What Does Single Origin Coffee Mean?

What is single origin coffee?

Greetings! Today we’ll try to answer the question, what does single origin coffee mean?

While coffee drinkers may find this a relatively “new” concept that began in the early 21st century, single origin coffee has actually been a mainstay of the coffee bean trade for hundreds of years. Originally, single origin coffee was defined as coffee produced by a single farm, a single mill, or a single group of farms. It’s supposed to be marketed without blending with any other coffees. Most single origin coffee is grown on large farms or government controlled farms as well as family-owned plantations. There are also exclusive single origin coffees that come from a micro-lot. These coffees are produced from a single field on a farm, within a small range of altitude, and harvested at a specific time.

Single origin coffee label has expanded over the years. The coffee might actually come from both a larger parcel of land and from multiple suppliers. Single origin might also mean coffee from a single region within a country, even simply coffee from one country. The lines become a little fuzzier when dealing with countries like Sumatra or Brazil, where the idea of a single origin coffee can be lost within blurred lines.

Why is the single origin coffee designation considered important?

Because coffee consumers have become more aware of the social and environmental issues relating to the growing and the supply-chain of coffee. Where the coffee originates can be a hotbed issue. Because of this concern, there are three additional labels that may be applied to single origin coffee: Organic, Bird Friendly, and Fair Trade.

Organic coffee (like most things labeled “organic”) typically fetches a higher price. In order for coffee to truly be considered organic, an international agency has to certify it as grown without synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. In addition, organic farming has to incorporate diversified shade, while using compost and natural pest control procedures (like bugs and worm) as well as terracing (cut into a step-like formation, sloping downward) to minimize soil erosion.


Bird Friendly identifies coffee that’s grown without destroying the surrounding tropical forest. The criteria has been established by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre (SMBC) of the National Zoo, which is concerned with maintaining a habitat for migratory birds passing through Central America. Some of the proceeds from Bird Friendly coffee are used to support research and conservation programs. The SMBC certification claims to have the only 100 percent guaranteed organic and shade-grown designation of all other coffees claiming to be environmentally-friendly.

Fair trade coffee is designed to help farmers escape from poverty. It’s a certification given to single origin coffee beans that have been purchased at a price defined by international agencies as “fair, ” and it’s also used to promote sustainable agricultural practices without the use of fertilizers, pesticides, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In addition, fair trade practices prohibit forced and child labor. Coffee packers pay a fee for the right to use the Fairtrade logo, which gives consumers an assurance that the coffee meets the above criteria.

Fairtrade logo

As you can see, not all single origin coffee is created equal. Depending on the source, there can be variation from one single origin coffee to another. This is another great reason to join a coffee of the month club from Better Beans Coffee Clubs!