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Single Origin VS Blends For Espresso: Which Is Better?
Written by: Garrett Oden
What kind of espresso person would you say you are? Are you an explorer, willing to take risks and go on adventures? Or are you more excited about a habit that you find daily comfort in?
How you answer that question may determine whether single origin coffees or blends are better for you and your home espresso setup.
Or it may not.
Let’s go a little deeper and find out.
Espresso Blends: Smooth, Balanced, And Tested
Coffees used for espresso have traditionally been blends of two, three, or even four coffees.
Back in the day, before the specialty coffee movement, most coffees were roasted dark, whether they were super high quality or not. The goal was to sort of eliminate the outlier flavors and acids to produce a coffee that was rounded, balanced, and not too crazy.
By blending multiple coffees, roasters were able to create more consistency with their espressos, because even if one coffee had a really odd flavor, it would hardly be noticeable as long as the other two were pretty smooth.
Traditionally, espresso blends have focused a lot on avoiding bad flavors, rather than highlighting delicious ones. And frankly, it makes sense. The specialty coffee movement has elevated coffee quality dramatically over the last few years, and what they were drinking a century ago was not really all that tasty.
However, modern blends work a little differently.
Specialty roasters these days try to pair just two or three coffees that have complimenting flavors. For example, an earthy Mexican and a floral Kenyan coffee can pair really well. Since the flavors take up different areas on the spectrum, they don’t run into each other to create a “muddy” profile. Instead, it’s clear and harmonious.
There still is an element of “risk management” when it comes to blends though. You see, now that we’re roasting coffee lighter these days, those single origin coffees tend to be a little more wild and flavorful. This can make them harder to control in the espresso machine.
By blending coffees, roasters are able to make espresso more approachable and consistent, but the focus is still on the positive flavors (rather than avoiding bad ones).
Blend With Benefits
Let’s look at some of the benefits that blends can offer:
- Complex Flavor Profiles — Well-crafted blends can create complex flavor experiences by carefully blending flavors from two or three different coffees. They’re interesting, well-rounded, and often taste more “full” than single origins.
- Consistent Shot Pulling — Each coffee in a blend sort of calms down the quirks of the other coffees in the blend. So if one coffee has a small flavor defect, the others may cover it up. This makes blends sometimes easier and more approachable to newcomers to espresso.
- Long-Term Blend Enjoyment — If you like consistency, you’ll love blends. Since a bag of a blend contains two or more coffees, those coffees tend to last longer for the roaster, which makes the blend last for months or even year-round. With a single origin, roasters aren’t likely to keep those coffees for more than a few months.
Every coffee roaster has a dedicated espresso blend, and most cafes stick to a blend as their regular espresso option. They’re consistent, long-lasting, and typically well-rounded.
If you enjoy the consistency and comfort of a balanced shot that’s more forgiving in the espresso machine, blends are probably great for you.
Single Origin Espressos: Wild, Challenging, Exotic
Coffees from one farm or even a small lot on a farm are fairly new to the developed world. While farmers in Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Indonesia have been drinking coffee from single farms for centuries, we’ve typically stuck to blends in the USA.
However, with the emergence of the specialty coffee movement, we’ve slowly started enjoying single origin coffees more and more.
When this movement started in the 1980’s, roasters were just beginning to awaken to the idea that every coffee is not just a little different, but possibly very different. This became more and more apparent as roasters starting roasting lighter and lighter—those nuanced characteristics unique to each coffee starting tasting stronger and stronger.
Fast forward nearly forty years and single origin coffees are everywhere. Beloved especially by coffee professionals and enthusiasts, they showcase coffee’s diverse flavor landscape and are fun to explore.
Here’s the main reasons single origins are so great: amazing flavor diversity.
Coffee doesn’t just taste like coffee anymore. Our Guatemalan coffee has crisp notes of green apple. Our Burundi coffee has the smooth sweetness of a peach. Our Brazilian bean has a creamy nuttiness and a lime crispness. And as espresso, this flavor diversity can be intense.
The Challenges Of Being Single
There’s no end to the amazing flavor experience that can be had with single origin coffee. However, single origin coffees present some challenges for espresso brewers:
- Seasonality — Most roasters buy enough of a single origin to last a few months, which means, if you fall in love with a bean, it’ll probably be out of stock soon. This also means you have to constantly adjust to a new bean that may need a different brewing recipe to really shine.
- Inconsistency — Blends tend to be forgiving because you have multiple coffees can that can pick up the slack if one’s not doing so well. With single origin coffees, if the lot of coffee was inconsistently harvested, processed, or shipped, you’ll find out quickly because each shot will be a little different, which can be frustrating.
- Dialing In Difficulty — Since single origins tend to be less consistent, and since you have to switch coffees every few months, you’ll have to spend more time “dialing in” than you would if you were using a consistent blend. Some people love the challenge, but others would prefer to avoid it.
If you are fascinated by the diverse landscapes of coffee flavor enough to endure some inconsistency and challenge every now and then, single origins may be the right fit for you.
Whether you’re interested in finding a balanced blend or a source for diverse single origins, we’ve got you covered.
Our JavaPresse Coffee Club sends you freshly roasted, specialty-grade beans every other week, right to your doorstep. You’ll always be stocked with uber-fresh beans that are rich and ready to be made into delicious espresso.Check out the Club!