Espresso roast is a common sight on the shelves of coffee retailers everywhere, but is there anything to these magic beans that make them suited only to the production of espresso?
Well, as any hardcore coffee enthusiast is well aware, there’s nothing in the beans that makes them “espresso beans” particularly, they could be used just as well to make regular coffee.
The term espresso does not refer to any particular bean or roasting profile necessarily, it is all in the technique of making it, but there are certainly properties associated with certain beans that make them popular with espresso drinkers.
Espresso is usually taken without milk and sweetener, so any bitterness will be blatant and so usually the darker roasts are used, as they are generally sweeter if brewed correctly. It is usually the highest quality beans that go into an espresso too, as inferiority manifests itself more obviously in a little shot of the strong stuff than in a cup of drip coffee made with cream and sugar.
Here are a couple of great espresso roasts that we particularly like. Click through for Amazon pricing.
- Kicking Horse Coffee, Cliff Hanger Espresso, Medium Roast
- Valhalla Java Whole Bean Coffee by Death Wish Coffee Company, Fair Trade and USDA Certified Organic
So What Actually Is Espresso Roast?
Within the roasting profiles you can buy a range of roasts ranging from light to dark. Some roasters label their super-dark roasts as espresso roasts although this is not a hard and fast rule.
More often than not the espresso roast label is just another step in the darkness profile of the roasted coffee bean.
What About Espresso Blends?
Unfortunately there are some companies that put together espresso roasts or “blends” as a marketing ploy, so the integrity of the place you’re getting the beans from is key to working out what you’re getting. If you trust your dealer, then the espresso roast may well be an interesting blend put together with thought and care, but if you’re getting it anywhere other than a reputable coffee seller, you might well be disappointed.
The two companies we featured above are highly regarded, well respected, and receive the best reviews from customers and industry professionals alike. Some beans are just better for espresso for various reasons – some are even better suited for making better crema, an expected part of any espresso based drink.
Cheaper bags of espresso beans may be worth skipping, especially the pre-ground espresso because it may be a mixed bag of lower quality beans… not to mention it is pre-ground and not nearly as fresh as one would want for an espresso machine.
While it is possible that the blend in a bag labelled ‘espresso roast’ is a blend of high quality beans selected for their flavor and properties, it is more likely that it contains a mixture of cheap beans with the high quality ones, giving bad espresso and only there to beef up the shelf space of that particular brand.
To keep this to a minimum, try to buy your coffee from people you trust, although the people you trust most likely won’t even sell anything labelled in such a way and many of them will be roasting the beans in house anyway.
What Do I Look For If Not A Bag Marked ‘Espresso Roast’?
It would be remiss to write about what doesn’t get you a good espresso without giving you some tips on what else to look for.
Firstly, the most important thing to look for when buying any beans is freshness. If you’re buying old coffee, you’re losing quality, so check the dates on the packet, a coffee producer selling fresh beans is one who knows what it’s doing. Usually with espresso you’re looking for dark Arabica roasts that are shiny, not dull, and a little oily. Many roasters will stamp the date the beans were roasted right on the bag so you know it’s fresh.
There are regional differences though, and although you’ll get a dark roast in California, on the East Coast you’ll often get light roast espressos and in Italy they generally prefer medium roast, so don’t be afraid to experiment, you might find you just happen to live in the wrong area for your coffee tastes – but don’t worry, good espresso is worth emigrating for.