What Is a Single Origin Coffee?
Most of you that find your way to this article will probably already know what a single origin coffee is. For those of you who don’t, it’s really simple. It’s coffee that is grown within a single known geographical origin.
This can be coffee that’s grown from the same farm, surrounding farms, or from the same region in a country. However, if it’s from one farm or a group of farms, it’s normally advertised as ‘single farm’ or ‘single estate’ coffee.
The reason it’s important to label single origin coffee is so it’s traceable. For those coffee connoisseurs out there, it’s nice to know you’re tasting coffee from a certain region. For example, if a coffee tastes distinctly of caramel or cinnamon, then you can trace the source of this amazing flavour and figure out its growing conditions.
Its Popularity Is on the Rise
Over recent decades, single origin coffee has become more and more popular. It was once very expensive, due to the fact of seasonality and export. Since transport improved single origin coffee has been more readily available all over the world.
The interest in single origin coffee started from cafe’s exploring alternative brewing methods, trying to emphasise those distinct flavours that come with the beans.
Another reason single origins are so popular is because of their transparency. They allow the consumer to understand where the coffee has come from, how it was grown, what the growing conditions are, and when it was harvested. This confidence in knowing everything about the coffee beans builds up a trust with the farms, allowing you to enjoy your coffee even more.
Sets the Bar
Because of the popularity increase over the years, the coffee farms have been adapting their growing methods to improve the quality of their coffee beans. They’ve been pioneering and pushing the boundaries of what we consider the highest quality coffee.
The varieties of coffee beans, harvesting methods, growing conditions, growing duration, and milling techniques are constantly changing to figure out the best combination.
It isn’t just the farms though, the coffee roasters have also been exploring different techniques to improve their roast, but it’s a two way street. The roasters rely on the farmers’ new innovative techniques to market them towards the consumers, but the farmers rely on the roasters for data on the forever changing market demands, so they can adapt.
The two work very closely together, sampling lots of different coffee and coming together to create the highest quality coffee possible. It’s this relationship, and the demand for single origin coffee that is constantly raising the bar.
Where Does the Best Single Origin Coffee Come From?
A very difficult question. The thing is, everyone’s palate is different, and so what I consider to be the best coffee on the planet, might not be for you. It’s also true that there are so many coffee varieties out there, that change so slightly every harvest that it’s difficult to taste them all.
So I’ve put together a list of countries that are renowned for producing top quality coffee. You can try them all and see how they differ, but i’ll leave it up to you to decide which one’s the best.
Columbian coffee really is one of the best in the industry. You might be picturing a farmer with a big moustache, a big hat and a mule by his side, and that would be Juan Valdez. The stereotypical coffee farmer that is iconic when thinking about Colombian coffee. He was the figure of an advertising campaign back in the 1950’s that promoted Colombian coffee. It encouraged farmers and producers in the industry as the government saw it as a huge economic potential.
The campaign worked. It is thought that Colombia exports 12% of all coffee in the industry, with all their coffee being arabica. But not just any old arabica coffee, only the high end stuff. The reason why it’s so high end is because of the ideal growing conditions. Arabica is a fussy plant, and thrives in very specific conditions. For example in 17 – 23 degrees, away from frost, and at altitudes between 1,340 and 2,130 metres.
This is what Colombia is perfect for. It has the ideal conditions and geography for high quality arabica coffee. It sits in the Coffee Belt, which is a strip that runs parallel to the equator, including areas like Central and South America, Africa, India and Indonesia. This belt has the best conditions for growing coffee, hence the name.
It’s not just where the country sits, but also the mountains that means the plants can grow at high altitudes and also gets the ideal amount of rainfall. It leads to a slower ripening process but also improved flavour.
Tanzania offers some unique coffee that you may have heard of before, one called Tanzania Peaberry. It’s often grown on the sides of Mt. Kilimanjaro (Africa’s highest mountain) where the soils are nutritionally rich and full of minerals. They’re unique in the fact that berries encase one whole green coffee bean, instead of the usual who halfs. The body is usually medium-full with a fruity taste to it. Very vibrant with a rich flavour and a sharp acidity.
Tanzania has more to offer than just its Peaberry variety though. Many varieties have rustic and sweet taste with floral or berry notes. They normally produce fantastic light roasts that retain all of those fruity flavours, that characterise Tanzanian coffee.
Their main coffee growing regions tend to be in the south. These regions benefit from the better drying conditions and also the improved transportation. With that being said, there is a lot of great coffee that is grown all over the country. Varieties like Bourbon, Nyara or Blue Mountain are all grown in Tanzania, and are worth a try.
Ethiopian coffee beans can be characterised by being full bodied with a rich texture. From certain regions they come with flavours of blueberries and other fruity notes, with a bright acidity that isn’t too overpowering.
If you get some single origin coffee beans from their western regions, you’ll be getting some beautifully rich beans, with a sharp acidity. They’re defined by their complex flavours that’ll test your taste buds and leave you with your curiosity wanting more.
Something I love about Ethiopian coffee, which isn’t unique to them but is often the case with the best single origin coffee, is the farm size. Ethiopia doesn’t have huge commercial coffee plantations that span hundreds upon hundreds of acres. Instead, they are family farms that have been in the business for a long time. They’ve spent decades building up rapports with their roasters and working together to improve the quality.
I’d suggest trying the Ethiopian Harrar variety. It’s very floral and fruity, intense and bright, and will feel rich in texture. If you like that bright acidity, and fruity flavours, it’s definitely a coffee to try.