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The A-Z of Single-Origin Coffee

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Answer by Peter Baskerville, started over 20 cafes

As espresso coffee connoisseurs continue their quest for a perfect shot, many are led to explore the varietal character of coffee beans that have a single geographical origin and cultivar. In tasting or cupping terms, varietal character describes the positive characteristics that distinguishes a given regions/farm's coffee from coffee grown in other area.

Similarly, independent cafes are also adding single-origin coffees to their offer in an attempt to further differentiate themselves from the national chains. Single-origin as a concept continues to have many definitions, but generally it is coffee that is produced by a single farm, a single mill, or a single group of farms and marketed without blending with any other coffees. Generally, they are grown on large farms (or government controlled farms) and old family owned plantations as opposed to small peasant plots. More exclusive single-origins will come from micro-lots, being a single field on a farm within a small range of altitude and harvested at a specific time.

Oldest single-origins

While many people believe that the concept of single-origin coffee only began in the early 2000s, the truth is that it has been a key part of the coffee bean trade for centuries. For decades, astute exporters, importers, and roasters have been separating out the best from the rest along the lines of specific farms, regions, or estates.

Two of the earliest single-origin coffees are Mocha from Yemen and Java from Indonesia. In fact, the early success of these two single-origins saw the emergence of the world's first coffee blend - Mocha-Java. Traditionally, this is a coffee bean blend of one part Yemen Mocha and two parts Arabica Java coffee. In this traditional form, Mocha-Java is the world's oldest coffee bean blend. This historic blend combined the full bodied Java bean with the acidic Yemen Mocha, which produces a more balanced espresso experience.

  • Mocha (sometimes called Arabian Mocha), dates back hundreds of years to the 15th century. It was a name used by coffee traders who purchased coffee beans from the people of Yemen. Yemen was the only place in the world at the time with cultivated coffee beans, and Mocha was the name of the port on the Red sea from which the coffee beans were shipped. In ancient times, this port went by the name Al-Mukha.
  • Java is an island which is now located within the boarders of Indonesia. Back in the 17th Century, the Dutch establish the large Arabica coffee farms or estates in Java. Java at the time became the second great commercial coffee plantation region after Yemen giving its name to the second oldest single-origin.
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Additional single-origin differentiations

In more recent times, coffee consumers have also become more aware of the social and environmental issues relating to the growing and supply-chain of coffee.

This growing pressure by better informed consumer groups has led to a form of accredited marketing in three main areas of concern to the consumer and that add to the single-origin's appeal:

  1. Organic,
  2. Bird Friendly
  3. Fair Trade.
  • Organic Coffee has become an important marketing term in the contemporary single-origin coffee world and can usually command a higher premium price. However, the lower yields coupled with the costs of the certification process soon account for the extra margins achieved. For a coffee to carry the organically-grown label, it must be certified by an international agency as having been grown without synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Organic Farming includes the need for diversified shade, employing compost and engaging organic pest control procedures as well as terracing to minimize soil erosion.
  • Bird Friendly coffee is a marketing seal awarded by the Smithsonian Institution in the US and controlled by the National Audubon Society. It's a term used, when marketing single-origin coffee, which identifies coffee that is grown under a shady canopy or one that did not destroy the forest to create a plantation and meets the criteria established by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre of the National Zoo. This canopy supplies a habitat for migrating birds and is particularly important to migratory birds passing through Central America. Usually 25c per pound of Bird-Friendly coffee is used to support Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre research and conservation programs.
  • Fair Traded coffee is a certification given to single-origin coffee beans that have been purchased from peasant farmers at a price defined by international agencies as "fair." It is intended to help ensure equitable trading arrangements for disadvantaged small holders who are organized into cooperatives Also used to promote sustainable agricultural and farm management practices without the use of agrochemicals or genetically modified organisms. Oxfam is one organisation that "works with organisations around the world to shift global trade rules so they work to help raise poor people in the developing world out of poverty."
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Historically significant single-origin estates

  • Bella Vista: This is one of the oldest coffee growing estate in the Tres Rios region of Costa Rica. Noted for its bright acidity and clean refreshing finish.
  • Capetillo: Is a respected and well known coffee growing estate in Guatemala since the 1880s. The best Guatemalan coffees have a very distinct, spicy, even smoky flavour that sets them apart from all other coffees.
  • La Minita: One of the most famous coffee growing estates in the Tarrazu district of Costa Rica. The quality of the coffee bean is linked predominately to its meticulously preparation.
  • Los Volcanes: A respected Arabica coffee growing estate in Guatemala.
  • Hacienda San Pedro: a 19th century coffee plantation in the town of Jayuya, Puerto Rico. A fourth generation family business that has grown, picked, dried, and roasted its coffee the same way for over a hundred years.
  • Old Tavern Coffee Estate: A small, highly regarded producer of certified Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee that uses the traditional wet processing methods.
  • Silver Hill Estate: A coffee growing estate in Jamaica. It is one of the few works licensed by the Jamaican Coffee Industry Board to produce genuine Blue Mountain coffee. See - Blue Mountain
  • Wallenford Estate: This is the rarest and most expensive coffee bean in the world. It is grown high in the mountains on the isle of Jamaica. At one time, it was the most celebrated and the best of Jamaica's Blue Mountain coffee that was only ever grown on the Wallenford Estate. Now it is applied to any Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee that is processed through the Wallenford mill. This coffee is noted for the utmost care that is taken in the growing/processing stages and is prized for its perfect balance.
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A_Z of Single-Origin Coffees

Listed below are the market/brand names you are most likely to encounter when exploring the single-origin coffee offers. Also included here is the country of origin and a brief description of the coffee bean's profile.
  • Alajuela: Costa Rica - The market name for one of the better shade grown, organic-certified, SHB (Strictly Hard Bean) coffees coming from the Alajuela province located in the Northern Central Valley of Costa Rica.
  • Altura Coatepec: Mexico - The market name for a respected washed Arabica coffee grown on the northern slopes of the central mountain range in the Veracruz in the State of Mexico. It is high grown coffee that comes from the historical town of Coatepec, located 15km south of Xalapa and famous for its red-tiled houses and charming cobblestone roadways
  • Ankola: Indonesia - One of the world's best and most famous Arabica coffees grown in the area of the northern port of Padang in west-central Sumatra. It is noted for its deep richness, full body, and long finish together with just enough interesting acidity. Ankola coffee beans are often associated with the market name Mandheling which are both grown at altitudes of 2,500 to 5,000 feet (760m to 1520m) and are dry processed, but the dried husks are removed with a hot water process that many believe contributes to its unique flavour characteristics.
  • Antigua: Guatemala - The market name for one of the best and most distinctively flavoured coffees of the world. It is grown in the valley surrounding Antigua (the old capital of Guatemala).
  • Arabian Mocha: Yemen - A single-origin coffee cultivated on the mountainous regions and terraces of present-day Yemen and shipped from the port of Mocha. It is the world's oldest cultivated coffee bean and it is distinguished by its full body taste in combination with a unique rich, winey acidity.
  • Armenia: Colombia - A market name for a coffee bean named after the town located in the area. The coffee growing estates are positioned some 140 miles from the capital Bogota. This coffee bean is the "A" in the commonly exported blend of Columbian coffee - "MAM".
  • Arona: Papua New Guinea's - One of Papua New Guinea's most famous brand of Arabica coffee beans. It is grown in the Arona Valley in the Eastern Highlands Province. It is noted for its full body and its deep almost smoky taste.
  • Arusha: Tanzania - The market name for coffee beans grown on the slopes of Mt. Meru in Tanzania. The coffee tree was imported here by the Jesuit missionaries from Reunion Island at the turn of the 20th century. It has a reputation for producing some of the finest blends of coffee in the world. This area accounts for 75% of Tanzania's total coffee bean export.
  • Atitlan: Guatemala - A notable brand of coffee beans from Guatemala carrying a Fair Trade certificate and possessing a bright acidity.
  • Bahia: Brazil - This is a market name of a coffee bean supplied from Brazil and exported from the state bearing the same name. Located at the northern end of the coffee states in Brazil, it is currently achieving breakthrough yield success with the introduction of a pivot irrigation growing system.
  • Bani: Dominican Republic - Is both a city and market name for a good washed Arabica with mild acidity that is produced in the region of Sierra Sur in the Peravia Province of the Dominican Republic. It is noted for its soft, mellow cup.
  • Barahona: Dominican Republic - The market name for a coffee been high grown in the south-west of the Dominican Republic. Named after the city and province that bears the same name. It is considered by many to be the best coffee of the Dominican Republic and is identified by its increased acidity, yet heavier-bodied cup.
  • Blue Mountain: Jamaica - Authentic Blue Mountain coffee is grown in the Blue Mountain district of Jamaica and makes up about 15% of Jamaica's total coffee exports. Only coffee processed through works licensed by the Jamaican Coffee Board can use the Blue Mountain's trademark. These coffee beans include Wallenford, Moy Hill, Silver Hill, Mavis Bank, Langley, and more recently Old Tavern and RSW.
  • Bogota: Colombia - This is a brand of coffee beans grown in the eastern mountainous (cordillera) region of Colombia. Considered by some to be one of Colombia's finest coffees, it is definitely one of its most famous. It takes its name from the capital.
  • Bourbon Santos: Brazil - Also marketed under the name of simply 'Santos.' It refers to a category of high-quality coffees from Brazil that are usually shipped through the port of Santos and that are grown in the state of São Paulo or the southern part of the State of Minas Gerais. The term properly describes the finest grade of Brazilian coffee produced from the Bourbon cultivar of Arabica. This cultivar tends to produce a softer, fruitier, smoother flavour with a medium body and possesses more acidity than other varieties grown in Brazil.
  • Bucaramanga: Colombia - The market name for a respected coffee bean from Colombia. It is one of its most famous coffees, possessing a low level of acidity, yet still rich in body and flavour.
  • Bugishu: Kenya - The market name for an Arabica coffee grown from the slopes of Mt. Elgon in Uganda near Kenya. It is considered by some to be the best coffee Uganda has to offer in contrast to the lower taste profiles of Robusta coffee beans which make up most of Uganda's coffee bean production.
  • Caracas: Venezuela - A class of coffees grown on the eastern coastal mountain ranges of Venezuela and shipped through the port of La Guiara. Quality can range from fair to excellent.
  • Celebes Toraja: Indonesia - The market name for one of the world's finest coffees from Celebes (previously Sulawesi) in Indonesia.
  • Cerrado: Brazil - A high grade Arabica coffee coming from the high Savannah plains in the west of the Minais Gerais state in Brazil. Coffee was first cultivated here in response to the Black Frost of 1975, which wiped out much of the lower lying crops in that year.
  • Chanchamayo Valley or Chanchamayo: Peru - A south-central region of Peru and a market name for a Peruvian coffee earning one of the best reputations. It is wet processed, light bodied but still carries a unique flavour profile.
  • Cibao: Dominican Republic - The market name for a good quality coffee from the Dominican Republic. Described as full-bodied with moderate acidity and yet possessing uncomplicated flavours.
  • Coatepec: Mexico See - Altura Coatepec
  • Coban: Guatemala - The market name for a respected high-grown coffee from north-central Guatemala. Noted as one of world's best and most distinctively flavoured coffees.
  • Cucuta: Colombia - The market name for a coffee grown in north-eastern Colombia, but often shipped through Maracaibo Venezuela.
  • Djimmah or Djimah: Ethiopia - A Ethiopian Arabica bean from the Region of Kaffa. This coffee is grown at 1500m - 1800m (5,000 ft - 6,000 ft) in forests/semi-forests in the south/west part of the state. Washed Djimahs have an excellent mild acidity whereas dry-processed Djimah is a lesser coffee of unrefined and zesty flavour possessing a strong winey after-taste. These coffees are grown on the original indigenous coffee plants.
  • Gayo Mountain: Indonesia - The market name for coffee exported from a large processing centre and mill in the Aceh Province, Northern Sumatra. Coffee here utilizes a combination of both the wet and dry processing systems.
  • Ghimbi or Gimbi: Ethiopia - A market name for coffee grown in Western Ethiopia. Usually wet processed or "washed" and is noted for its winey overtones.
  • Grand Lares: Puerto Rico - Along with Yauco Selecto, this is one of the world's great coffee beans supplied by Puerto Rico. Grown in the south central part of the country, it is noted for its balanced body, bright acidity, and fruity aroma.
  • Harar or Harrar: Ethiopia - A Ethiopian Arabica bean that is grown at 1500 - 2200m (5,000 ft - 7,200 ft) in the northern part of state. The state produces two distinct varieties, the Longberry and Shortberry Harar. The longberry is considered to be the more desirable taste of the two. It is garden grown and cultivated from the species obtained from the south-west of the state. They are considered to be one of the world's most prized coffees because they possess a complex medium to light acidity with full body and a unique winey/fruit wild-blueberry-like aroma. The beans are dry-processed and have a slightly yellowish-green colouring.
  • Hawaii Kona: Hawaii - See - Kona
  • Indian Mysore: India - See - Mysore
  • Ismaili: Yemen - The market name for a respected coffee grown in central Yemen. It also describes a traditional botanical variety of Yemen coffee which has a round, pea-like bean and is noted for its superior cup quality.
  • Jamaican Blue Mountain: Jamaica - Is a single-origin coffee grown above 3,000 feet (915m) in the Blue Mountain District of Jamaica. It is noted for its exceptionally rich, complex, and bouillon-like flavour. This balanced, classic coffee contains a rich flavour, full body, and a smooth yet vibrant acidity. This exceptional taste quality coupled with its short supply has made it one of the world's most celebrated coffees.
  • Java: Indonesia - A market name for all Indonesian coffees The Dutch were the first to establish the large Arabica coffee farms or estates in Java in the 17th century until Rust Disease wiped out the crop. Java at the time was the second great commercial coffee plantation region after Yemen. Today, the plantations are managed by the government, and the coffee is wet-processed using modern methods. The best coffees from Java display the low-toned rich characteristic of other Indonesia coffees, but are usually lighter in body and with slightly more acidity. Estate Java is a wet-processed coffee that is more acidic, lighter in body, and quicker to finish than other coffees in the region. Smoke and spice are flavours often associated with this coffee's acidity. Some Javanese coffee is stored in warehouses for two or three years and is referred to as Old Java. This aging process causes the coffee to lose acidity but gain body and sweetness.
  • Jinotega: Nicaragua - The market name for a respected Nicaragua coffee.
  • Kaanapali: Hawaii - A market name for a coffee grown in Hawaii.
  • Kauai: Hawaii - A market brand for a coffee grown in Hawaii.
  • Kinjibi: Papua New Guinea - The Brand name of a coffee grown in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea by the Kimjibi tribe who process their Arabica beans using a combination of both the wet-pulped and sun-dried processing methods.
  • Kona: Hawaii - A single-origin coffee from the Kona coast of the Island of Hawaii. The best Kona coffee displays a classic balance between a medium body, a good acidity, and culminating in a rich complex aroma and flavor.
  • Kopi Luwak: Indonesia - These are the coffee beans that are gathered from the droppings of the Indonesian mammal called Luwak or Civet after these mammal have eaten the ripe coffee cherries, digested the fruit, and excreted the seeds. Owing to its obvious limitations on volume production, the Kopi luwak coffee bean is now one of the most expensive in the world.
  • Langley: Jamaican See - Blue Mountain
  • Limu: Ethiopia - The market name for a respected Ethiopian Arabica coffee bean that delivers a winey after-taste with a vibrant balanced cup and sharp acidity. It is a wet-processed (washed) coffee that is grown at about 1,400-1,900m (4,500ft - 6,200ft) in forest/semi forest farms. These are the coffee beans that are grown on the original indigenous coffee plants.
  • Lintong: Indonesia - The market name for the most admired coffee from the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. This coffee grows around the Lake Toba area, toward the northern end of the island. While it is a term used to describe a broader group of coffee beans, it only properly describes coffees grown in a relatively small region just south-west of Lake Toba in the Kecamatan or Lintongnihutathe district. Small plots of coffee producers are scattered over the high, undulating plateau consisting of fern-covered clay and are grown without shade or chemicals of any kind.
  • Longberry harrar: Ethiopia - A grade of coffee from Ethiopia whose bean size is larger than shortberry harrar. Longberry is the more desirable bean for its taste qualities.
  • Luwak, Kopi: Indonesia - See - Kopi Luwak
  • MAM or MAM's: Colombia - An acronym for three (3) of the most famous and best of Colombia's brands (Medellin, Armenia, Manizales). These are typically sold together to simplify large volume coffee contracts.
  • Mandheling Lintong: Indonesia See - Lintong or Mandheling.
  • Mandheling: Indonesia - Is a more comprehensive designation that refers to Lintong coffees and to any coffees grown under similar conditions in the region of Diari, north of Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia. It is recognized as one of the world's most famous coffees.
  • Manizales: Colombia - A market name for a thinner bodied coffee grown in Colombia. These coffees are typically sold under the MAM classification.
  • Maracaibo: Venezuela - A coffee from Venezuela named after the town and port from which it is shipped. These coffee beans contain many of the characteristic and distinguishing aspects of coffees from that country i.e. aromatic, soft and with a light acidity.
  • Maraciabos: Venezuela See - Tachira
  • Matagalpa: Nicaragua - The market name for a respected coffee from Nicaragua possessing a light aroma but still with a full bodied feel.
  • Mattari: Yemen - The market name for one of the most admired coffees from Yemen. Grown in the Bani Mattar area west of the capital city of Sana'a, it is usually a winier, fruitier, and sharper version of the Yemen chocolatey style. This coffee is dry processed.
  • Maui: Hawaii - A market name for some coffee beans from the second largest Hawaiian island located in the south central part of the state.
  • Mavis Bank: Jamaican - See - Blue Mountain
  • Mbeya: Tanzania - See - Pare.
  • Medellin: Colombia - The market name for a brand of coffee from the north west of Colombia. It is one of its most famous Colombian coffees with its heavy body, rich flavour, and a finely balanced acidity (sometimes supported by a pronounced nutty flavour). Marketed as part of the MAM group.
  • Mérida: Venezuela - The market name for one of the most respected and most characteristic Venezuelan coffees. It is described as delicate and sweet in the cup, yet full bodied with a mellow rich flavour.
  • Mocha: Ethiopia/Yemen - Can describe coffee sourced from the Harrar region of Ethiopia, which resembles Yemen coffee in the cup-character of rich, winey acidity and intriguing nuance. It also describes a small single-origin irregular olive green bean grown in Yemen which has a unique acid character and sometimes known as Arabian Mocha.
  • Mocha-Java: Yemen - Traditionally, a coffee bean blend of one part Yemen Mocha and two parts Java Arabica coffee. In this traditional form, Mocha-Java is the world's oldest coffee bean blend. Combining the full bodied Java bean with the acidic Yemen Mocha gave a more balanced espresso experience.
  • Moloka'I or Molokai: Hawaii - A market name for a coffee bean from an island named as such in Hawaii.
  • Moshi: Tanzania - Is the market name for coffee beans grown on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It is named after the local town that has today become famous for its coffee bean auction markets.
  • Moy Hill: Jamaican - See - Blue Mountain
  • Oahu: Hawaii - A market name for a wet-processed coffee (var. Typica) from the north shore of this island in Hawaii. The first Hawaiian coffee is believed to have been planted here in the Manoa Valley in 1825.
  • Oaxaca Pluma: Mexican - This is one Mexican coffee grown on the southern slopes of the central mountain in the Oaxaca state that is highly regarded by the coffee specialty trade.
  • Ocoa: Dominican Republic - The market name for one of the better-respected, well balanced coffees from the Dominican Republic. It is a wet-processed coffee that is noted for its sweetness. Most of this coffee is exported to European markets.
  • Pare: Tanzania - Is the market name of a coffee grown in the south of Tanzania. Also called Mbeya after the town in the area.
  • Pipil: El Salvador - The market name for a brand of Fair Traded and Certified Organic coffee from the San Mauricio District of El Salvador. This bourbon cultivar variety is only wet processed.
  • RSW: Jamaican See - Blue Mountain
  • Sanani: Yemen - A market name incorporating several growing regions located west of Sana'a, the capital city of Yemen. It tends to be a lower-toned, somewhat less acidic version of the Yemen style. It is noted for its full body and chocolate undertones.
  • Santos Brazil: See - Bourbon Santos.
  • Shortberry Harrar: Ethiopia - A smaller green bean from Ethiopia. It is grown and processed in the traditional way on the eastern part of the state near Harrar (the old state capital until 1577).
  • Sidamo or Sidama: Ethiopia - A Ethiopian Arabica bean grown at 1400-2200m (4,500ft - 7,200ft) in the south eastern part of state on the border with Kenya. It is grown in small plot gardens and cultivated from the varieties that were indigenous to the south-west of the state. They are noted for their fragrantly floral character, light-to-medium body, and balanced acidity. This popular brand is both wet and dry processed.
  • Sigri: Papua New Guinea's - One of Papua New Guinea's most famous brands. It is grown in the Wahgi Valley in the Western Highlands province.
  • Sulawesi Toraja: Indonesia - Formally called Celebes Kalossi, it is the market name for coffee beans grown in south-western Sulawesi (formerly Celebes), in Indonesia. Kalossi is the name given by the Dutch to the southern part of the island. Coffee grown here possesses a deep rich body and flavour with low acidity.
  • Tachira: Venezuela - A full bodied, sweet delicate coffee with rich acidity. It is grown in the west of the Venezuela state near the Colombian border. Coffees grown in this area are grouped together under the marketing name of Maraciabos, which they take from the port from where the coffee beans are shipped.
  • Tarrazu: Costa Rica's - This coffee takes its name from the town of San Marcos de Tarrazu. It is the market name for one of the Costa Rica's and the world's better coffees. It is grown in rich volcanic soil in the south of the state at elevations of between 1,200 - 1,700m (4,000ft - 5,500ft).
  • Wallenford: Jamaican - See - Blue Mountain
  • Washed Sidamo: Ethiopia - See - Sidamo
  • Yauco Selecto: Puerto Rico - This is an Arabica (var. Bourbon) coffee bean from a region of Puerto Rico that is grown high in the mountains above 3,000 feet (915m). It is one of the finest coffees from the Caribbean but it can be subject to some commercial inconsistency. Often likened to the balanced perfection of the Jamaica Blue Mountain because of its deep, vibrant, yet restrained acidity and gently rich flavour. Two famous estates in the region include Hecienda San Pedro and Santa Ana.
  • Yemen Mocha: Yemen - These are typically the coffee beans originating from Yemen, the mountainous regions of the south-western tip of the Arabian peninsula. It is the world's oldest (600 year) cultivated coffee. Grown at elevations of 3,000 to 7,000 feet (915m - 2,100m) but the area lacks water. Beans are typically small and hard. Coffee is packaged in mats made of plaited straw. It is typically a full bodied coffee that is distinguished by a rich, winey acidity.
  • Yirgacheffe or Yirga Cheffe: Ethiopia - The market name for one of the most famous Ethiopian washed Arabica coffee beans. It is garden grown at 1700m - 2100m (5,500ft - 6,900ft) in the south central Sidamo region near the border with Kenya and the village of Yirga Ch'efe. Regarded by many as the 'cream of the crop' of all coffees grown in the horn of Africa. It has unparalleled fruity aroma and is distinguished by its lemon/fruit-like and distinct tart bite and floral acidity. The body is light and elegant while the flavour is complex, leaving a rich floral finish and an almost menthol after-taste. It is believed that these trees were cultivated from the indigenous varieties from the south-west of the state. Sometimes spelt "Yirgacheffe".
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