The term single origin is essentially as it sounds – it means that the beans come from one place only, usually from a certain country, region or even the same farm or estate.
Many purists argue that a great single origin coffee is like a fine wine and that it’s important not to destroy its essence by mixing it carelessly with another.
Specialty coffee is a term used to describe a better coffee experience. Since special geographic microclimates produce beans with unique flavor profiles that tend to be available exclusively at certain times of the year, specialty roasters use single origin coffees to offer coffees that taste very different from each other throughout the year to provide a unique coffee experience in the cup.
Coffee blends are, as the name implies, mixtures of different coffee bean crops. These blends can be made with coffees from around the world (Ethiopian, Columbia, India), regional blends (South & Central America) or a mixture of the two.
It is not uncommon to find coffee blends including beans from several separate places, although professional roasters will typically use beans from two to a maximum of four different locations.
The original coffee blend is the Mocha-Java blend. Dutch traders initially combined Indonesian and East African Arabica coffee beans because they were the only two commercially traded coffees at the time.
Many coffee experts believe that blending pre-roasting releases a unique set of flavours that cannot be reached by roasting individual origins and then blending. Others feel it’s better to maximise the flavour of each origin as they require different times in the roasting chamber.
As there is no “right” answer, most roasters use both methods to create synergy between the beans they’re using.