Can a single origin coffee be a blend?

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#1: Post by jpender »

What's the current definition of a single origin coffee?


#2: Post by EbenBruyns »



intransitive verb

1. To combine or mix (different substances) so that the constituent parts are indistinguishable from one another.
2. To combine (varieties or grades of the same substance) to obtain a mixture of a particular character, quality, or consistency.
3. To combine (different elements) into a single entity: synonym: mix.

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#3: Post by Jeff »

At least as I understand it, it is "from the same place". There are already coffees that are generally accepted as "single origin" that come from different farms, and are probably from moderately or significantly different genetic pools.

From a well-respected roaster:

"This Kenyan coffee from the Karogoto wet mill, ..." (Single origin)

"CULTIVAR SL28, SL34, Ruiru 11 & Batian" (Multiple cultivars)

If you call that a "blend" or not I think depends on your definition of "blend" as well. It certainly isn't a Brazil/Ethiopia blend, or an arabica/robusta blend, but it also isn't a single cultivar from a single planting at a single farm under a single set of cultural and processing conditions. (Then again, usually neither are grapes used in wine)

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#4: Post by Peppersass »

jpender wrote:What's the current definition of a single origin coffee?
I don't believe there's a current widely accepted definition of single origin. This article provides a lot of information about the history of the term and differences in the definition over the years.

For me, the purest definition of Single Origin is a single cultivar (varietal) grown on the same farm, processed using the same method.

However, that's not a practical definition because many coffees aren't available from a single farm. They're the same cultivar from different farms that have been blended by a producer or co-op.

Even "the same cultivar" has problems. Aida Batlle's Finca Kilimanjaro is a blend of two Kenyan coffees, SL-28 and S-34. Strictly speaking, that's a blend. But they're both Kenyan varietals grown on the same farm and blended by the same grower/producer, making a unique green coffee that's from the same "terroir" and not available from any other producer. To complicate matters, Aida offers Finca Kilimanjaro using four different processing methods. But I consider each of those an SO because the processing method chosen by the producer has profound impact on the inherent flavors.

I think this example provides an answer to the title question of this thread: yes, SOs can be blends, but there isn't a strict definition of when mixing greens produces an SO and when it produces a blend. Note that blends are usually more successful when done after roasting because different greens usually require different profiles. When blending greens, you have to make sure they'll respond well to the same profile. I suspect that a blend like Finca Kilimanjaro works because the two varietals are very close in heritage.

The thing I disagree with in many of the definitions I found is the inclusion of a particular roast profile. While the roast profile has as profound an effect on the coffee as the processing method, and arguably a lot more, it's not selected or executed by the farmer, producer or co-op. It's not the product they produced and shipped. Two different specialty roasters may pick drastically different profiles for that product, but I don't believe that makes them different SOs or changes where the beans came from.

Put another way, as a home roaster I think of the term Single Origin as applying to greens, not roasted coffee. I often roast the same SO using different profiles and don't consider the results to be different SOs. One profile might bring out certain origin flavors, like blueberries, while another might bring out flowery notes. Yet another might bring out both. One of the challenges in roasting is to find a profile that reveals as many of the origin flavors hidden in the greens as possible, so the roaster can taste the menu of available flavors and customize the production profile to a particular set of preferences (say, bright, sweet and mostly fruity with mild chocolate aftertaste"). To me, these are "riffs" on the same SO.

Another argument for not including the roast profile: It's true that the roast profile has a profound affect on taste, but so does the brew method. We wouldn't call a cup of espresso and a cup of pourover from the same bag of roasted coffee different Single Origin coffees, would we?

Just my opinion, of course.

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#5: Post by another_jim »

Sometimes the term 'farm blends' is used for mixed cultivar lots from one farm. This is usually a marker of a very fine coffee that has been sample roasted at origin. Lots from many farmers that have ben pooled at one washing station are usually called single origins; but they are usually less fine than when the lots are sampled and the best farmers' are selected. Lots pooled by the importer are never called single origins; although they can come from regions just as small as washing station lots.

Finally, roasters can create a melange single origin blend by mixing two roasts of the same coffee, one lighter, one darker.
Jim Schulman
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jpender (original poster)

#6: Post by jpender (original poster) »

Thank you for the detailed explanations. That was more than I expected. And it makes sense.

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#7: Post by Pressino »

Think of Napa Valley varietal wines...except for wineries that offer wines made from grapes grown in a specific vineyard most of the wines bottled and labelled as Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (or some other varietal) comes from multiple vineyards and some may include up to 25% of some other grape variety, i.e. technically be a "blend." Most countries have regulations (e.g "DOC" in Italy) that control the labelling of wine. My understanding of "single origin" as applied to coffee is that like the Napa Valley appellation, it refers to coffee grown in a specific geographical area, though clearly the rules are more strictly enforced for wine production than for coffee. Some countries (like Brazil) may create and enforce coffee labelling rules, but I don't think this is widespread.

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#8: Post by jpender (original poster) »

Pressino wrote:Think of Napa Valley varietal wines...except for wineries that offer wines made from grapes grown in a specific vineyard most of the wines bottled and labelled as Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (or some other varietal) comes from multiple vineyards and some may include up to 25% of some other grape variety, i.e. technically be a "blend."
Even the wines that I sometimes drink that are 100% from one section of one vineyard aren't labelled "single origin" or some equivalent. There's a name and then they just list what's in the wine. I guess coffee roasters do the same thing, tell you what's in the bag, at least most of the time. But they also group the coffees that they sell: SO, blend, etc. So perhaps SO is mainly a marketing device?

I wondered because I was coffee shopping online and saw an SO that was described by the roaster as a "blend". It just made me curious.


#9: Post by EbenBruyns »

While my post with the definition of blend was a little juvenile, the second definition actually allows for a single origin to be called a blend. I guess it's technically correct to call a single origin a blend if it's from the same region but different growers...

It's probably down to the common consensus as to what the coffee world considers a blend and what we consider a Single Origin. So while technically correct is correct, it can sometimes be the worst kind of correct.

What makes this topic interesting is that we might be buying beans that's not actually what we want due to playing fast and loose with language...