What is single origin coffee? It’s coffee from just one place – as opposed to a blend of coffees from several places.
It may be from a particular field on one farm; from that farm in general; from multiple smallholder farmers who process their coffee at a shared processing station; or from several suppliers across a single country.
Whether the location is incredibly specific or a bit more broad, single origin coffee is all about telling you where your beans came from. And that gives you an idea of the kind of flavour to expect, because the way coffee tastes is shaped by the environment in which it’s grown.
In wine, you’d call it ‘terroir’ – the way that climate, altitude and the mineral composition of the soil all influence the taste of plants and their fruit, often creating something unique to that place.
When you add in an extra stage of flavour development – like fermentation in wine, maturation in whisky, oxidation in tea, and processing and roasting in coffee – those differences are multiplied and magnified.
Coffee particularly adept at this. In fact, it’s such a good canvas for expressing variations in flavour that the world’s professional tasters have identified more than 800 different flavours and aromas in total.
Below is a quick guide to a few key origins and the kind of flavours they’re famous for. It’s very brief and very general, because lots the best coffees from these places will have way more going on than this. And there are also many exceptions. In fact, that’s part of the fun – discovering a Brazilian coffee that tastes like it’s from Kenya is interesting for exactly that reason!
Famously chocolaty, with a bit of nuttiness for good measure. Brazilian coffee is known for being quite soft and rounded, which makes it brilliant in a blend and good for a darker roast.
Kenya and Uganda
Lively, bright and citrussy. Generally high in acidity and often quite sweet too, so it tastes like the sharper end of the fruity spectrum: lemons, blackcurrants, oranges. Takes well to lighter roasting.
Fruity, uniquely floral and endlessly fascinating. There’s lots of regional variation in flavour (like Yirgacheffe, Sidamo and Guji). Generally roasted relatively light, so roasty flavours don’t overwhelm the subtleties.
A classic Colombian is smooth and balanced with caramel sweetness, nuttiness and a mild, fruity acidity. But that’s just scratching the surface – there’s lots of regional variation, so it’s a smorgasbord of flavours. Good around a medium roast.
Full-bodied and sweetly fruity – you might taste berries or stone fruits and a hint of roasted chocolate. Typically fairly rich but also quite clean tasting, and does well at a medium roast.