Coffee Blends vs Single Origin :: Social Coffee Company Review

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Today I’m going to talk to you about specialty coffee,  and specifically about blends and single origin coffees.  The majority of casual coffee drinkers are not likely to know

that coffee grown in different growing regions will exhibit flavor characteristics which are unique to that particular region.  For example, a Kenyan is likely to possess a sharp citrus acidity (tingle), while a Sumatran often brings an earthy rooty essence.  These are single origin coffees, coffees that are all from the same growing area, and maybe even as specific as a particular farm.  In order for these coffees to display their unique flavors, they must be roasted to a lighter degree.  When coffee is roasted dark, the coffee is stripped of it’s individuality and nearly all of the flavor is derived directly from the roasting process.  That is why you will find that lesser quality coffee is typically dark roasted, an attempt to hide defective coffee.  Specialty coffee however, is coffee that is high quality and not afraid to expose its true self.  Over the past year I have developed a deep appreciation for single origin coffees, but it wasn’t always that way.  I was conditioned to drink dark roast.  My first couple of experiences with a SO coffee was surprising, the bright tangy flavor that I was experiencing was so far removed from what I had been accustomed to that I thought there may be something wrong with the coffee.  Well, needless to say, the single origin experience quickly grew on me and soon I was trying coffees from all parts of the globe while actually preferring the lighter roast! So if single origin coffee is so great then why blend right?  A blended coffee serves a couple of different purposes, first the bad.  Some companies will use coffee blends to hide low quality beans.  The vast majority of store brand coffees are a dark roasted mixture of the cheapest beans.  On the flip-side there are specialty blends.  This is when a roaster will find 2-5 different coffees that compliment each other in order to highlight each coffees strengths, while at the same time compensating for each coffees weaknesses.  I recommend that if you are new to exploring the world of specialty coffee, that you begin with some artisan blends.  This will allow you to experience high quality coffees, but the flavor will be more rounded and balanced. It takes a degree of skill to craft a great blend.  It isn’t a matter of simply tossing together a little of this and a bit of that.  A skilled roaster will cup each coffee individually, and not just once.  Each coffee is evaluated each day after a roast to find that coffee’s particular sweet spot.  In addition, each coffee will be roasted to various levels to find the optimum level to allow its quality shine.  After the roaster knows each coffee intimately, they will begin combining them to find the perfect balance.  This is an art that I would like to dabble in some day.  I have tasted some really great blends that are very complex and offer layers of different flavor profiles.  Which brings me to my next topic… I received some really special coffee last week.  Some coffees are excellent, and I have had my share of great, horrible, and everything in between.  Social Coffee & Tea Company, established in October of 2009, has burst onto the specialty coffee scene.  When Social Coffee attended the SCAA event in Anaheim a couple of months ago, their El Salvador single origin coffee took second place in the Roaster’s Choice awards.  Social has started submitting some of their wares to Coffee Review, where they have received several superior quality scores of 94, 93, and several other 90+, a true indicator of exceptional quality.  I had the pleasure of immersing myself in several of Social’s offerings.  I have been asked to review many coffees over the past year and frequently I’ll get 3-5 different coffees sent by a particular company.  Of those coffees, I rarely like all of them.  I like to share great stuff with my readers/viewers so I’ll pick out my favorite and share it with you.  With Social, it was a first.  While I did not find one that I disliked, I do have a few faves.  For single origin, I thoroughly enjoyed their Natural Ethiopian Sidama.  The natural processing imparts a dried fruit flavor, and the flavor of blackberries, blueberry, and milk chocolate also abound.  If a blend is what you are after, then I recommend the Western Decadence and the Imperialiste Noir Organic French Roast.  Their French Roast was unlike any that I’ve tried before.  It offered a savory essence with a dark chocolate and dried cherry finish.  This is the type of coffee I like to pair with dessert.  I also tried a couple of their espresso blends and I fell in love with the People’s Daily Espresso blend.  Another thing I love about this company is the “Roasted On” dating.  Roasters that put this on their labels are proud of the fact that they are shipping ultra fresh coffee to their customers, and they are not afraid to show it.  In the grocery store, you’ll find a selection of coffees with expiration dates up to a year away…’nasty’ is the only word I can use. 😛  Social Coffee ships to customers in North America and their shipping speed is amazing!  They don’t mess around with standard 3-5 day shipping, its really fast.

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  • dg

    Hi Nate, thanks for the great review and information!

  • Sandra

    Thanks, nice article. I'm glad you are offering your comments in written form as well as video, 'cause I can't get the audio to work on my computer.

  • Kekoa kai

    I generally prefer single origin coffee

  • Hey Nate,

    New to the blog and this was a great first post for me. I really appreciate the suggestion for trying artisan blends to begin with when first trying specialty coffees.

    This is a great blog, can't wait to read and watch more!

  • Thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to comment!

  • Hi Kekoa! I deeply appreciate single origin coffees, but blends are also a great option. What region is your favorite?

  • Yeah, some people are stuck with dial-up or unable to access video for whatever reason. I can also complete my thoughts in the written form better than on the video. Thank you for the compliment!

  • You're welcom dg, thanks for taking the time to read/watch and comment!

  • Scott

    Nate,
    Great subject. I am new into roasting and primarily roast SO's. Currently I have 5 regular coffees & 1 decaf. I am always working to refine my roast for each coffee, as well as finding the limits to each, all good fun, generally I find that SO's are all best suited at lighter roasts. I do my best not to interfere with the coffee's uniqueness, letting it stand on its own merits.
    I have experimented with blends,with some interesting results and some great results, it may sound strange, but I have a Brewmaster (beer) using a blend to make an amazing Porter, that is sold in a large restaurant/brewery locally.
    Great blog, I look forward to reading more.

  • Wow, I learned a lot in this video Nate. Great video, a quick question, you said you would recommend blends to beginners to introduce them to coffee snobbery (used only in a good way). Would it be better to give people single source coffee to help them understand the unique tastes of each region and that mixes derive from single source?

    A second question, I recently had Archer Farms Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and tasted pretty bitter via moka pot. I realize Archer Farms is a cheaper coffee, but what is Yirgacheffe supposed to taste like?

    Best,
    Jack

  • Thanks Jack! It makes me happy that people learn something from my videos 🙂 First of all, I would say 'yes', if you can have a few single origin coffees brewed at the same time, it will help the newbie taste the difference. You could also let them smell the beans, look at them, etc. The more senses you involve, the better! I only suggest a blend at first because it's typically more balanced and not a one sided flavor punching them in the face.
    Second question, regarding the Yirgacheffe…I've had a couple of Yirgs and they have been bright and citrusy…not bitter. Either the one you had (Target), was over roasted, or it could have been the grind, brew, or a combination of all of the above. I look forward to chatting in the future!

  • Thank you so much Scott! I like your view on roast profiles, let the coffee speak for itself instead of burning the unique flavors out of them! I look forward to getting more into roasting in the near future. To do it right, blends require lots of trial and precision to repeat, but when done properly, they can be amazing! Thanks for checking out my blog, and I really appreciate the compliment!

  • Rob

    I never knew about blended coffees. I am a coffee newbie. Just got my first grinder and first bag of beans. Wow it beats coffee in the can by a mile. Thanks for the videos. A coffee snob I shall soon be. 🙂

  • Rob

    I never knew about blended coffees. I am a coffee newbie. Just got my first grinder and first bag of beans. Wow it beats coffee in the can by a mile. Thanks for the videos. A coffee snob I shall soon be. 🙂

  • Rob

    Sorry. Posted the same comment twice, what a maroon!

  • Thanks for dropping in Rob! I appreciate your compliment, and the fact that you took the time to watch and read 🙂 You are on the path to coffee knowledge. Enjoy the trip, it's filled with lots of learning and great tasting coffee 😀

  • Tom

    Roasted date labeling is very important to me! I called a micro roaster recently because I found they only printed an expiration date and I was surprised. They advised the good till date was 6 months from brew date. Turns out the coffee I was looking at in this specialty market was already 3 months old! Blech!! I'll have to give the Social French Roast. Your description sounded awesome!

  • Tcashin07

    Good to hear that you like the people's daily. I had some on the way before I saw this video and now i am even more excited. Roasted On dates are truly a sign of a “good faith” relationship between the consumer and the roaster, unless of course they secretly shave off a couple days! (which hopefully is quite rare)

  • Mmm, nothing quite as delicious as 6 month old coffee 😛 I do love it when the roaster is confident, and isn't afraid to stamp the 'roasted-on' date. I really have nothing bad to say about any of Social's coffees, and I've had quite a few now 🙂 Thanks for taking time to comment!!

  • Thanks for taking the time to comment 🙂 I think fraud may pose a problem, but very rarely. I'm a huge fan of the born-on type dating, and I've never found any date fraud as of yet. If I ever did, I'd light them up on facebook, twitter, etc 😀 Let me know how you like the coffee you ordered from Social. Take care