Single Origin vs Blends
Posted on CafeCulture.com, March 29th 2012
The specialty coffee market is forever evolving, and some of the buzz words at the moment are ‘single origin’. A lot of roasters and coffee outlets have either introduced or are looking to introduce single origins into their coffee repertoire, but are struggling with where they fit in the scheme of things, versus the tried and tested concept of blended coffee.
There may be a few different interpretations going around of what single origin is exactly, but I like to refer to it as coffee that comes from a single known geographical origin and more specifically, a single farm. You can further break it down to single origin micro lot coffees, which derive from a single field on a farm. Blended coffee, on the other hand, is a combination of different single origin coffees mixed together. Generally, this is done to produce a better beverage than if the coffees were standalone – but this is not always the sole intention, and blending can be undertaken for a number of other reasons.
Let’s first look at the key reasons why a coffee roaster would blend coffee, instead of just using single origins:
• To produce a better and more well rounded coffee, by introducing other coffee origins to bolster weaker areas of the base coffee.
• To improve the profitability of the coffee offer. This should not necessarily be seen as a negative by the consumer. Some cheaper coffees can be ordinary on their own, but great when combined with other coffees that enhance that coffee’s weaker notes. Sure, there are less noble reasons to improve profitability, but let’s not focus on those. The Australian coffee market is highly milk based, so in many instances the highly prized specialty coffee will not suit your flat white or cappuccino drinker. You can produce some lower cost blends that will suit your target market better than higher costs ones. This makes good business sense and is one of the main advantages to blending coffee.
• To spread the risk of quality and supply issues. By using multiple coffee origins in a blend, there is less risk ongoing than if you were solely relying on the one origin for your coffee offer. Particularly, coffee is seasonal and therefore subject to environmental changes, pest and disease. There are other factors that can affect supply; for example, political and economical.
• To improve the consistency of the coffee offer. The coffee you buy will vary throughout the season, which presents the roaster with ongoing Quality Assurance consistency issues. A blend allows the roasters to manipulate the recipe easier, to ensure a more consistently good product. Skilled roasters are varying the origin percentages and profiles ongoing, based mainly on sample cupping.
• As a clever marketing tool. The branding and packaging of the blend, in a lot of instances, is carefully targeted towards emotional cues of the consumer. In a lot of instances, it is the ingeniously marketed blend that sells – and not necessarily the best coffee. An example of this is the number of locally roasted coffees that have Italian names given to the blend, to take advantage of the general consumers’ perception of Italian coffee. The blend can also be targeted towards a cup profile type such as Java and Mocha, for example.
The single origin coffee offer is mainly driven by the demand of consumers for high quality coffees to be enjoyed in their purest form. It strips back a lot of the marketing innuendo of blends and mainly relies on the origin story and quality of the coffee to appease consumers. The majority of the blended coffees in the market are targeted towards the mainstream milk coffee consumer, so roasters tend to focus on the caramelized and roast notes in cup character. These are amplified more towards the darker roast degree, or commonly, second crack in the roast process and beyond. The combination of these flavor notes are more favorable to the majority of milk based coffee consumers in the market.
The bright citric or fruit notes of a lighter roasted coffee don’t tend to blend well with milk. A lot of the high quality specialty coffees are mainly wet processed to produce a nice clean and crisp coffee, but can lack the body required to make a pleasant milk based espresso. Most consumers won’t find citric or fruit notes coming through strongly in their flat white very pleasant. If you ask a consumer to describe their ideal flavor and texture notes for a milk based beverage, you will almost always get chocolate, caramel, smooth or creamy.
The emergence and refining of different brewing methods has been a big instigator in the growth of single origin coffee offers in the market.
Syphon, filter (various types), plunger, cold drip or cold press brewing methods are all great for highlighting the single origin flavor nuances. The growth is also obvious by the number of recent specialty coffee brokers who have entered the market. This is all well and good, but what does it mean for the coffee roasters and coffee distribution business? It is easy to get caught up in the hype, and I have seen many roasters launch into supplying single origins without any clear game plan of how to roast, position and market the offer.
It is not as simple as just buying some high quality coffee, roasting it and then adding it to your price list. There is also the trap I have seen many of the micro roasters fall into, where they start buying more expensive coffees to put in their blends, thinking this will give them a competitive edge, but instead end up eroding margins for little or no gain in sales.
These are just some of the areas to consider for a roasting business when establishing its single origin coffee offer:
• Look for the incremental sales opportunity. Find out where you can position the offer to take advantage of incremental sales. You should not be just replacing current sales with a new offer, as it may not be as profitable when you take into account the total fixed and variable costs of production and distribution. If you are cannibalizing your own sales, then you need to re-position the offer, as roasting and selling single origin coffee may not be as cost effective (i.e. smaller batch roasting).
• Education of the retailer and consumer is vital. You must educate your customer base. If you are selling to a café, then think about how they can best serve and educate their consumer. What brewing options do they have? Will they need extra grinders? How can it be displayed in store to create consumer interest? Do they understand the origin, and have they done sufficient cupping of it to be able to sell it to the consumer? When you go into a restaurant, you always feel more comfortable buying the more expensive wine if you feel confident of the waiter’s appraisal.
• Roast the coffee to suit the extraction type. There is no point offering high quality expensive single origins and roasting them dark. They will lose the origin character that they are prized for. Roasting a Cup of Excellence coffee dark for an Italian Style Espresso or to the degree that most would for a milk based espresso, would not take advantage of the origin character. This would be similar to cooking a high grade Wagyu steak to well done. Sure, some consumers prefer this; however, you can use other single origin coffees without the expensive price tag that would suit better.
You want to maximize the flavor character of the coffee, so ideally you would encourage the use of straight espresso and the other brewing methods mentioned earlier. It is important to consider whether or not you want to make the roast degree too niche. Notably, for instance, syphon is roasted to a very light degree, which would be too acidic for espresso. Espresso is the easiest to implement at a café and would offer more potential for incremental sales. Establishments with brew bars that offer a larger variety of extraction methods generally will roast onsite for flexibility of roast profiles.
• Choose in season coffees, and always ask for samples from your supplier. The sampling and cupping of single origins is extremely important.
Just because a coffee has a high price tag, does not mean its cup character will appeal to your consumer. Don’t just rely on the broker’s cupping notes; in most instances, they are aimed at selling the coffee and usually read like the fresh section of your local supermarket. Initially, the more important areas to take note from the broker’s info are: processing type, varietal, grading, screen size and any independent scoring of that lot. Use the rest as a guide, and do your own cupping before committing to large quantities.
Look for coffee with an agreeable level of acidity that is well balanced overall. High levels of acidity may be prized by some in the industry; however, the potential for sales will be small. Most consumers will prefer the sweeter fruit notes, rather than the strong citric notes that some coffee possess. The skill of the roaster also comes into play when balancing the level of acidity in the coffee.
• The positioning and pricing of the single origin offer is important. There will be a difference between retail and wholesale offers. The price should be reflective of the quality of the product; however, people will only pay the extra money for it if they see value in it. For ideas on how to go about this, one only needs to look at the wine industry and how they are able to command higher pricing for better quality vintage wines.
• You may need to restructure your roastery to be able to accommodate the smaller batch roasting. A lot of roasting plants will have a dedicated smaller batch roaster that will handle the single origin production.
These are just a few of the important areas to consider when developing and implementing your single origin offer. A close examination of a successful competitor in this area can also provide shortcuts to a better strategy; however, being able to establish a point of difference is what can bestow a competitive advantage. The coffee market is always evolving, so coffee roasters need to plan for where the future demand will be. One thing is for sure: the importance of single origin specialty coffee will continue to grow.
BY MARK BEATTIE
Everything You Need to Know About Single Origin Coffees
Posted on PerfectDailyGrind.Com, September 14, 2015
Have you ever walked into a café, looked at the brew on offer, and wondered why in the world it’s being touted as “single origin”? I mean, what does that actually mean? Why is it important? Should you even care?
While you’re not alone in feeling like that, yes, that label is important. Read on as Perfect Daily Grind demystifies coffee labels and café menus around the world. We’ll take a quick look at why it’s important, what’s pushed it into the spotlight, and give you a few tips for confidently putting your newfound knowledge to use.
Single Origin, Single Estate, Single Farm: What Do They All Mean?
Single origin is a small phrase with a big definition. The meaning’s often simplified to a coffee that’s sourced from one single producer, crop, or region in one country. Single farm and single estate mean that the coffee is sourced from one farm, mill, or co-operative. Then you can go a step further and find coffee labels that tell you the estate name, the specific lot or paddock the coffee was grown on, or if it’s a microlot (a specific varietal from a specific farm). Yet this isn’t all that single origin means. As SCAE’s Andra Vlaicu says:
“The most important thing about single origin is its trace-ability, the fact that you know exactly where your coffee is from and that it’s a specific coffee, not a blend. Usually of a higher quality, it’s the acknowledgment that the coffee is from a particular farm located in a unique setting, whilst its flavour depicts its origin, possessing characteristics of that specific area where the particular coffee was grown.”
So that’s why third wave coffee loves single origins – they’re all about a deeper understanding of your coffee’s profile and how that profile is affected by what goes on at origin.
The Increasing Popularity of Single OriginSo how did single origins enter “mainstream” vocabulary? Well, according to Jeremy Torz, founder and managing director at Union Hand-Roasted Coffee, the current interest in them has been influenced by an increase in the number of specialty cafés offering alternative brew methods such as pour overs and AeroPresses. “Other coffees can be offered without compromising the core espresso offer, and these coffees have then migrated into the world of espresso,” he says. “Given the fast pace of our industry and the desire amongst baristas to constantly experiment and innovate, it’s no surprise that many in our industry are now prepared to ignore convention as we look to reinvent the coffee experience for the 21st Century.”
Single origins appear to be particularly popular because of their traceability. Andrew Hetzel from CafeMakers Coffee Consultants explains, “Educated consumers that I have encountered are looking for guidance: help interpreting and communicating the complex tastes and sensations that they experience from good coffees. Most consumers are not educated and have no interest in becoming educated, but can be subtly guided to better quality coffees. The accompanying information a roaster or retailer provides is extremely helpful, describing its source (the farm, land, people, climate, cultivar, processing and so on) in as much detail as possible.”
In a coffee movement that’s fascinated by increased transparency and innovative methods, it’s no surprise that single origins are proving popular.
Demand for Single Origins Drives Changes at OriginSo what effect has the increasing popularity of single origins had on production?
It turns out that we’re a big enough market force to affect farming methods. Certain farmers (labelled specialty farmers) are developing and improving high-quality crops in response to our demand. Some experiment with their selection of varietals or cultivars, the control they have over the growth stage, the harvesting times and techniques, and the milling and the processing methods.
Direct Trade Increases Coffee QualityThese experiments would never have occurred without direct trade. We’ve seen far greater communication between roasters and farmers, crucial for the pursuit of higher-quality coffee. Producers count on roasters to inform them about market trends while specialty roasters, who are always looking for an exciting new single origin to showcase, can now locate producers easily and learn from them.
Origin visits, increasingly more commonplace, provide a wealth of knowledge for roasters and green bean buyers. In fact, it’s becoming rare to find a specialty roaster without a first hand, detailed understanding of the impact of farming and processing on their beans. Growers, buyers, and roasters cup on the farm side by side, sometimes up to a whopping 100 coffees in a day, to compare processing profiles and their cupping scoresheets – and as both information and coffee are traded, the consumer can notice an increase in the sophistication of the coffees available.
Yet it’s not just the producers and roasters in this relationship – the end consumer also plays a part. How? By acknowledging the superior quality of the coffee. According to Jorge Raul Rivera, Vice President of J. Raul Rivera S.A de C.V and representative of Finca Santa Rosa, El Salvador:
“The customer is able to appreciate all the hard work in one year’s harvest and it also encourages a farmer to work harder and show off his hard work through an amazing coffee experience for the consumer. It is also empowering because if the farmer delivers excellence and the end customer then continues to demand that quality, the roaster is compelled to pay the farmer a fair price for his product.”
So next time you order a specialty coffee, remember that you’re playing a role in the pursuit of higher-quality products and ethical business practices. Feels pretty good, doesn’t it?
How Does the Industry Measure Coffee Quality?So we’ve established that single origin usually means good coffee, and that demand for this coffee in combination with direct trade has led to an increase in both the quality and availability of specialty coffee – but how do we know that a coffee is good quality? After all, single origin doesn’t have to mean good.
Well, that’s where industry evaluation systems come into play. These globally respected systems (think Cup of Excellence or Coffee Quality Institute Q) measure the quality of coffees, among which single origins, single estates, and microlots are predominant. These systems don’t just guide consumers in purchasing coffee; they also incentivize the constant pursuit of higher-quality beans. As producers and roasters then use these systems in their marketing, producing excellent coffee has a considerable financial reward.
The three main systems in use are Cup of Excellence, Coffee Quality Institute Q, and Coffee Review. The Cup of Excellence competition, which acknowledges the quality and care in production of specialized, rare lots, is considered the highest form of recognition in the specialty industry. The Coffee Quality Institute Q system adheres to SCAA’s standards and evaluates, at the producer and farm level, the categories of fine Arabica, fine Robusta, and blends. Coffee Review, on the other hand, is invaluable for roasters and retailers. Arguably the world’s most widely read and influential coffee buying guide, it reviews roast profiles.
Yet how do they judge a coffee’s quality? Isn’t coffee both subjective and subject to bias? Well, yes – but these systems do their best to quantify the coffee quality and remove potential subconscious biases. They typically use blind cupping and the 100 point review system, and while the criteria might differ slightly within each systems, you’ll normally find that they follow the descriptive categories coffee professionals use on tasting scoresheets.
What Do Coffee Farmers Say About Single Origin?Now that we’ve heard all the theory of single origins, what do coffee farmers themselves say about these coffees?
Today’s coffee farmers, particularly those focused on specialty and single origins, take immense pride in the quality of their coffee. They care about the end result in the cup and how that translates to the consumer. As Andres Salaverria of Jasal Cafe in El Salvador puts it, “Single origin coffees allow the consumer to understand a specific coffee or profile in its own right… It’s also a great way to show consumers what’s behind a specific coffee and the love and passion each producer puts into its production.”
Cesar Magana, farmer-barista-roaster at Lechuza Cafe in El Salvador, runs three small farms focusing primarily on pacamara varietals (a hybrid created in El Salvador that’s well-known for its floral notes, sweetness, and round body). Magana believes that consumers want to drink the best coffee available, which means they rely on direct trade between farmer and sourcing from origin. He says, “If they understand the quality of the product, it guarantees sustainability for everyone making extra efforts in every step of the coffee-making chain. The barista or roaster should be able to give first hand information about the farmer and the farm; to me, that’s beautiful and that’s why single origin matters.”
So there you go – coffee farmers approve of single origins as a process for increasing transparency around coffee.
What Do Coffee Roasters Say About Single Origin?
Coffee producers like the label single origin, but do coffee roasters? Well, yes and no.
Steve Hall, green bean buyer and head of quality at Caravan Coffee Roasters, says that originally single origin wasn’t an indication of a perceived higher quality; it was only used to differentiate a coffee from a roaster’s house blend. And nowadays, he feels that “for most specialty roasters, single origin does not do the producer and coffee enough justice. These days we’re talking single varietal, single farm, day lots; the possibilities are endless and fascinating.”
Does that mean single origin is a bad phrase? Well, for Steve, perhaps inadequate would be more accurate. “Think of a country like Tanzania,” he told me. “It has coastal tropical weather, the snow-capped peak of mount Kilimanjaro, the Nyiri desert, Lake Victoria and the Serengeti. The coffee growing regions border Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo; the taste variations are outstanding! When looking at single origin on this scale, it misrepresents the amazing differences that can be found in coffee, but for lack of a better term, we use the phrase single origin. Over the course of time, it has come to be an indicator of quality; it’s basically your coffee roasters way of saying, ‘Hey, I think this coffee is pretty damn special and I want you to know about it’.”
So… single origin both has a lot of meaning (as we said above) and not enough, but regardless, you can expect an excellent coffee when you see that label.
What Does Single Origin Mean for Coffee Consumers?
We’ve established that single origin coffees are are a good choice (especially if they come with a Cup of Excellence award)… but is that all you should look for? No. Jeremy Torz advised me that “more than single origin, single estate is probably the main charge right now. As cafés look to provide something ‘exclusive’, and with many brokers and importers willing to bring over containers loaded with smaller parcels of coffees instead of 300 bags of a single type, roasters can increasingly look to offer named coffees much like wine estates or producers and this would appear to chime with the public interest for enhanced provenance in food and drink in general.” His advice to customers right now is “to ask about post-harvest processing as well as country and roast, as these are the main elements that will help you navigate by flavour as opposed to pure geography.”
So there you have it: single origin is the diving board you use to discover exactly how good those coffees really are.
For consumers trying to decide in a cafe setting, here are some tips from Roast Ratings co-founder Holly Bastin:
Now that you know a little about single origin coffee, what next? It’s OK if you feel slightly intimidated by all this talk of varying geography and microclimates. It’s a big world out there, after all – but by no means does it need to stay this way. Strip away the pretense and let the adventure begin, starting with that next single origin brew. Roasters and farmers alike want to draw you in and help you appreciate their hard work, so don’t be scared to ask questions and provide feedback as you navigate the coffee landscape, one single origin coffee at a time.
Written by A. Pipunic and edited by T. Schrock.
Perfect Daily Grind.