Every avid coffee drinker knows that nothing compares to an adequately prepared shot of espresso. The intense flavor and the crema combine together to provide you with an exceptional experience as you sip on your favorite beverage. In addition to picking the right espresso machine, another question usually arises: What coffee do you use for espresso? How can you prepare the perfect espresso shot?
The simple answer is that it depends on your taste! If you want a stronger flavored lower caffeine espresso, we recommend using a darker Italian or French roast. These are the traditional coffee choices for espresso. If you want a lighter more smooth flavor, we recommend using a light roast coffee. Light roast coffee also has more caffeine in it.
But if you’re asking these questions, you’ve come to the right place. Keep on reading to learn more about choosing the right coffee for your espresso. We’ll go into all the different types you can choose depending on your tastes and needs.
Let’s get started.
How is Espresso Made?
Espresso machines use pressure to shoot near-boiling water over finely ground coffee beans to give you a rich, complex, and aromatic flavor. Compared to brewed coffee, espresso contains more dissolved coffee, hence the stronger taste and aroma.
Contrary to common belief, darker roasts aren’t the only roasts used to pull espresso shots. As a matter of fact, any roast can be used to prepare espresso.
Author Note: However, people have always enjoyed the extra-strong flavor of espresso and expect only very dark roasts to be used. This is why most cafés use a special blend for espresso, and not the one used to prepare filter coffee. The blend is usually darker and stronger.
Similarly, if you’re preparing your espresso shots at home, you will likely use a darker roast because espresso has a richer and stronger taste than regular filter coffee. Moreover, when you’re adding cream to your espresso shot to prepare a latte or a cappuccino, you need a darker roast to balance the taste and creaminess of the milk.
Making espresso, however, takes more time and finesse (have you ever temperature surfed before?) than drip coffee.
Should I Always Use a Dark Roast to Prepare my Espresso?
People use darker roasts for espresso because they add the needed body and velvety taste and texture. Nevertheless, this is not a rule. You can use your favorite roast, and your espresso would taste just fine, as long as this is the taste you prefer.
Moreover, there are different shades and degrees of darkness. Very dark roasts can be too intense for some people. If you don’t like bitter coffee, you should pick a lighter roast.
Espresso Beans: What Are They?
Although some roasts are marketed as special espresso blends, other roasts and blends would work just fine. The way the coffee is brewed or prepared will determine its taste, not the name on the packet. Here are some of the features of the beans you can use to prepare your espresso.
- The less the acidity, the better the flavor will be.
- Espresso beans should give you the required body and aroma of the perfect espresso shot.
- The beans used should provide you with a rich crema.
An espresso bean is rich in oils and will have a shiny surface. When these oils are emulsified, they produce the crema on top of your espresso shot. When the beans are too dark and contain a lot of oil, they can clog up your grinder, and your shot will taste too bitter.
What Coffee Do You Use for Espresso?
Choosing the right beans for your espresso depends on 2 factors; the type and roast.
The most common type of coffee beans is Arabica. Arabica beans are less acidic and have a smooth flavor. They’re grown in several parts of the world, including Brazil, Ethiopia, and India.
The coffee beans grown in Brazil are known to have low acidity and are usually more expensive. Nevertheless, coffee lovers don’t mind paying a higher price to enjoy a smoother and more delicate taste.
Robusta coffee beans are usually stronger and are usually combined with Arabica beans to create a balanced flavor and to decrease the cost. In some cases, high-quality Robusta beans are sold as single-origin beans for those who prefer a stronger taste. They contain more caffeine and might have hints of rum and chocolate flavors.
Liberica beans are rarer to find than the other two. They grow in very specific climates and have a woody taste with hints of fruity and floral flavors. Grown mainly in Southeast Asia, Liberica beans were once popular but are currently hard to find as they’re replaced by the widely-grown Arabica and Robusta beans.
In most cases, Arabica beans are used to prepare espresso shots. They’re sometimes combined with Robusta beans to enhance the flavor.
During the roasting process, heat is used to expel the moisture and transform the chemical compounds found in the green coffee beans. Once the right roasting stage is reached, the beans are immediately cooled down to stop the roasting process.
Roasted beans have a strong flavor and should be used as soon as possible to maintain the rich aroma. Proper storage and handling will impact how the beans will taste when used to prepare coffee.
Light roasts aren’t usually used to prepare espresso. The more roasted the beans, the stronger and more natural their flavor will be.
The beans are heated for a short period and end up having a pale shade of brown. Once they reach a temperature between 350°F and 400°F, the beans are cooled off. They crack to show that the moisture is expelled, but they would still have an acidic flavor, closer to the taste of green beans. They also contain the biggest amount of caffeine.
Espresso shots should have a strong taste, although they don’t have to be bitter. Using a lighter roast to prepare espresso will lead to a disappointing result. The resulting shot would be rather flat and would lack the richer body and texture that you should expect from an espresso shot.
Author Note: Furthermore, lighter roasts don’t have oil covering the surface of the beans. As a result, they won’t produce the desirable crema that espresso lovers appreciate and love.
Medium roasts are usually heated between 410°F and 430°F. However, they have a slightly sweet aftertaste, so they work for people who don’t want their coffee to be too strong or too bitter.
Some people prefer medium roasts because they’re not as acidic as lighter roasts, and are still mild. The beans are darker than the light roast beans, and they provide less caffeine.
If you want to enjoy your espresso, but aren’t a big fan of the extra-strong flavor, you can try medium-dark roasts. The Full City roast has just a little oil on the surface of the beans, so they don’t produce the distinctive crema.
Medium-dark roasts provide a richer body and more fullness. They’re not as flat as lighter roasts and are still less bitter than dark roasts.
Darker roasts can be heated up to 470°F and are usually used to prepare espresso. The beans have shiny surfaces because they’re covered in natural oils, and they have a distinctively bitter taste. They turn almost black after the beans are exposed to higher heat for longer periods. For most people, dark roasts can be too intense.
There are different degrees of dark roasts that run from slightly dark to charred. Italian or French roasts are quite popular. The difference between Italian and French roasts is that the beans in the Italian roasts tend to be darker. They will also have a more oily appearance with less caffeine content.
Author Note: In some cases, you might find a special espresso blend that offers the right degree of darkness. Very dark beans can be too strong or too bitter. However, choosing the right coffee beans is always a matter of personal taste.
Tips for Preparing the Best Espresso Shot
It’s easy to learn how to brew the perfect espresso shot. After picking the right coffee beans, there are a few things that you need to take into consideration.
- Always grind your coffee beans right before use. This will guarantee the best and richest taste for your espresso shot.
- Clean the grinder and portafilter before every use. Darker coffee beans are covered in oil, which can clog your grinder and affect the quality of the espresso you prepare.
- Use chlorine-free or bottled distilled water if you can. Hard water will have a negative effect on the taste of your espresso.
- Grind the beans to allow for an extraction time between 20 and 30 seconds. The less the time, the lighter and weaker the taste will be. Longer extraction periods will make your espresso too bitter and too strong.
- Preheat your machine, cup, and a portafilter. This will guarantee that your extraction won’t be cooled down when you’re pulling the shot.
- Add the grounds to the portafilter, making a dense puck that allows for even and consistent extraction.
Even if you’re not an experienced barista, you can still pull an ideal shot of espresso. Although any roast can be used to prepare espresso, people have always preferred darker roasts because they provide the desired body, richness, aroma, and flavor that you should expect from an espresso shot.
However, if you’re not a big fan of the bitterness of dark roasts, you can always experiment with medium-dark roasts. These would still provide a velvety taste, without the extra bitterness.
Stay caffeinated friends!