Single-malt… single-vineyard… and single-origin.
These terms are usually related to, or at least sold as, a higher quality product.
For whisky, single malt refers to the blends of whisky from a single producer. For wine, single-vineyard refers to a certain vineyard where all the fruit is grown. So the promise of a single vineyard wine, or single malt whisky is that the unique character or flavours of that location reflect in the cup (or glass).
For the coffee industry, the equivalent expression is “single-origin.” The term, however, seems to lack a definition, and baristas, roasters and advertisers seldom get the message across. More often than not single-origin represents ‘the best’ in quality and character in coffee, and therefore reflects a higher price. So to put it more simply, single-origin is a coffee that is sourced from a single producer, crop, or region in one country. Single farm and single estate mean that the coffee is sourced from one farm, mill, or co-operative. You may also find coffees labelled with the estate name, the specific lot or field the coffee was grown on, or if it’s a micro-lot which is a specific varietal from a specific farm.
So is Single-Origin coffee better than a Blend?
In the supermarket isles, blends are without a doubt the most popular. They are usually sold as instant coffee or Italian Espresso blends. In the marketplace, coffee is a commodity rather than a luxury (the second largest commodity in the world next to oil). Traditionally, blending helps roasters mask flaws, and to keep their products consistent, and more importantly to keep prices balanced for large volumes over long periods of time for large amounts of people.
But you will find more artisan roasters using blends to create their own unique flavour profile. In the same respect, a blend is going to be made better by the quality of the beans that are used in it. If high-quality single-origin coffee is used in a blend, the resulting product will be tastier.