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Dear Hipster:

You’ve mentioned single-origin espresso a few times in your answers. What does that mean? (Tell your friends to whom you just read my letter to stop snickering.)

— Jess

It means you only get your coffee at Starbucks.

No, not really. But ’Bucks has dabbled in single-origin fever of late. For the discerning hipster, an unqualified shot of espresso no longer suffices, and single-origin beans are the only truth you need to know when ordering. You can think of “single-origin” coffee (or chocolate, or other commodities) as having something like an AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée), the well-known French standard for agricultural products, whereby geographical origins are certified and guaranteed with a government stamp of approval. AOC control is serious business in France, but “single-origin” occupies a broader range of meaning than it sounds. It could refer to coffee from one country, a region of a country, a single farm, or any number of those things. The belief, among new-wave coffee roasters in the U.S. (and other parts of the world to a much lesser degree) is that coffee beans grown and harvested under specific geographic and climatological circumstances will exhibit a kind of terroir, a specific character that reflects the time and place of their provenance.

There’s truth in that, so you can nod approvingly when your favorite barista urges you to look for the “rich twigs-and-berries flavor, with hints of Pine Sol, tapioca pudding, and marmoset” in your cup of Balinese kopi luwak.

Great trivia: the phrase “single-origin” originally referred to an evolutionary theory about the common ancestor of humankind, but using it for coffee is much more widely applicable, don’t you think?

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