How Savvy Are You?
The easiest way to explain what a single origin coffee versus a blend is, goes like this:
A single origin comes from one country of origin.
A blend comes from multiple origins.
Let’s use some examples: Peet’s Costa Rica is a coffee that comes from Costa Rica only; Arabian Mocha Java is a blend of Indonesian coffee with original Yemeni mocha.
Mr. Peet himself felt that no single origin coffee was “too good” to blend, and we still hold that belief today. At Peet’s, we roast single origin coffees to highlight what we feel are the finest characteristics of that country’s coffee. When we blend origins, we do so in order to weave in different layers of flavor nuance, creating a coffee of many dimensions.
But that’s the simple story. Reality, like always, can be a lot more complex.
Can you create a blend from a single country of origin?
A roaster can create a blend using very different coffees from the same single origin. For example, they can take two different species—say Arabica and Robusta—from one country and blend them, for example, typical of some of the largest roasters.
Or different processes, like a honey processed Costa Rican along with a washed process Arabica from the same region to build upon the strength of each.
Or different regions with different climatic conditions, plant varieties, altitudes, or soil content…but all in the same country and so technically a single origin.
They can even take the exact same coffee, roast it in radically different ways, and then blend it back together to create a kaleidoscopic cup.
What’s the “right” way?
There is no right or wrong, per se. Take the roaster in a country of origin, for example, who doesn’t have access to other coffees, so she’s creating differentiation by using what she has on hand. Coffee-producing countries will often impose restrictive import duties on foreign coffees to protect their own industries. Which means a local roaster has to make do with what they can get locally.
There’s no quality judgement about a coffee being one or the other. A single origin might be comprised of no more than rejected coffee, which wouldn’t pass muster for export standards. Sounds special … but probably tastes less so.
A blend, for its part, can be a whole lot of mediocre coffee topped off with something spectacular to try to hide its ordinary base. Calling a coffee one or the other—single origin or blend—doesn’t make it better.
Before the specialty coffee revolution, which Mr. Peet himself started, that’s the way coffee blends were created. And it’s everything he vowed to change when he started his first shop on Vine and Walnut in 1966. At Peet’s, we inherited this strict belief from our founder that this is exactly what you shouldn’t do with coffee. Which is another way of saying that there are many coffees not good enough to be in a Peet’s blend.
We follow this dictate to this day and only roast the finest coffees, whether for a superb single origin offering or a bespoke blend.
So why blend?
What’s the point of blends, you might ask, if a single origin is roasted for its rocking quality?
Well, maybe you can have too much of a good thing? Kenya, for example, is known for its screaming acidity and its luscious berry notes: qualities for which we choose our Kenya Auction lots in the weekly Nairobi auctions. But run that coffee through an espresso machine and you might find that the pumped up acidity strips the enamel off your teeth. In a showcase shot of Espresso Forte pulled off an espresso machine, we want a lot more complexity than that. So, we add in different ingredients from Latin America and the Indo-Pacific to provide the stout body, robust texture, and creamy consistency that we’re aiming for.
Or why Single Origin?
Because then again, maybe you like ripe blueberry notes so much, that when you brew your Ethiopian Supernatural in a press pot, you want nothing else to confound the flavor.
The truth lies in your own palate
As always, we encourage you to explore options to see which resonates most with your taste. One woman’s Kenya is another bloke’s Major Dickason’s Blend.