Ask the Alchemist #117

What does Single origin mean? How about single estate? Does that mean all the beans are the same?

I have to say I never considered talking about this. It seemed obvious....until I started talking with someone else and I realized that it is very much not obvious. I just took it for granted that 'single origin' just meant you didn't blend your beans. And on the surface, it is no more complicated than that.

I have a single Brazil cocoa. If you use it as it is, it is pretty clearly single origin. The origin is Brazil.

I also have two cocoa beans from the Dominican Republic. Roig and La Red. Both from very distinct regions in the Dominican Republic. If you were to make a chocolate from them blended together, from the standpoint of country, they are single origin, but you are blending, so they are not. Except I have spoken to MANY chocolate makers that use Dominican Republic beans and add cocoa butter from the Dominican Republic and call it Single Origin and no one blinks an eye at it....except it IS now a blend.

But what about Peru Tumbes? I have two different lots. If those are combined (the ARE the same region) are they single origin? In one camp, many people say yes. I would say no as it's going against the basic premise of Single Origin. Namely that you are not blending anything, regardless that they are from the same region.

Great, we are starting to nail it down. Single origin is one bean, from one region, not blended together.

Let's look back at Peru Tumbes. It is Fair Trade Certified. By definition, that means it comes from a co-op. Single farms are ineligible for Fair Trade status (by Transfair USA). The co-op (the Cooperative) buys beans from local farmers and blends them together. Do you see where this is going? In the most rigid sense, no Fair Trade bean can be Single Origin. They are mutually exclusive. But personally, I find myself drawing the line there. Or at least a line. That just feels too restrictive. I have no issue with someone calling their chocolate Single Origin Peru Tumbes, or La Red or Lamas. But some people might.

There is also something called Micro lots or Single Estate. I currently have four of these. They are from four distinct regions and kept separate. In this case, all four were produced by one company, but they were kept separate. And this distinction by implication is something special. More than Single Origin. Single Estate. So they by virtually any definition Single Origin, but are also (or can be) Single Estate.

So now we have "Single Origin is one bean, from one region, not blended together from different sub-regions".

At this point, it is a good time to remind that the Ecuador Single Estate Cedeno has FOUR bean types in it. EET 19, 95, 96, 103. So it can't be Single origin....or can it? In this case it is a natural blending. All four types of tress grow in the area. All are harvested together, fermented together and have never really been separate. For that reason, I am 100% comfortable calling this one Single Origin still. But it requires a definition update:

Single Origin is chocolate made from cocoa beans, from one region, not blended together after processing.

In that I don't know of any cocoa that is delivered in the raw state (in the pods or unfermented, wet beans) that really takes care of 'what if different separate bean types are blended before fermentation?'

And by putting that in place, I have taken care of the one other case I can think of. A while ago I had two different Single Estate offerings from the same farm. Venezuelan Patanemo and Venezuelan Patanemo 'Donaldo'. Both from the same country, region, farm and harvest. What differed was that Donaldo segregated out select pods for his own special fermentation. So in this case there were two different Single Estates from the same estate.

The coffee industry has gone through this and still goes through it. This is a good write up about coffee and how the definition has changed over time.  Looks kind of familiar doesn't it.

In the end, it comes down to intent. Or can come down to intent and what you claim. And to me at least, the specificity of what you claim nails down at what level of 'Single origin' it is.

  • Single Origin African
  • Single Origin Dominican Republic.
  • Single Origin Peru Tumbes
  • Single Origin Ecuador Cedeno
  • Single Origin Ecuador Cultivargo CCN-51
  • Single Origin Venezuelan Patanemo 'Donaldo'

To me, every single one of those is both true and self explanatory as to which definition is being used.And if we make it too the stars, maybe one day Single Origin Earth will be valid enough too.