Delicious, well-rounded, and highly scored coffees are not difficult to find these days. Farmers are growing better crops, roasters are refining their craft. The specialty coffee industry is now the largest portion of the coffee industry in the United States.
With this rise in quality, we’re also seeing a rise in single origin coffees. These coffees have never been so popular and accessible - and they’ve also never been so flavorful.
But that doesn’t mean you should jump ship if you’re a fan of coffee blends. Blends are getting better as well, but in some circles they seem to be less popular.
During my time as manager of a coffee shop, I was asked about blends vs single origin coffees all the time. Most people phrased it something like this: “which is better?”
There’s no objective better type. Blends and single origins both have merit and advantages of the other. It’s really a matter of which is better for you.
I can’t tell you which coffee type more suits your taste preferences, but I can give you all the information you need to determine that for yourself.
Let’s get into it: blends vs single origin coffee.
Coffee blends, for the most part, are pretty self-explanatory: they’re made up of different coffee bean crops.
Sometimes blends are made up of coffees from around the world (Ethiopian, Mexican, Bolivian). Sometimes they’re regional blends (Northern Columbia, Southern Columbia, Bolivian). The key is simply this: multiple coffees from different farms are blended together.
The original coffee blend is the Mocha-Java blend. Mocha coffee beans from Yemen were paired with Java beans from Indonesia. Dutch traders combined these two beans largely because they were the only two commercially traded coffees at the time.
This original blend combined exotic coffee from two sides of the world and was popular for centuries. Unfortunately, modern civil unrest in Yemen has made Mocha beans scarce.
Why Do Roasters Create Blends?
Coffee blends are often created to produce a unique flavor profile that combines features from multiple beans and origins. Great blends can be deep and complex, but poorly paired coffees often produce an overly simple flavor.
Blends are often created to produce a consistent product. Instead of having 1,000 pounds of 5 different coffees, you can combine them and have 5,000 pounds of one blend. This makes distributing a consistent product easier over a large area or time period.
Blends tend to take the edge of the harsher flavors of individual coffees. A washed Guatemalan may have a bright apple-like acidity that is enjoyed by some but not everyone. A roaster trying to appeal to a wider audience can pair that coffee with a more mellow Indonesian coffee to round out the acidity.
Sometimes these blends are roasted a little longer than the average bean to create a darker flavor with fewer kinks and surprises. By roasting away that Guatemala’s shocking acidity, it’s able to flow more smoothly with the Indonesian coffee’s earthy notes.
This process makes the blend more approachable taste-wise, but it often roasts away some of the excitement that the coffee would have as a single origin offering.
Most coffee roasters sell a signature espresso blend that’s designed to work well when brewed as espresso. Since espresso brewing is complicated and sometimes a little frustrating, these blends help create consistency across cafes and over time.
Blends are legitimate collections of coffees. They’re approachable, work well for espresso, and give businesses a way to distribute far and wide with consistency. Some are delicious, complex, and highlight the best features of multiple coffees. Some are poorly designed and taste more mellow than anything.
Single Origin Coffee
Single origin coffees are all the rage in the specialty coffee industry. Since no two coffees are the same, it can be fun to try them side-by-side to taste the unique characteristics.
Single origin coffees bring life to a coffee shop’s menu by allowing them to be ever-changing. Instead of serving a few blends year-round, cafes can now serve a variety of seasonally offered single origins that taste very different from each other.
Ethiopian one week, Honduran the next - drinking coffee at coffee shops has never been more of an adventure.
This is also why enthusiasts and professionals tend to buy more single origin coffees. They’re unique and exotic. As someone who served the same espresso blend for 3 years, I can confidently say that it’s those wild single origins that bring my sense of wonder and imagination back to life.
However, single origin coffees are often less well-rounded than blends. In blends, outlier flavors, acids, and aromas are often toned down by being paired with more mellow, rounded coffees. Single origin coffees have no companions to hide their sharper, less universally-accepted flavors behind.
This isn’t a bad thing though. It’s just different.
For example, I personally love the vibrant fruity flavors and aromas of naturally processed Ethiopian coffees. They’re exotic, bold, and robust. These flavors are outliers for certain, but I love them.
Many coffee lovers (and even professionals) don’t prefer this though. They like the deeper, darker chocolate and caramelized sugar notes of Brazilian or Rwandan coffees. It’s just a matter of preference.
Single origin coffees also tend to lack consistency. In a blend, if one bean comes from a bad batch, the other 2-4 will make up for it and probably cover it up. However, single origin coffees don’t have that safety net. If there’s a problem with how that lot was processed, you’ll know pretty quickly.
Single origin coffees can be well-rounded and still work as espresso, but they’re not for everyone since the flavors tend to be more diverse.
Which Is Right For You?
Like I said, it’s up to you to make the final decision about whether blends or single origin coffees are best suited for your coffee preferences. However, maybe this will help.
- If you want to find a well-rounded coffee that’s reliably consistent that you can enjoy for months on end, a solid blend will satisfy.
- If you’re interested in comparing the unique characteristics of coffees from around the world, single origin coffees may be ideal.
- If you’re new to brewing and want an approachable coffee that doesn’t offer too many surprises so that you can refine the craft, go with a blend.
- If you’re curious about more vibrant coffee flavors, such as strawberry, jasmine, or cane sugar, single origins will provide them more commonly than blends.
Here’s another idea: try both!
Our own JavaPresse Coffee Subscription sends you freshly roasted, ethically sourced coffee every week (or however often you need it). We’ve got a variety of single origin and blends we’re sending out - and they’re all excellent.
Try it for a few weeks and get a chance to taste a variety of coffees and blends from around the world to see what you really like.