December 11, 2023

The Case for Choosing Single-Origin Coffee

Single-origin coffees deliver an exciting opportunity to experience the flavor of coffee from one area, at one time. They relay the specific growing conditions the beans experienced. Single origins distinguish themselves from other coffees in terms of geography, experiences and flavor. Traceability and unique tastes are the key to single origins’ popularity.

 The Rise of Single-Origin Coffee

More single-origin coffees are cropping up at coffee shops, on grocery store shelves and on coffee lovers’ doorsteps. That is no surprise, considering the shifting priorities of many coffee drinkers. Single origins show off the growing conditions and the processing techniques the coffee bean experienced at a particular time. The taste of single-origin coffee reflects the location where it was grown in ways that other coffees can’t. 

For the coffee lover, it’s an opportunity to embark on a tour of different places, unique circumstances and the resulting flavors. Whether you buy grounds or exciting whole coffee beans from Honduras, Paraguay or French Guyana, a unique experience is in store from these less famous coffee countries. Why not enjoy coffee with a location that’s more specific than just a country, like from the highest farm in French Guyana? Coffee lovers can order renowned Copan coffee from western Honduras. Trying different single origins could even lead you on a tour of the worldwide coffee belt. With the power to order coffee delivered to your door via the internet, coffee lovers need not leave their homes to set off on a tour of rare coffees.

What Makes a Single-Origin Coffee?

Delving deeper into the requirements of “single-origin” coffees and what makes them great reveals why coffee drinkers are demanding single-origins in coffee shops and for their home cabinets. In general, if all the beans that went into a coffee were cultivated within a few-mile radius, the coffee can be considered single-origin. Most single-origin beans came from a single farm or even a single section of the same farm. Later on, we’ll look at exactly how deeply the origins can be specified.

Coffee beans labeled “single origin” must be processed on the farm where they grew. This is a several-step endeavor since coffee beans are actually the pits of coffee fruit. They are seeds of a coffee cherry, not a bean growing on the ground. After being processed, many single-origin coffees are only roasted to a light roast to showcase their unique flavor components. Light roasts provide insight into the climate, soil, altitude, weather and other conditions the beans experienced.

Blends and Less Specific Coffee

The polar opposite of a single origin is a blend of coffee whose origins you cannot detect. Think of the cheapest blends on the shelves of a discount grocery store. Or think of mass-produced coffee served in a cafeteria. Or picture what’s been sitting in the Mr. Coffee Pot at the car mechanic...if you dare.

However, the spectrum between completely nondescript coffee and a specified single origin is quite large. Some blends are crafted to deliver excellent taste. The average blend has transparency to report the country where the beans were grown. In the west, blends sometimes state whether they contain 100% arabica coffee or include robusta beans too. Including robusta isn’t horrible; it finds its way into many good espressos. However, many blends can’t even report where the coffee beans came from or what pesticides may have been used on them.

Extreme Singularity: Microlot Coffees

A step beyond single-origin coffee in terms of specificity, “microlot” coffees get more granular as to the area where the beans were grown and processed. Microlots are sometimes referred to as “nanolot” coffees. Growers often control the conditions the beans experience to a tighter degree. For this designation, a hefty price tag may be tacked on. Some microlots are of high taste quality, with great ethical standards. 

Sometimes, the terms “microlot” and “nanolot” are nebulous. They may mean one thing to a grower, another to a roaster and something else to a coffee distributor. The labels may be used strategically instead of authentically, for marketing purposes. Mislabeling usually happens later in the chain before it reaches the consumer, somewhere after the processing.

Single-Origins Boom Due to Traceability

The main reason that single origins are becoming uber popular is the traceability they offer. Most of the countries in the northern hemisphere cannot grow their own coffee. They import from countries near the equator. Importing coffee from Honduras, Ethiopia or Vietnam is their most viable option. However, consumers can choose coffees that won’t cause cancer. Coffee lovers can also avoid supply chains that involve slave wages and/or unsafe conditions.

Tracing Health Risks

Many people choose single-origin coffee to avoid health risks. This comes into play with coffee in terms of pesticides, fungicides and decaffeination methods. Like other crops, coffee is plagued by several pests. In many parts of the world, coffee plants are threatened by a fungus called “coffee leaf rust.” Fungicides can combat coffee leaf rust. Sometimes, growers try to take shortcuts in coffee growth and harvesting. Shortcuts result in the plants being more at risk for pest infestations than they would be under normal conditions. For example, if coffee trees were permitted to grow to their natural height, birds living high in the canopy would eat insects that threaten coffee fruit. Slapping on pesticides may thwart the ramifications of taking farming shortcuts, but it brings health risks.

Another risk of drinking coffee whose origins and treatment aren’t traceable comes for decaf drinkers. Caffeine can be removed from coffee with solvents. Synthetic ethyl acetate is the main culprit. The synthetic version is not healthy in large quantities. 

Tracing Environmental Risks

The risks of using pesticides extend past human coffee drinkers. Pesticides harm other organisms in coffee plants’ habitats. The local water supplies may get tainted too. Even without pesticides, the clearing of land to plant coffee can threaten valuable ecosystems. 

A surprising amount of the world’s coffee is grown by small farmers. Many do not have the wherewithal, resources or education to avoid taking harmful shortcuts in coffee farming. Also, many smallholders in places with extreme weather and transportation issues grow multiple crops to offset these risks. Purchasing from farms that produce single-origin coffee that considers the concerns of the greater ecosystem and the local community is the most conscientious way to purchase coffee for the human body and that community.

Labor Treatment

Did you know that coffee is the world’s second-most popular beverage after water? By tracing the origins of the brew we drink daily, we can ensure our daily purchase supports an ethical operation. Since coffee is grown in many countries with low or ineffective labor standards, it’s important to avoid purchasing from exploitative situations. Without knowing the origin of your coffee, it’s hard to ensure that growers, laborers, processors and roasters were treated fairly. 


Better than purchasing from a coffee farm that is sustainable, ethical and transparent is purchasing from one that also supports a great cause. Subida Coffee Co.’s proceeds support the education of Honduran youth. The sales of Subida’s single-origin coffees allow students to finish high school. They also receive exposure to agricultural and business skills. Subida empowers youth while producing coffee that tastes great enough to rank with the best coffee from Honduras. Best of all, the price point is normal; much lower than microlot coffees and many overpriced single origins.

The coffee of Subida Coffee Co. is grown by the team at the Moses Project, a 120-acre commercial farm and agriculture training center in a small community outside of Santa Rosa de Copán.
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