Tuesday, July 18, 2006


do you ever wonder where people get their lingo? in our industry, people bandy about terms that sound so hip, so in the know and sometimes they are actually pretty silly sounding when you stop to think about them.

here's one of my favorites: origin. people talk traveling to coffee producing countries as though they were mecca: "have you ever been to origin?" as though "origin" were one place. as though it were some sort of singular experience. i for one don't like to use that term. it seems to me to be sort of condescending toward the folks who live and work around the process of growing and exporting coffee. a phrase "the people in origin" (which i don't think i've heard anyone ever use, but still...) just feels like some sort of white man's burden toward the struggling third world. i have never really adopted that term and i don't intend to ever use it. i think i will speak of them as coffee producing countries, regions, people, not just lump them into the bland, "origin."

another one i hear is "single-origin" to define coffees from one country. but this is equally obfuscating since a country can be as hazy a definition as a blend. many coffee purveyors are content to slap on a country name and call it swell. "this is our tanzania. there is our peru." this is untenable, i believe, in our evolving and sophisticating industry. for one, some countries cover a large geographical swath; others have unbelievably varied climates and microclimates that make country designations near meaningless. does this take us in the direction of refining definitions further down to the micro level? in the vein of jonathan swift, i have a modest proposal of my own on reidentifying the term, "single-origin."

sf: single farm
sc: single co-op
sr: single region (could be a co-op or less well defined group)
ss: single slope on a particular farm
se x-y: single elevation range between x and y

etcetera... it sounds obtuse, doesn't it? but hey, those of us who really geek out about a, ahem, single origin espresso shot should be game to take the game just a little bit further, to run just that much farther down the rabbit hole. i'm certain farmers "in origin" classify and designate their coffees thusly. (i seem to recall hearing tell how one farm keeps track and cups separately coffees from different parts of their farm: north slope versus south; 1500m versus 1800+m; pulped natural versus wet processed, and so forth. copious notes taken on all of those quantifiers ostensibly helps them produce the best product they can. why should we be the flippant and weak link in that chain by simply settling for "single-origin" designators?

just a thought.


At Wednesday, 19 July, 2006, Anonymous Stephen Leighton said...

Got to disagree with you here I'm afraid my friend. I use the term going to origin, or been to origin, not in a disrespectful way at all (and I use it a lot). Its meant more as this special magical place, that’s kind of like a full circle for a roaster to do, touching the plants meeting the people who work with the product you work with every day for a similar amount of time just a year later.

But I've had enough air time here, love the idea of terms.

At Wednesday, 19 July, 2006, Blogger blanco said...

i hear you, steve. i guess my point was less that we are condescending and more that we seem to collect everyone out there who is growing coffee around this great big planet of ours into the one term "origin." here in texas if you're getting up to go get something from the kitchen, people say, "oh, would you get me a coke?" your response had better be, "what kind?" meaning, do you want coke, sprite, diet coke, root beer, orange soda, or what? "coke" is the generic term.

i just think "origin" sounds too generic and we owe these people, farms better than just to lump them all in together.

let's build on that term and refine it to mean something more specific in our industry that is getting more and more specific and sophisticated.

just a thought.

At Wednesday, 19 July, 2006, Anonymous Stephen Leighton said...

I think that it covers a wide church. If I say to you I'm off to South America, it doesn’t really say what i want it to. If I say I'm of to origin to Nicaragua then you know why I’m going to south America, does that make sense? It’s not only saying I'm going some where but somewhere with a reason.

I think the origin term is about what we are there to do more than where we are going, or is that just me?

At Wednesday, 19 July, 2006, Blogger blanco said...

fair enough my friend. it can be a weighty term pregnant with meaning. it is certainly easier to ask, "have you ever been to origin?" than, "have you ever been to mexico, honduras, el salvador, costa rica, panama, guatemala, etc., etc., for the purposes of coffee?" in that sense you are right on.

i guess i just read the forums and the blogs and too many people use it too flippantly and with seemingly too little regard for the bean...or, as importantly, for the people who care for the bean before it gets to us.

you are not of that group, steve. i hereby grant you a free pass to use the term "origin" any time you please. :) anybody else had better check with me first, dang it!!!

At Wednesday, 19 July, 2006, Anonymous Stephen Leighton said...

Thanks man :) I agree it can be used flipantly but most of the good guys do give it lots of respect.

At Thursday, 30 November, 2006, Anonymous Edwin Martinez said...

I spend half the year in origin. Bellingham, Washington U.S.A. to be more specific. It is a magical place with gluttonous amounts of milk and syrup.

At "origin" we talk about how our lives rely on what happens at origin.... where demand originates.

At Thursday, 30 November, 2006, Blogger blanco said...

rock on, edwin! way to revive a months old debate in my mind.


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