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Difference between specialty coffee and single origin (SO) coffee

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

The terms specialty coffee, single origin or single estate coffee, third wave coffee are inter-related.

Specialty coffee describes an entire lifecycle from the coffee farm to a consumer’s cup.

Specialty coffee standards dictate that the origin or the source of coffee beans be clearly identified in the retail product, including information on terroir & climate, how it was processed & roasted.

These are the four levels of quality checks in the specialty coffee chain and variances in any one can have a significant impact on the outcome, i.e. our cup of coffee.

A while back, several articles were published on popular Internet Coffee forum Coffee Geek. We like the definition authored by one of the contributors, Mark Prince. He wrote:

What is Single Origin? It is -- simply put -- one type of bean from one area of one farm (sometimes called a microlot) roasted one way.

Further, he wrote:

If the coffee is from a collection of farms, it is not Single Origin. If the coffee is from the same farm but roasted several ways and post blended, it is not Single Origin. If the coffee is from a country with no other information, it is not a Single Origin.

Since Mark wrote this article in early 2000’s, there have been some adjustments to what defines a single origin coffee, but by and large this definition is the most accurate representation till date.

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