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Take a little Ethiopian Sidamo, toss in a bit of Sumatra Mandheling and round it off with a scoop of Costa Rican Tarrazu and what have you got? If you fix the proportions right, you should have a cup of coffee with rich, syrupy body, dark earthy and chocolate notes and a burst of bright berry and citrus flavors that sneak in when you’re barely paying attention. In other words, you’d have a coffee blend that will purely knock your socks off. You could shop around for a roaster that blends coffee in precisely the proportions you like — and there’s nothing wrong with that at all — or you could learn about the attributes of single origin coffees and start blending your own at home.
Coffee roasters blend various coffees together to achieve a balance of flavors that they find pleasing. If they do it right, they have a winning coffee blend that keeps people coming back for home. Understanding the basic flavors of various single origin coffees can help you decide whether you’ll like a particular blend or single origin, and give you the basic knowledge you need to start creating your own signature blends to enjoy. These 10 single origin coffees are among the most popular on the market today.
Ethiopian Sidamo (Yirgacheffe) and Harrar
Ethiopia is commonly called the birthplace of coffee, and there are various legends about how it came to be discovered. However true or not those legends may be, there’s no doubt that Ethiopian coffee from the Sidamo region is one of the iconic single origin coffees of the world. Yirgacheffe coffee takes its name from a town in the Sidamo region, and you’ll often hear that Sidamo coffee and Yirgacheffe coffee are essentially the same. While they are similar in flavor and body, they are not precisely the same. Ethiopian Harrar is the third of the big three coffee growing regions in Ethiopia. Coffees from Ethiopia all share some characteristics — they are bold, full-bodied and bursting with flavor — but they also have subtle differences. Harrar tends to be fruity, often with berry flavors. Yirgacheffe is earthy and floral, and Sidamo is similar to Yirgacheffe but frequently lighter in body. They blend well with lighter-bodied, crisp coffees from South America.
Burundi is just beginning to establish a reputation as a fine single origin coffee. The tiny African country shares many of the climate and soil characteristics of nearby Rwanda, which is known for high-quality coffee, but until recently, political troubles have made it difficult for coffee farmers to connect with buyers. This is changing, and many small roasters have established direct trade relationships with farms in Burundi and are sourcing coffee from the country that is notable for its honey sweetness, syrupy body and flavor notes of chocolate and citrus. Many roasters find that it pairs well with Central American coffees, and some even use it as a substitute for the lighter, brighter coffees in seasonal blends.
Kenya has been trading on the specialty coffee markets for longer than most other African nations, and their experience shows. The Kenyan coffee grading system is easy to understand, making it easy for importers to find the quality coffee they want. Kenya AA is the highest standard grade of coffee, but the very best Kenyan coffees are not sold as simply AA or AB coffee — they bear the name of the plantation where the coffee was grown. Even so, a “generic” Kenya AA is not just a beverage, it’s a multi-layered coffee expereince encompassing bright citrus and berry notes, with grape, wine, chocoalte, maple and brown sugar sweetness in the cup. Kenya AA is most often sold as a single origin coffee because it stands on its own with no need of blenders to modify its flavors.
The coffee growing regions in Panama are relatively small and all clustered in one area of the country, around the Baru volcano. The best known of these regions is Boquete, and Panama Boquete coffee is generally the easiest to find. In general, Panama coffees are known for their relatively full bodies, subtle sweetness, balanced flavors and buttery mouth feel. The very best of them have subtle floral, citrus and berry notes, particularly lemon and lime. Their balance and sweetness makes them excellent blender coffees that will help balance out the bold fruitiness of an Ethiopian or East African coffee without blunting it.
Costa Rican Tarrazu
Tarrazu is the best known coffee growing region in Costa Rica, and with good reason. Tarrazu coffee has been developed over years for balance — brightly acidic but smooth as silk, chocolatey with subtle notes of honeysuckle and bitter orange. Some coffee critics note that most Costa Rica Tarrazu coffee is a little too balanced — that there is no one dominant flavor or characteristic that stands out. It is simply very drinkable, enjoyable coffee — which is a good quality in itself. It’s an even better quality in a blending coffee, where it helps layer and buffer the strongest notes of any coffee you choose to pair with it.
Mexico has many fine coffee growing regions, but one of the best known is the Chiapas region, near the Guatemalan border. Some coffees from this region may be labeled with the name of a small town in the southeast corner of the state, Tapachula. Unlike most Mexican coffees, which are tend to be light, bright and snappy, Chiapas coffee often has a fuller body, sweeter flavors and complex acidity. Blend it with an earthy Sumatran or fruity Kenya AA and watch both of the flavors come together to produce something truly amazing.
El Salvador has burst out of the typical Central American coffee mold with amazing high-altitude coffees from the many regions. El Salvadoran coffees tend to be one of two high quality cultivars — old world Bourbon and the quirky, unpredictable Pacamara. Both produce incredible coffee when paired with the outstanding growing conditions in El Salvador. It’s hard to give a single flavor profile for El Salvadoran coffees — there are just too many variables to count. In general, though, you can expect medium body, ringing acidity and fruity, chocolatey flavors that infuse the cup without masking other flavors.
Coffees from India are generally underrepresented on the global market, which is a pity because the country offers many distinguished coffee. Coffees from the Mysore (Kamataka) region tend to be the most balanced and thus, the most suitable for blending. In general, you’ll find full body, low acidity and subtle hints of spice and earthiness that add a baseline to blends that contain South American coffees.
Sumatran coffee is a jewel in the crown of Indonesia. Rich, deeply flavored and with buttery, satin mouth feel, it’s the ideal base for an after-dinner coffee blend. Like most Indonesian coffees, Sumatra Mandheling is low in acid and high on flavor.
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea. The country has a rich coffee tradition, and it shows in the coffee offerings from the island. While you can often find estate coffees that are grown on small farms called “coffee gardens,” most Papua New Guinea coffee is grown on larger plantations. Plantation coffee has a clean, sophisticated cup profile that is much lighter in body than the typical Indonesian coffee, but offers many of the same spicy, floral and fruit notes. These coffees tend to blend very well with Central American coffees.
If you’ve never considered blending your own coffees, pick two or three single origin coffees from our list and give it a try. You’ll discover a whole new dimension of coffee love.