There are many different ways coffee is grown around the world. The granularity with which we can accurately indicate how and where a coffee was grown depends on its traceability. Most commercial coffees are not kept separate during the various stages of the processing, shipping and roasting chain, which means it is very difficult to tell exactly where a bag of coffee might have come from. In some cases, it is even difficult to determine the country of origin of the coffee.
On the other end of the spectrum, specialty coffees are labeled for traceability, and it is considered a minimum requirement to know the country where the coffee was grown. In addition, many roasters offer various "levels" of single origin coffees. Roughly speaking, "single origin" simply means that the coffee comes from a single place, but it can mean anything from a single country to a single lot of coffee.
Aside from specifying the country of origin, we can take a closer look at the different types of Origins and Lots available on the market.
In addition to stating that a coffee comes from Colombia, for example, the region in which it was grown may also be indicated on the bag. This is especially true for larger growing countries like Colombia, where a coffee from the northern region of Norte de Santander may taste quite different from a coffee from the more southern region of Huila.
Single estate coffees are sometimes referred to as "single farm" and are just that: grown and processed by a single farm. Larger farms reserve the right to sell their better coffees as single estates, while selling inferior crops to larger, harder-to-find commodity lots. Therefore, buying Single Estates usually means you are buying a higher quality product.
In many African growing regions, individual farmers have much smaller operations and usually do not have their own processing facilities. Here, it is common for many small farmers to deliver their harvests to a larger cooperative, often called a washing station, where many coffees from the area are processed together.
A micro-lot goes beyond this level and refers to a single, small portion of a farmer's or cooperative's production. It may be an experimental new variety or processing method. Micro-lots receive special attention, meaning they typically consist of fewer than 50 60-pound bags and achieve cupping scores above 90 out of 100.
Nano Lots are one size smaller than Micro Lots and usually represent the crème de la crème of a farmer's or even a region's production. Rare varieties are often grown at this scale, and these 90-point plus lots may yield only a few bags.