffee beans and see which ones sound like a better fit for your taste preferences. Or if you're feeling adventurous give our coffee subscription box a shot!