What is single origin espresso? What are espresso blends? If you are new to the world of home brewing specialty coffee, these are probably terms you have seen but not truly understood.
The simple answer is that single origin coffee and espresso come from one area or farm and blends come from beans mixed from multiple regions.
Pretty simple concept, but why is it so important and which one is better?
The concept of single origin and blends is especially important when talking about espresso so let’s start with that. Espresso is a brew method. There are plenty of coffee bean products that are advertised as espresso but at the end of the day, all coffee, no matter how it’s brewed, comes from beans grown on a coffee plant. Espresso products are usually optimized for espresso brewing: dark roasted, finely ground (if pre-ground), and usually a blend actually.
Espresso intensifies the flavor of coffee by extracting finely ground coffee quickly using heat and high pressure. You can almost think of espresso as coffee with a magnifying glass intensifying the flavors. The extreme elements of heat and pressure exaggerate the aromatics of the coffee.
This concept of espresso exaggerating the flavors of coffee is important when discussing the differences between single origin and espresso blends.
History of Espresso coffee Blends
Historically espresso blends were made to produce coffee that was more consistent without any crazy flavors. The goal was to avoid bad flavors instead of bringing out good flavors. Essentially masking anything that would turn your average Joe coffee drinker off.
As technology became more sophisticated and more people began caring about the complexity of coffee flavors, espresso blends also became more crafty. Instead of just trying to overcompensate for bad flavors, professional roasters are bringing together complementary flavors to produce great espresso.
This evolution of espresso blends coincided with the emergence of single origin espresso. As you will read later, single origin espresso places a huge emphasis on dramatic flavors. So it only makes sense that espresso blends would become a little more purposeful as people started appreciating more interesting coffee flavors.
It’s important to note that there is a strong economical factor with blends. If you are blending together 3 different beans, instead of having 3 separate batches of single origin coffees, you now only have 1 batch of blended coffee. This introduces consistency to the market.
Characteristics of Espresso Blends
To figure out what kind of espresso you would most enjoy, I’ll go into detail regarding the characteristics of espresso blends.
Blends are usually dark roasted with smoky, chocolate, nutty, and bittersweet notes. This kind of darker roast usually makes the coffee more approachable but less exciting.
Professional roasters strive for their blends to have complex flavors that complement each other very nicely. The result is a harmonious coffee with subtle hints of earthy flavors that don’t allow bright fruity tones to outshine the rest.
Because of this, many baristas say that it’s harder to detect the individual flavors and notes of the espresso blends.
All in all espresso blends are well-rounded and more consistent with their flavors. The flavors compliment each other but also calm any outliers. Because roasters can have access to blends more readily, you can expect to have a consistent supply of the flavor you love.
Anyone can enjoy espresso made with blends, but the advanced coffee connoisseur might miss out on the adventure of trying something wild. If you are new to the world of espresso, you would probably prefer a blend.
History of Single Origin Espressos
Single origin coffee is pretty new to Western civilization who have been conditioned to consume blends.
It wasn’t really until the 1980s with the rise of the specialty coffee movement that single origin espresso was really taken seriously.
It also wasn’t that well known that coffee beans from different regions could have such vastly different flavors. It took roasters experimenting with lighter and lighter roasts to really detect the differences. You see the complex flavors of coffee we associate with something like Kona coffee get muddled out when we over roast them.
As the flavor diversity of single origin coffee became well known, roasters started producing single origin products for all forms of brewing including espresso.
Single origin espresso is much more popular now, and its flavors can be wild. Much less conistent than espresso blends but very fun. The espresso method of brewing will really bring out these flavors to a level you can’t enjoy any other way.
Espresso profiles that once only included flavors consistent with a blend, such as nutty, chocolate, and carmalized sugar is in competition with single origin notes like fruity, bright, crisp, and pineapple. Blends aren’t being replaced, but the increasing popularity of single origin espresso is certainly worth giving it a shot.
Characteristics of Single Origin Espresso
With single origin espresso you can expect flavor profiles that are light, bright, and citrusy. Unlike espresso blends, single origin flavors stand-alone making the most prominent notes shine. In a blend, it may be difficult to pick out the particular aromatic notes, with single origin you will have a much easier time detecting the flavors.
You can also expect single origin coffee beans to be light roasted since a darker roast would lose the beans natural aromatic flavors.
Single origin espresso can be more acidic and fruity, lacking that depth that a lot of people expect in an espresso shot.
Espresso shots from single origin coffee beans can be inconsistent pull to pull. If a roaster received an inconsistent single origin batch of beans, this can become evident as you consume it. The multitude of flavors in an espresso blend tends to balance out any inconsistency in the coffee bean batch.
However, if you love to explore wildly different coffee flavors on a regular basis, single origin espresso can be a fun experience.
Conclusion: Single Origin Espresso or Espresso Blends?
Whether you are choosing between Single Origin espresso or espresso blends, all I can say is that one is not better than the other.
It really all comes down to personal taste. And if you love coffee, you can find room to appreciate both!
Espresso blends are more consistent, nuttier, earthier, and do not contain wild fruity flavors. This is more or less what you would expect to drink if you were at a European coffee shop.
Single Origin espresso, on the other hand, is more wild and testier. You can drink some very interesting single origin espresso but you can also experience espresso that is too acidic.
Try both and see what kind of espresso is your favorite!