Single Origin Coffee Vs Blends: What’s The Difference

Let’s be real. Normal, regular coffee drinkers don’t pay a lot of mind to this characteristic. But you are no normal, regular coffee drinker and you do care where your beans came from. The thing is, though both sides have their detractors and their advocates, both coffee types have their blessings and their curses.

The real coffee aficionado should know these, not only to impress other coffee drinkers but to make an informed decision whenever the time comes. Sometimes you will think a single origin cup of coffee is what you need; other times, a blend. The variety of flavors available is almost limitless, and you will be glad you made the choice to open your mind (and your taste buds!).

Let’s take a look at some of the more general characteristics of each group. You draw your own conclusions, and trust me, you will not be disappointed.

What About Coffee Blends

As it may be easy to imagine, one of the strongest arguments against blends is that producers may use this as a strategy to “hide” poorer quality beans. This is why it is strongly advised to taste and try the different crops that make up one blend in order to be able to enjoy each type separately, which will also make you able to differentiate which characteristics each individual crop brings to the blend.

But blends are definitely not all about hiding and suspicion. Roasters who specialize in this area of coffee making are genuinely looking into giving the costumer the greatest flavor possible. By taking advantage of one bean’s body, another’s aroma and a third one’s flavor, roasters and baristas are able to offer their clients a unique blend that represents their particular style and can even be a signature for their specific coffee houses.

How About Single Origin Coffee

On the other hand, a strong critique that has been made against single origin beans is that they often lack one or even more characteristics that are wanted when looking for the ultimate cup of Joe.

As I said before, blends are used to counteract this flaw, but many coffee purists affirm that the beans are not to blame. Their argument, which I find is pretty coherent, states that this weakness can be attributed to people applying the same process to every bean without leaving room for experimenting and trial and error.

It is considered a fact by most coffee drinkers that every crop is different, so using the same exact brewing method for all seems a bit counterproductive. If you are brewing with a quality coffee grinder then it should be easy to change your grind and use a different coffee brewing method to maximize the beans potential.

Is One Better Than The Other

So I think it is safe to say that the best thing about blends is how customizable they are. You can adjust almost every aspect of your coffee by purchasing different beans and mixing and experimenting. Of course this is a recipe for many failed cups but I promise you the final result is priceless and you won’t be able to get it over the counter.

When it comes to single origin beans, their strongest suit is their honesty. You will be able to taste every little facet of the bean in a much purer way, and once you learn which method works best for a specific bean, you are set.

Personally, I don’t think one type of coffee is better than the other. I am a coffee fan and I acknowledge that specific blends adjust better to specific needs but I can appreciate all the different little characteristics that come up when tasting a single origin cup of coffee. What is true, though, is how different both styles are, but I see that as an advantage rather than a competition. If you open your mind a bit, you will find that what you have been missing is much better and richer than whatever prejudice was holding you back.


Single Origin vs Blend Coffee: whats the difference

Before, it’s easy to drink coffee. When you say brewed coffee, the only options are black, with cream, with sugar or cream and sugar. Today, with gourmet coffee shops and specialty coffee stores, coffee drinkers have become more aware with the wide variety and countless options of coffee available in the market today.

Farmers are growing better crops and discovering unique ways to infuse flavor to their coffee trees. Coffee roasters are improving and refining their craft.

According to reports, the specialty coffee industry dominates the largest portion in North American coffee industry.

With patrons yearning for better quality coffee, the rise of single origin coffee comes to the forefront.

We did not even know that such a thing called single origin coffee exists. But now, it is very popular and others prefer single origin than blend coffee.

Still, blend coffee is improving. There are more options now and the possibilities with blend coffee are endless.

Now, many people ask, which is better between single origin and blend coffee?

Let’s take a look at the characteristics of each.

What is single origin coffee?

Farmers and coffee roasters believe that no single coffee is the same. Each region where coffee comes from shapes the final output of the coffee beans. The geographical location and climate contributes to the flavor, taste and aroma of coffee. Just imagine how fun it would be to try and taste the different types of single origin coffee and compare its unique features.

Single origin coffee can also spice up the menu of any gourmet coffee shop. Patrons can try different flavors every day and pick out the single origin coffee they love the most.

Single origin coffee also come in seasons. Harvest time are different and it adds to the unique characteristics of single origin coffee.

Central American coffee origin: Coffee from this part of the world is known for its fruity note and hint of cocoa. Coffee from Guatemala has a distinct apple-like acidity while Mexico coffee leaves a cherry-like tartness.

South American coffee origin: The region enjoys a warm and cool climate and a fertile soil that also sustains production of nuts, cocoa, and spices. These characteristics contribute to its coffee’s sweet and nutty undertones.

Sumatran coffee: This coffee has a deep, earthy taste due to its dark roasting process. It has a savory aroma and a cocoa undertone.

Kenyan coffee: This coffee is dark, bold and strong.

Kona coffee: This coffee only grows in the Kona Coffee Belt region in Big Island Hawaii.

What is blend coffee?

Simply put, blend coffee is a combination of different coffee bean crops. One good example is Kona blend. It contains 10% pure Kona beans and 90% other coffee beans.

Some of the most popular blend coffee are combination of any of the following: Ethiopian, Mexican, Bolivian and Columbian. Coffee beans from different farms are blended together to create a unique coffee blend.

One of the most popular coffee blend is the Mocha-Java. Mocha beans come from Yemen and paired with Java beans from Indonesia. Dutch traders experimented these two beans because it was the only commercially traded coffee at the time.

This Mocha-Java blend was popular for centuries. Unfortunately, civil unrest in Yemen destabilized the economy and affected the trading of Mocha beans.

Why do roasters blend coffee?

Blend coffee is an art in itself. Coffee roasters identify coffee beans that are suited for blending and it can yield a good combination that will be popular among coffee drinkers. Here are the reasons why roasters make blend coffee:

  1. Blend coffee makes a consistent product. Instead of selling 1000 pounds of 5 different beans, roasters can make 5000 pounds of one blend. This makes distribution easier and reduces risk of reject coffee beans because it tastes different from the others.
  2. Blend coffee balances flavor. For example, Guatemalan coffee has a bright apple-like acidity that many coffee drinkers love, but others hate. A Guatemalan coffee roaster who wants to reach a wider audience would blend this with Indonesian coffee, which has a mellower and lighter taste.
  3. Blend coffee makes better espresso. Achieving the right espresso blend is difficult. But the art of blending coffee beans help achieve that. That’s why you see espresso blend being sold in the market today.

Single origin or blend coffee: what’s your choice?

The matter of choosing between single origin and blend coffee is highly subjective. Just like with everything else related to coffee. Coffee drinking is a matter of personal preference, style. What tastes good for me, may not always be your cup of coffee. But if you insist on choosing which one is which, this short guide may help you:

Choose blend coffee if:

  • You want a well-rounded coffee, with consistent taste and you can enjoy for a longer period of time
  • You are just beginning to enjoy coffee drinking and you want a simple, straightforward type of coffee, nothing fancy or surprising undernotes
  • You want an affordable variety of coffee that you can enjoy

Choose single origin if:

  • You want to compare and explore the different unique characteristics of different coffee
  • You want to try newer, more exciting flavors like strawberry, jasmine or even spicy coffee, single origin can give you more variations
  • You have money to spend on Kona coffee, one of the most favorite single origin coffee today

The Differences Between Single Origin Coffee And Blends

Differences Between Single Origin Coffee And BlendsSome of the worlds most expensive, and arguably best, coffee come from a single place in the world. This is what is known as single origin coffee.

Although the coffee being referred to above isn’t the Kopi Luwak, the rare Vietnamese weasel coffee, which is made by collecting coffee beans eaten by wild civets and sells for between $100 and $500 per pound; Single original coffee can get expensive too.

Anyway, that’s a little too single origin for our purposes here.

The general public at large probably thinks that single origin translates to better coffee whereas blends are a technique for disposing of bad beans. This is not totally true though.

So you might be wondering why it’s so difficult to walk into your favorite cafe and see a single origin roast in the drip dispenser. That’s where blends come in.

Your single origin coffee might not always have to be retrieved from Vietnamese weasel feces, but coffee roasters are often concerned with delivering a product that will meet the public demand.

This translates to a coffee with a good mouthfeel, like a Brazilian roast, but those tend to lack aroma. So the roaster will blend with Columbian beans. If the profile is still lacking, let’s say the aftertaste isn’t up to par, then Mexican Altura beans can be added, for instance. This creates a blend that checks all the boxes for the  broad public or possibly the ever scrutinous coffee fanatic.

Such is the plight of the coffee roaster.

Roasters are trying to optimize their selection and offer coffee that can satisfy the masses and aim for balance. It can be difficult to acquire single origin coffees that might meet those standards in every season.

That said, many roasters will tout their skill by taking a single origin batch and bring out the best qualities of the bean. Additionally, marketing a single origin product is easy because true coffee connoisseurs are always on the lookout. After all, it feels good to know exactly where your coffee is coming from.

Single origin can be labeled by region, farm, or even as specific as micro lot coffees, these derive from a single field on a farm.

There are an infinite amount of blends available to create and use, which can give the beginner the very daunting task of figuring out where to start and what bean is best. There are some beans that are great for different tastes, and others that are good for nothing and best avoided.


Single Origin Coffees

Single origin beans are, quite literally, those coming all from the same place.

There are Arabica beans and Robustas, with the Arabica being the highest quality and Robusta being the cheaper of the two.

Single origin beans are great if you can get good ones and afford the price of these, but with coffee like all plants, their fruits change quickly and a good bean one season may well be not so great the next.

Single origin beans are great when good but they can lack consistency season to season, and this makes the buying of beans a little tricky. If you want to buy single origin coffee beans, get them from a knowledgeable coffee shop or coffee bean roaster, and ask your salesperson which beans are good for the type of coffee you want to make.

Does your local coffee shop sell coffee brewed in a Chemex or Aeropress? If so chances are they know a thing or two about the origin of their beans.

Are Single Origin Coffee Beans Better?

It is not necessarily true that the most expensive beans are always the best, so if they always seem to point you towards the most expensive varieties, maybe you should try somewhere else.

Single origin can be thought of as an outlet for the adventurous. This is a way to get burnt, if you’re coffee is too hot or if you’re wallet is getting shallow in the process. Ultimately, single origin coffee will allow one to hone their pallet to a very specific flavor profile.

So what’s all the fuss about? Not only are you going to be able to develop a taste for elevation, region, but perhaps you can notice the change of the farm itself.


The word coffee come from the arabic word, “qahhwat-al-bun”  said to mean: wine of the bean.

Like wine, coffee beans vary year to year. Still, the bag of beans you pickup from your roaster isn’t likely to read ‘Arabica Vintage 2011″. It’s important to understand that even coffee from the same region or even as specific as the farm will vary based on how the weather treated the crop that year.

What are Blends and Why Use Them?

With blends, you avoid some of the inconsistency, because the use of different varieties of bean masks the inferiority of one kind, and you can mix blends to create the desired balance. As there is no one bean which is good all the time, the flexibility of a blend is something to celebrate.

Some coffee brands, such as Starbucks or McDonalds just to name a couple big players, want to keep their branded blends to a similar taste all the time and by mixing different beans and roasts together they can achieve a high level of consistency (whether you consistently like it or consistently don’t).

It is also true, however, that blends are often high quality beans mixed with low quality ones to keep costs down. This is a bit of a disappointment but when you consider the price of a single blend top quality coffee, sometimes a little bit of lower quality coffee is a good thing. Otherwise, if you’re drinking a lot of coffee, you may find yourself needing to remortgage to keep up with the cost of the good stuff.

What Makes Coffee Beans Different?

The glossary on coffee can be difficult to understand, and some experts would argue that the terms aren’t always applicable or even definitive enough. Still, if you’re searching for a single origin coffee then you’ll want to know some of the crucial lingo.

    • Origin of the Bean: Most of the worlds bet coffee is argued to come from ‘The Coffee Belt’, an equatorial band that most certainly lends it’s optimum growing season to the character of the bean. Knowing where your coffee originated from lends insight into the quality of the grow. If you’re searching for a floral coffee or maybe something on the earthy side, than that will help you determine where you want your coffee to be grown.
    • Farm to Cup: Obviously the more transparent the farming operation, the better. When roasters have a clear picture of where and how the coffee was grown, it is easy to understand the value. This is where we start to see labeling such as ‘Fair Trade’,’Rain Forest Alliance Certified’ or ‘Organic’. While some of these terms can be used loosely when labelling, it is another consideration in how your coffee came to be.
    • Optimum Elevation: As coffee beans develop during the growing season, the elevation can have an interesting effect on the way they taste and exhibit qualities. For instance, it can be generalized that the higher the origin the harder the bean. Harder beans contain more sugars and produce the more desired robust and nuanced flavors. This has to due with the air quality and moisture that higher elevation beans are exposed to.Drainage of water on mountainsides mean better development of sugars. Also, fewer diseased plants survive at high elevation and thus contribute to a healthier crop over time. It’s important to note that some countries desire different elevations:
      • below 2,500 ft. beans will feature soft, mild, simple, and neutral qualities
      • around 3,000 ft. beans will be slightly sweet and a smooth finish
      • around 4,000 ft. beans will start to take on complex qualities, such as citrus, chocolate, or nut-like taste.
      • above 5,000 ft. beans start to earn spicy, floral, or fruity character that can be extremely sought after.

Arabica Vs. Robusta

Although there are over ten thousand varietals, the two main varieties that are widely prominent are: Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora, which is more commonly known as Coffea Robusta. These two variations are also important to note for those seeking a caffeine fix.  Robusta is typically a stronger caffeine concentration at 1.8 – 4.0%, while Arabica is lighter and less caffeine at 0.9-1.4%.

You can use any coffee bean to make any kind of coffee, but it is the Arabica single origin blends to look for if you’re making anything, Robusta beans tend toward bitterness and while they have the occasional place in blended coffee, they are not recommended for single origin coffee.

Their use is usually reserved for instant coffee, and here we won’t speak of such terrible things.

Variations in Coffee Species

Just like wine made from different kinds of grapes, coffee also features a variety that contribute to polar flavor profiles. So it’s easy to differentiate the noted major kinds:

  •  Bourbon: This is one for the experienced AND novice palette. Taste notes often tend toward smooth, rich, and bold. These plants tend to be more fragile and of few numbers. These beans are grown at some of the highest elevations, around 6,000 to 7,000 ft.
  • Columbian: This is a very common kind of coffee, you’ve probably seen cans of it everywhere at grocery stores. This is due to the fact that it’s quite disease resistant, making a small farm favorite. More notes of sweetness and cherry also contribute to the popularity.
  • Ethiopian: Descending from wild coffee plants in the mountainside forests of Ethiopia, this variety is truly unique to each farm that produces it. As they’ve been cared for over decades and decades the elevation, soil, and weather has shaped their flavor profiles.
  • Typica: The name might not sound so appealing, yet this is the a kind of coffee perfected over centuries of genetic variation. Coming from the Arabica family you can guess what this coffee is meant for. Quality coffee with excellent taste and mouthfeel, and less of a caffeine delivery.
  • Java: These are the high quality beans from Central America. Tolerant to major diseases, and a common product for small farms. It’s commonality lends itself to why Java has become such a colloquial word for coffee.

Obviously there are an absolutely astounding number of varieties out there. Trying them all would be a daunting task, but if you’re going single origin then perhaps it would be easy to at least start differentiating them and experiencing the variety of beans.

How To Judge A Coffee Plant

Some coffee experts pride themselves on judging the plant itself. Sure, people might be so obsessed that traveling to the actual origin of the bean itself is necessary.

If you were to visit a coffee plantation for a tour there are a few things you might try to lookout for.

  • Coffee Leaf Rust: Experts judge coffee plants by many factors and susceptibility to leaf rust is a glaring characteristic of a crop about to be lost. the rust-like character is caused by a fungus that causes loss of leaves and limbs.
  • Coffee Berry Disease: Another fungal infection of the plant, this affects the berry and is quite serious, however this is a disease that hasn’t spread toward South America, while it has been observed in other countries.
  • Nematodes: These critters infect the ground soil and spread disease throughout crops, sometimes wiping out everything in it’s path. Though they exist in great number just about everywhere on earth, many plants develop a resistance to them and do just fine. Thus, it is important to know what varieties of coffee are more resistant to them. The extra caffeine can protect the plants from pests because caffeine is a powerful anti-microbial agent.
  • Quality Potential at High Altitude: What is the potential for quality of this plant variety when it’s grown at higher altitudes? For instance, you might be getting a plant that produces great beans, but understanding how well is it going to grow at an certain altitude is key.
  • Year of First Production: Again we reference wine. Some coffee plants might be late to fruit, it could take several years to see a good return on the crop.

Is There More to Good Coffee than just Beans?

As with all coffee, there is a lot more to it than the beans, you can make or break your drink in the grind, roast or the technique used to make it too. If your coffee is not fresh that will change the flavor too, so while all this information is worth bearing in mind, there is magic in the art of coffee-making which doesn’t come across in all the science.

Scientists currently are developing theories about micro-fungi call mycotoxins. These are spores that are found growing on coffee plants without obvious signs of pathogenicity, or invade the coffee crops after harvest and produce toxins during drying and storage.

There are even coffee companies that have moved away from beans entirely to focus on brewing coffee from mushrooms. The tasting panel is still out on that one though.

Everything in the process of growing, storing, roasting, and brewing is able to be scrutinized. Maybe you’re just on the beginning of the journey to an optimal brew,  but the extra effort will pay off. You can read everything there is to read on the subject and still fail to make good coffee, it takes trial and error and a whole lot of practice, but it is certainly worth the effort.

You don’t want to be stuck with that same pot of Folgers your whole life, right?

Experiment with blends and single origin to further broaden your palette and find your favorite ways to enjoy a brew.

Brian Mounts

Head blogger, editor, and owner of "Top Off My Coffee", a website that has been educating readers about coffee brewing techniques and equipment since 2012.

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