I love this question. The answer can get complicated easily, but I will do my best to keep it as straightforward as it should.
Simply put, single-origin coffee means that it comes from a single estate, crop, or region in a country. In other words, single-origin coffee can mean different things in each case.
In contrast to single-origin coffee, blends are a combination of beans from different places. Drinking coffee blends is more widespread, and they are the most affordable option, most of the time.
The origin of coffee beans makes a huge difference. Along with other factors like the coffee plant species and varietal, the place where coffee comes from is crucial for quality.
Each farmer can implement different quality controls and farming techniques. Moreover, the altitude, weather, and soil influence coffee taste and aroma.
Usually, single-origin coffee is the result of a close collaboration between roasters and producers. However, we can't assume this is always the case.
Producers can organize themselves in many different ways, from farmers leading a few dozens of workers to a handful of farmers working in a cooperative to large companies with thousands of employees.
Let me explain this through an example. Some brands can label their product as a coffee from Brazil. Yet, as the company sourced it from the largest coffee producer in the world, this doesn't mean much.
To differentiate a single-origin coffee from a blend, roasters and brands put the region in their labels (i.e., Minas Gerais, Brazil). Still, several factors may vary inside this region: the altitude, terroir, and producers, to name a few.
Recently, high-quality buyers and roasters have been sourcing directly from producers aiming for the best green coffee. Direct trade has led to more experimental processing methods and tighter quality controls. As a result, single-origin coffee tends to be pricier than blends because it's more traceable. Moreover, single-origin coffee usually offers premium features like innovative processing methods (i.e., black honey) and higher-quality standards.
Roasters and brands usually tag their highest prices for single-origin coffees in micro-lots and nano-lots. Micro-lots come from a single farm. Depending on the farm's size, a micro-lot may have grown in a plot of land inside the farm. A nano-lot is even more exclusive. According to PDG, a nano-lot can be as tiny as two 60 kg bags.
Overall, the best way to learn more about a single-origin coffee taste and aroma is by trying it. Good roasters and retailers will always be transparent about the origin and the aromatic profile of their coffees. For this purpose, they use labels to help coffee lovers like you and me.
What do you think now? Are you ready to try your next single-origin coffee?