Coffee Basics: Single Origin vs. Blend
Whether buying beans, or placing an order in a cafe, you might often be presented with a choice between single origin versus blended coffee. It’s not an easy choice – both have their virtues. So, what exactly is the difference, and why does it matter? These days, there’s a lot of variation in flavour and roast levels, and both single origin and blends are suited to different drinks and brew methods.
What makes Single Origin special?
A single origin coffee is what it sounds like – all the beans come from one specific region, which could be an entire country, a co-operative of local farms in the same area, a single farm, or a single micro lot on a farm. For example, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe comes from the Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia. Coffee ‘purists’ tend to prefer single origin beans for their distinct flavour based on the area in which they were grown and the nuances that soil, climate, altitude, shade and multiple other factors can create. Even lots on a single farm can produce dramatically different coffee!
For coffee connoisseurs who want to enjoy coffee in its purest form, single origin coffee offers incredible flavour diversity – no two bags of coffee are the same and requires different brewing methods to really get the best out of the beans. Syphon, filter, French Press, cold drip, or cold press brewing methods are all ideal for highlighting the subtle flavour nuances. Generally, single origin coffee is enjoyed black, with no sugar or milk, to truly taste its unique characteristics.
Single origin coffee tends to be more expensive because it is seasonal and only available at certain times of the year, and the taste can be overpowering for coffee lovers who prefer milk-based drinks like lattes or cappuccinos. The biggest strength of a blend, however, is its consistency. The beans are spread out to ensure a consistently good cup and buffer against seasonal changes and availability…
What’s so great about a Blend?
Blended coffee is a combination of beans from different origins (one of our favourite blends has up to 9 different beans!) with a mix of flavour profiles, designed to get the best of multiple coffees in one complex cup. The aim is to produce a more well-rounded and full-bodied coffee with a smooth balance of flavour, aroma, body and acidity. The seasonal variations are less noticeable in a blend, and blends take the edge off the harsher flavours of single origin coffees, and are not as overpowering.
Blends have a mixed reputation as in some cases a sub standard coffee is used to save money and blends can hide bean defects, but in the specialty coffee industry, a talented roaster can bring together diverse flavours to create the best possible coffee. Roasters get really creative with their blending craft – there’s great skill in understanding how various coffee flavours work with each other to create the perfect mix of coffee, and creating harmony from these different flavours is something of an art form.
Blended coffee is generally geared towards the mainstream consumer – the intensity and richness of flavour works well as an espresso shot which can be discerned through the milk of a latte or cappuccino. Single origin beans generally aren’t suitable for espresso because of the finer taste nuances, and espresso needs a mix of sweetness, acidity, and crema, which a single source usually can’t offer. A roaster typically goes through an in-depth trial and error process to find the perfect balance between one type of bean that’s more bitter and the other one that’s sweeter.
So, which is better?
There may be times when you’re feeling adventurous, and times when you just want a blend that you know and love… It really comes down to personal preference. If you want a well-rounded, strong flavour profile that’s consistent, go with a blend. If you’re interested in the unique characteristics and exotic flavours of coffees from different regions, choose single origin. So, what’s your take on the great debate? Is one better than the other?
Gadget Review: Kruve Sifter
Most coffee professionals believe that even grind size is key to achieving even extraction and exceptional flavour in the cup.
But is a perfectly uniform grind, every time even possible? The Kruve Sifter claims that while many have tried to perfect the grinder, they have apparently perfected the grind…
Created to solve the problem of uneven grind size, the Kruve Sifter uses two tiers and up to 15 interchangeable sieves to allow for 105 possible grind sizes. We chatted to Wesley Van Biljon of Colombo Coffee to find out what he thought of the Kruve Sifter.
Refining the grind
“Kruve is a fantastic tool for controlling the particle size and achieving a cleaner, more tactile cup. It is going to add some time to your brewing process initially but will prove to be easier once the particle size preferences have been identified.
Using higher quality specialty grade coffees warrants the effort in sifting out fines (small particles) and boulders (large particles) when brewing, to bring out a cleaner quality in the cup.
The Kruve has great potential, which leaves the door for experimenting open to all who wish to explore coffee further. Personally, I love it.”
The quest for the best
A top-quality grinder is a key piece of equipment for professionals and the conscientious consumer alike, but the Kruve Sifter is a nice addition if you’re looking for a consistently even grind, every time. This theory of the even grind and sifting out the fines to reduce bitterness was tested on the World Barista Championship Stage (with rather a larger sieve for time purposes!) and it proved highly successful.
The Kruve Sifter retails for between R1,025 – R2,675 (depending on whether you want the Two, Six, or Twelve). It’s available at these online outlets: Espresso Concetti, Wake Up Brew, Cape Coffee Beans, and Republic Coffee.
One of our initial concerns with this tool was the possibility for wastage of coffee, but you'll soon see that no good coffee need go to waste. The different chambers hold grind sizes that might not be perfect for your filter brew, but could be used later for a different method; espresso for the fines, a plunger for the coarse grinds. Just keep a couple airtight containers on hand.
Coffee at the beach has never been so simple and so much fun! Seen the Nanopresso around, but don't know how it works? This little gadget is so intelligently designed that even though this was our first time using the nifty Double Espresso Adapter and 16g basket that comes with the Barista Kit, it produced a delicious coffee. Come hang out at the beach with us and the Wacaco Nanopresso (in yellow!) to bring some sunshine into your day. Big thanks to Moreflavour for swinging this bad boy our way. We are thoroughly impressed by this tiny gadget!
Let's get technical: What's the benefit to weighing your coffee when you brew?
Words by Daniel Erasmus
The base question behind this article is "why should I care about weighing my coffee?" a question I only asked myself about three years ago. My most simple answer would be, because weight translates directly into flavour. So if you want your coffee to taste better, you need to weigh it. I was demonstrated the importance of this when I implemented using a scale in the cafe, and got an overwhelmingly positive response from the customers. Over the past two years we have seen a major focus from manufacturers, on integrating weight measurement into their products. Even phasing out volumetric machines in favour of gravimetric. Why? Weight is a necessity in the world of specialty coffee, where an extra five grams of water could spoil the cup, ruin the customer’s expectations, and waste very expensive coffee. Small examples are: weight is more reliable than volume, volume changes with temperature. Weight will give you a consistently good cup when working with a changing product like coffee, which may have a different level of solubility from one roast/day to the next. Which leads us to your next question, "how do I do that?".
First you need to understand what weighing your coffee encompasses. Then a prerequisite is being familiar with taste, and knowing what you want to taste in your cup. Whether it be espresso, or alternate brew, you will have three weights to measure during any brew: coffee dosage, end yield, and water. For me, time as a factor in brewing, is slowly losing relevance. Volume is obsolete. I have found that weight is a more reliable parameter to work with. I will not be addressing time at all in this article. Neither will I be addressing grind size, although it plays a large part in flavour, we will work on one concept at a time.
Dosage is your dry coffee weight; the amount of coffee that you grind into any type of filter, before extraction. Your yield calculations are based on this dose weight. All brew methods have a recommended weight that you will start with. You can alter this either up or down to get your preferred weight. But once it is set, do not change it. Keeping in mind that for something like espresso, there is a fairly strict minimum, and maximum weight that you need to be dosing. In general, I like to stick to manufacturer's recommendations, but there are exceptions to the rule, for example, I generally push it, and dose 20.5g into the LM 17g baskets. This also depends on coffee density, and is mostly applicable in espresso.
Yield is your wet coffee weight, post extraction. Yield is the espresso in the cup, or the drip coffee in the glass jug. Explaining yield and its effect on what you taste, can become quite lengthy, but here are the essentials: The longer you extract for, the more yield you will have. The shorter you extract for the more strength you will have, and vice versa. Once you understand how the two work against each other, you can begin to control what you get in the cup.
You would typically work out a dose to yield ratio, which would determine your yield weight. This could be as simple as 1:2, or as you begin to get more specific, something like 1:1.75 Then it is as simple as putting a scale under the coffee receptacle, taring it, and starting your brew. stop your brew just before it reaches the required weight. In order to work out how early to stop it, you will have to work out the delay of in-air espresso weight, from porta filter to scale. (based on what you want to taste)
I might garner some criticism for including water weight as a major factor, allow me to put forward my reasoning. If you weigh your water before you brew, you can subtract that weight from the final yield weight. This will give you an approximate total dissolved solids (TDS) weight. Your TDS determines the amount of flavour in your cup. I say approximate because there will be a small amount of water left in the coffee you used, and even if you subtract that weight from your original water weight, the dry coffee you used has also lost weight as it extracted. To be 100% on the mark, you need a refractometer. But for the 95% of us who can’t afford that kind of equipment, this method is a fairly good way to do it.
The amount of scales out there are endless. They range from amazing to terrible. The bottom line is; a scale that is not perfect, is not going to give you a perfect reading, therefore is not going to give you a perfect brew. So you may as well stick with a shot glass or a beaker. My preference lies with Acaia scales. They are waterproof, super accurate with negligible lag, charge via usb, have extremely long battery life, and are quite indestructible. If that's not in your budget, then the Hario and Brewista scales are also excellent options at a more affordable price point.
This is a fairly lengthy disclaimer, and here are the reasons why. Because coffee is such a subjective product. Because there are many more variables than just weight, that affect how your cup tastes. Because each individual enjoys a different style of cup to the next. Last but not least, because weight encompasses, dose, yield, and in my case TDS (which ties into yield - so hard not to be ambiguous), which are all subject enough for being articles themselves. What I have aimed to do, is give you a better understanding of one facet, of what happens when you combine water and coffee in the hope that this information, coupled with more knowledge, will manifest itself as a tastier cup of coffee. Whether it be in your coffee shop, or at home.