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What is single origin coffee all about?
Coffee labels, like wine labels, can be confusing.  Coffees may be designated as “single-origin”, or as a  “blend”. Other times, a coffee might be called “estate” or “micro-lot”, or labeled as a “varietal”. What does all that mean? As ambiguous as all these terms can sound, it’s actually pretty straight-forward.

 Single-origin means that the coffee comes from one specific growing region. It is not combined with other beans, and for coffee purists single-origin beans capture the essence of a particular place. As is true for wine, coffee has its ideal growing environments where the best beans are produced, and these areas yield great single-origin coffees. Some well-known ones are Hawaiian Kona, Guatemalan Antigua and Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, and each has its distinctive character. For instance, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe is often described as having intense flavor and winey berry undertones, with good body, a vibrant finish and soft floral aroma.

Estate coffee is what you’d guess: it comes from one single farm; and micro-lot refers to beans that come from just one field on a specific farm. Obviously, these beans will have their own special character as well. A varietal coffee comes from one variety of a coffee plant. Mocha is one well-known varietal. Of the 2 coffee plant species, Coffee arabica and Coffea canephora, the arabica has about 2 dozen varieties, but there are just a few varieties of canephora. Arabica beans are usually higher quality and all specialty coffee is some variety of arabica. Robusta, the best-known C. canephora variety, is what instant coffee on your grocery store shelf is made from. It’s a lower quality bean and is higher in caffeine.

Blends, as you might guess, are different kinds of beans blended together to produce an end-product that, ideally, brings out the best in each bean. There is definitely an art to creating a good coffee blend. That’s another story.

But to really get to know coffee, drinking single-origin brews is the way to go. It’s relatively easy to get an education about coffee from around the world – Africa to South America – just by visiting local coffee shops or ordering your beans online.



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