How to Choose a Single Origin Coffee


How to Choose a Single Origin Coffee:

  • Check the tasting notes! See what sounds tasty to you.
  • Try coffee with similar 'specs' to coffee you've enjoyed previously (country, processing, variety or altitude).
  • African coffee is usually fruitier whilst Central/South American and Asian coffees are usually more chocolatey and nutty.
  • Washed coffees are generally 'cleaner' than natural coffees, but less fruity.
  • Natural coffees are generally fruitier but sometimes also too 'winey' for some.
  • Higher grown coffees are usually more acidic and complex while lower grown coffees have more body.
  • Some varieties (like Geisha or Pink Bourbon) have a very strong impact on the flavour of a coffee.

Transcript (Speaker: Adam Marley)

Hey, everyone. Welcome back to another tips and tricks with me, Adam. Today, we're going to be giving you some tips on how to choose a coffee that you're going to enjoy. So this is if you're ordering coffee online, or buying coffee at one of our accounts, you've got a wide selection of single origins to choose from. And obviously the blend, we'll talk about blends and single origins in another tips and tricks, I reckon. We've got this wide selection. At the moment, we've got 10 different single origins, I think. How do you choose one that you know you're going to, or there's a good chance you're going to enjoy?

So there's a couple of things we want to get out of the way. First, the first one is, well, read the tasting notes. What sounds most delicious to you? We put a lot of effort into the tasting notes. We try and choose tasting notes which are quite relatable, and we just put three on there. We don't make it too convoluted and complex, so just read the tasting notes on the bag or on the website and see which one stands out the most. That's a really easy tip. You can just stop watching now if you want.

And then the other little thing I want to say is, whilst, yes, it's important to choose a coffee that you have a good chance you're going to enjoy; you want something consistent, you want something reliable, absolutely. You'll have a more enjoyable coffee drinking experience if you don't fall into this trap of only drinking the coffees that you already like. So if you know you enjoy chocolate nutty coffees, then every now and then, grab a fruity coffee. Try it.

The first time you might not like it. You might go, "Nah, that's not for me." But come back to it in a couple of months, six month's time, try another fruity coffee. You might dig them now, you might start to enjoy that flavor profile and enjoy that diversity. So yeah, don't just always choose the same thing. I mean, obviously you can, but life is no fun without variety, right?

So, choosing a coffee, if you're not choosing the tasting notes. The other thing we do is we, you will notice the rainbow of different colors on the bags. And so, we will reuse those colors; orange, red, purple, green, whatever it might be, when new coffees come out. So we run out of coffee, then we'll reuse that same color and we'll choose the colors based on overall concept of how that coffee tastes.

So it sounds a little bit fluffy, but the label is dark blue is probably because the coffee is going to have some really nice blueberry flavors. If it's dark purple is going to be winey. And if it's a light orange color, you should expect some nutty and marmalade or butterscotch flavors, things that taste that color. And so, that's always a good bet. If you don't want to get into the nitty gritty, which we're about to get into, then you can obviously go to the tasting notes or go on the color. If you know you really enjoy the blues and purples, then keep buying the blues and purples, but then mix it up. Keep it interesting for yourself. So, that's three little quick tips already. Bam, bam, bam. Three minutes, one tip per minute. I'm trying to get faster at these things because I tend to waffle.

Right, so now, if you want to keep paying attention, then we can go into the nitty gritties, and this is a bit of why certain coffees will taste the way they do, and this is what to look for beyond colors and tasting notes when you're choosing a coffee that you think you'll enjoy. So, there's a lot of things that will- Sorry. There's a lot of things that will affect the flavor of the coffee. If I use the word terroir, forgive me, I'm trying to stop using that word. I think a better word to use would be character or individuality over coffee. We can get into what I don't like about the word terroir and the history of that word and stuff at a later date.

But yeah, so if you're talking about the unique character of the coffee, there's a lot of factors that are going to effect. I'm going to break it down into four different factors and I'm going to go from, which I think for me, have the strongest impact. And we're going to go in hierarchy, for me, again, personally, what I think has the strongest impact on the flavor.

And so, the first one for me is going to be processing, how the coffee is processed at origin, so by the producers. And by processing, we mean fermentation, drying, that sort of thing. The next thing is going to be origin, so country. And you can get into sub regions within that, but that has a bit of a caveat. It still has a really strong impact on the final flavor, the character of the coffee in the cup, but I don't think it's for the reasons most people think of, and that's where we get into the whole issues with terroir and stuff.

The third thing is going to be altitude, how high grown the coffee is. And then the last one will be varietals, and that's the hierarchy I think that have the most... That's the order that has the most impact on the flavor experience. So, the first one, I'm just going to break it down for processing. It gets really complex, but in the interest of brevity, we're going to break it down to, let's just say washed, and I'm going to put honeys. Honey-processed coffees in that category too, or naturally processed coffees.

Now, all the things that matter to talk about, none of them are universal. This is just the average, the norm. Naturally processed coffee is going to usually have more fruit, more ripe, or even winey, or even overripe fruit flavors in it. It'll probably have a little bit less acidity, it'll be less juicy. So it'd be fruitier, but less refreshing. May have less florals, and probably lower on the chocolates and nuts. Fruit is definitely the big thing that's happening here in naturally processed coffee, for the most part, again, not universally.

Expect big berry, winey, jammy fruits, but potentially also they will have fermentation flavors. So, yeasty flavors. In a bad natural, they might be a vinegary. And some people are really sensitive to those flavors and really don't enjoy them. So if you're one of those people where you've had a naturally processed coffee before, and other people are like, "Oh, it's winey and jammy and delicious," and you're like, "I don't like it. It tastes "off"." Then those are probably the fermentation flavors you're tasting, and you might not be a fan of naturally processed coffees.

So, washed coffees on the other hand are going to be a lot cleaner. They're not going to have those fermentation flavors. And they're going to have a more sparkling acidity, a bit more refreshing, juicy, potentially more florals, and yeah, most likely more chocolates and nuts. And the overall fruit, the fruitiness, will be lower. Unless you're talking about like a washed Ethiopian or a washed Kenyan coffee, for instance. East African wash coffees tends to be very fruity. However, it's not going to be that jammy, overripe, really ripe fruit, it's going to be a slightly under ripe kind of fruit. So, for Ethiopians, for a wash, for instance, think lime and just ripe stone fruit, as opposed to in a naturally processed Ethiopian berries and winey, and potentially banana-y, and tropical fruit.

So, that's processing, that's definitely going to have, for me, a massive, probably the strongest impact on the flavors you can expect in a cup of coffee. So if you've had a naturally processed, you're drinking coffee at home right now, it's delicious, how do I get a coffee similar to this but not exactly the same that I love. Is it naturally processed or washed? It's going to have a really big impact.

So the next thing is going to be origin. So, a lot of people will think country, where the coffee comes from. Colombian coffee tastes like Colombian coffee, Brazilian coffee tastes like Brazilian coffee, and they taste different to Ethiopian coffee or Kenyan coffee. This is true. So if you want to break it down for the most part, if you like Central South American coffees, so coffee from Guatemala or Columbia, you're probably also going to like other coffees from Central and South American countries. If you like African coffee, say like coffee from Kenya, you're probably also going to like coffee from Ethiopia.

Now I don't want to get on a soapbox, particularly again, in the interest of brevity. A lot of people think that there's something magic about the soil and the weather patterns and things like that. Sure, they probably have an impact, but in my opinion, just my opinion, it's probably more likely the traditional practices of those farming communities, of those coffee growing communities, are going to have some similarities because of geographical proximity, and that's probably why those coffees will taste quite similar, and they will taste quite similar. Not always, again, none of this is universal, but for the most part. So yeah, that's, in my opinion, probably going to be the next largest impact on the unique character of a single origin coffee.

The third one is going to be altitude. This one is nice and simple. For the most part, a higher altitude coffee, so the coffee is grown at a higher elevation above sea level, is going to have more acidity, probably more complexity, and then a lower grown coffee will probably have a bit more body and probably have a little bit less acidity, a bit more- and flavor-wise, probably expect a bit more chocolatey nutty flavors in a lower grown coffee, and a bit more fruity floral flavors in a higher grown coffee.

You'll notice the high ground coffees are prized, and people even use 'high grown" as a marketing thing. We don't have a preference for a higher grown or lower grown, I think they all have their place. And also, some countries can grow Arabica at a higher altitude and others can't. So we don't want to be limiting the country that we're buying coffee from just by going, "Oh, every coffee has to be above 7,000 meters above sea level." No. Lower grown coffees absolutely have their place as well. They're going to be richer, rounder, smoother sometimes. Higher grown is more complex and refreshing. Depends what you mean the mood for, or what your preferences are.

The fourth and final one is going to be varietal. So we don't actually put varietal on the bags anymore. We're going to start doing it again, I think, for the geeky people out there, because for the most part, I think out of these four, it definitely has the least impact unless you're talking about a few outliers, which I'll get into. So this is the variety of Arabica, so this is the subspecies of Arabica that the cherries that were tending to the coffee were picked from. And so, you might've seen was like Bourbon, or Catuai, so that's the varietals, and that is going to have an impact. For instance, I always find Bourbon adds a lot of brown sugar as a flavor. Whether it's in Columbia or Rwanda, you're going to have that same brown sugar coming through, which I believe, and I could be wrong, that's coming from the varietal.

Obviously the most obvious one is Geisha. Geisha is a varietal, and no matter where it's going in the world, it's going to taste like passion fruit, and jasmine, and bergamot, and Earl Gray tea, and some other stuff as well, and probably be really delicious, which is probably why it's so expensive. It has a really strong impact on the player profile. There's a few others as well, newer varietals that are occurring like Wush Wush, I find has a really strong tropical fruit impact on the flavor profile.

But for the most part, I think processing, origin, and attitude are probably going to have a bigger impact on your flavor experience. I think if you, for instance, if you go, "I really like this Colombian coffee and it's made with Bourbon," and then you see a Rwandan coffee made with Bourbon, they're not going to be the same in the cup. The brown sugar will be there, but they're going to be very different coffees. Now I still encourage doing that, because it's interesting.

So yeah, those are the three short and shiny. And then if you stayed to the end, thank you, and congratulations for being a coffee geek and sticking it out. I'd like to end with, again, reminding, don't just stay in your wheelhouse, explore a little bit. Part of the fun of single origins and coffee is exploring new, different things, things that you haven't liked previously that you might start to get accustomed to.

But on that as well, once your palate starts to develop, and if you want to develop your palate then watch our last tips and tricks where I go into some techniques you can use that we use in the industry to help improve palates. Once your palate starts to develop a little bit more, and that is sped up by tasting a diversity of coffees, then what you can do is start to try and tease out individual aspects, which are affecting the character in the cup, and see if you can identify those.

So for instance, you could get a Colombian coffee made with Bourbon, and a Rwandan coffee made with Bourbon, and see if you can notice that brown sugar note in both of them, see if you can pick that out. Or, get two Ethiopian coffees, a washed Ethiopian and naturally Ethiopian coffee, and then realistically, I mean, obviously they're going to be slightly different regions and stuff, but for the most part, what you're going to be tasting there, the differences you'll notice, is from the processing, from the fermentation. And if anyone's wondering washed, natural, what's the difference? That'll be another tips and tricks in the future. So, stay tuned for that. Once again, thanks for watching everyone, and we'll see you next time.