I am probably not alone when I say I had been visiting coffee shops for years and I had never actually given any thought to what the two words "Single Origin" actually meant.
"Would you like to try our Kenyan Single Origin, or our Autumn Blend?"
"....Whatever's the cheapest please"
As you become more interested in coffee (or at least enough to google it) you may feel a little silly to learn that it is plain obvious what it means once you take a second to think about it. Single (One) - Origin (Place where its from), therefore Coffee from One Place (country more specifically).
But wait... I thought Coffee was generally from one place, like Colombia or Kenya?
Well they can be, if your coffee is specifically from Colombia, then it can be considered a 'Colombian Single Origin Coffee'.
This is when it is worth knowing about blends. Blends refer to a mix of beans from multiple locations, this could be a mix of beans from Brazil with beans from El Salvador.
This is perhaps why so many people are deceived the term 'single origin coffee' which is obvious in meaning but due to the simple misconception that most coffee is single origin by default can become confusing.
Single Origin vs Blend?
Single Origin Coffee has took on a more premium feel in recent years by the way it is marketed and most would assume that it is all around a better quality coffee. It can also be easy to think that Blends are lower quality under the assumption that they are bulked up by cheaper beans to cut costs.
In my simple mind, I jumped to the conclusion that they were simply marketing terms meaning "Single Origin" equals Premium, and "Blend" equals Cheap. This, I learned was not the case, either can be either poor or high quality. The main difference and why it is important to the consumer is the flavour.
As we know coffee is grown all around the world and this means that the altitudes and soil where the coffee is grown as well as several other factors result in different flavours of the bean. By drinking a single origin coffee you can taste all the unique flavour of that coffee. A single origin from Guatemala will likely taste distinctively different one from Ethiopia.
By combining coffee from different regions we can create unique blends that offer more balanced flavours or that complement each other. Due to ever changing growing conditions the flavour of beans will likely change every year as a result, therefore a Single Origin could change dramatically in flavour each year. Blends however can be altered frequently in an effort to maintain a consistent flavour.
How to Choose?
There is no way to say one is better than the other, but if I had to give a rule of thumb, I would say If you are adventurous, curious and enjoy exploring different coffee flavours then single origin may be the way to go. Many of the best coffee roasters these days go great lengths to educate their customers about their coffee, visit the Square Mile or Origin Coffee Roasters website and you will see that each Coffee tells the story of the bean from where it was grown, the altitude it was grown at, and about the farmers who produced it.
If on the other hand, you like your coffee to taste like coffee then a blend may be the way to go. However some blends may are blended to create distinct flavours such as Christmas blends, so it might just be best to ask your barista.