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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.
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
America – just by visiting local coffee shops or ordering your
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