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Where Does Your Coffee Really Come From?

  • 3 min read

Single Origin? Single Estate? Region? Cooperative? Smallholder? Microlot? There’s a lot of information out there when it comes to traceability and understanding where your coffee comes from. If you’ve ever purchased a bag of specialty coffee, the chances are you’ve encountered some of these phrases on the bag. But with the popularity of specialty coffee growing rapidly, the lines are becoming increasingly blurred when it comes to understanding the journey your coffee takes before reaching your brewer. In this blog we’ll take an in-depth look at some of the common traceability phrases used on bags to help you better understand where your coffee really comes from. 

Single Origin

Single Origin can be defined as a coffee sourced from a single producer, crop or region of a producing country. Although this seems like a simple explanation, it’s a lot more complex than it seems on the surface. Single Origin is generally seen as a mark of quality, providing assurance of traceability and that the coffee is not a blend. If we look deeper, we can also use this information to depict flavour profiles, owing to the terroir of the region the coffee was grown. 

Single Estate 

A coffee labelled as Single Estate usually means that the coffee in traceable to a single farm, mill, washing station or cooperative. This is particularly common in producing countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya or Rwanda, where small holder farmers combine their crops to increase supply, or where cooperatives work together to share resources such as processing. 


Cooperatives are made of of several producers who come together to grow collectively, share resources, process and sell their coffee. This can create incredible benefits for the producers, including the ability to pool their resources, increases sustainability and steady financial growth. 


A smallholder is a farmer who produces coffee in smaller quantities, usually on land < 5 Hectares. Smallholders operating farms < 5 hectares are an essential part of the coffee supply chain, making up around 60% of the global coffee supply. Many smallholders use agroforestry to reduce production costs, diversify income and address livelihood needs.


The term micro-lot is usually used to describe small, exclusive and traceable lots of coffee. By splitting large crops in to smaller micro-lots, the farmer can gain greater control over the sorting and processing of their coffee. It can also benefit from a quality perspective as it allows the producer to identify smaller lots that are of higher quality. The smaller lots can often fetch a higher price due to this increase in quality. On the downside, micro-lots do add an extra layer of complexity, increasing the margin for error in what is already a complex process. 

Washing Station 

After harvesting, the next step in the coffee supply chain is processing. The place that this processing takes place is called the Washing Station or Wet Mill. The term is most commonly used in Africa where processing is centralised. In Africa, it’s common for coffees to be named after the washing station they were processed in, rather that the farm they were grown on. In Central & South America, the same process is carried out, but farmers are more likely to have their own washing stations or share collectively with other producers. 

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