Espresso is one of the most popular ways of brewing and drinking coffee although mostly only in cafes, because espresso machines are quite expensive and not many of us would have one at home.

What many people may not realise is that coffee beans are often roasted specifically for espresso to best suit the method of extraction, to give the best flavour and aroma.

So read on as we explore the secrets to roasting beans for espresso, and how the different roast profiles affect the end result.  

What is Espresso roast?

Before we look at what roast is best for espresso, we should probably know what we mean by espresso roast.

An espresso roast is a way of roasting green coffee beans to make them taste good when brewed as espresso. It’s not a different type of coffee, it’s just roasted a bit differently to suit the espresso extraction process.

What Colour Is Espresso Roast?

Espresso roast beans are dark in colour, almost black, and are more oily than other types of roast beans.

For espresso the beans are roasted a bit longer than regular roast beans giving them more time to develop, and the gases that naturally occur in the raw bean, like CO2 and Nitrogen, start to expand and force their way out of the bean, pushing the oils to the surface.

What Roast Is Best For Espresso?

Espresso machines were first developed in Italy, where dark roast coffee is most popular – in fact Italian Roast is always a dark roast. For that reason, traditionally dark roasts are generally used. However any roast profile can be used to make espresso depending on personal taste.

You don’t have to use dark roast for espresso, but it does tend to give the best tasting shot.

Can You Use Medium Roast For Espresso?

Although dark roasts are usually associated with espresso machines, many baristas insist that that a medium / dark roast gives the perfect cup of espresso.

With a medium / dark roast, the oils are just starting to come to the surface of the beans strengthening the crema, that light brown layer of foamed coffee on top of the espresso shot, and enhancing the bitter / sweet flavour of the shot.

Can You Use Light Roast for Espresso?

Any type or profile of roast can be used in an espresso machine, although most coffee experts say that a light roast bean is less suitable. The deep flavour compounds are not as fully developed as medium or dark roasts, and espresso made with lighter roasts will lack the richness and velvety finish you normally get with an espresso shot.

Having said that, if you usually drink your espresso with a lot of milk and syrupy flavourings, such as a latte, a caramel macchiato, or a mochachino, you will probably not notice the difference in roasts.

Does Espresso Roast Have More Caffeine?

The caffeine content in different roast types is generally about the same, and the amount of caffeine does not change much in the various stages of the roasting process.

People tend to think that a dark roast has more caffeine because it has a stronger, more bitter taste, but in fact the level of caffeine per bean is less in a dark roast than a light roast.

When you measure out coffee by weight, dark roasts will give more of a caffeine hit, but that is because dark roast beans weigh less because of greater loss of moisture than a light roast due to being roasted longer, so 12 ounces of a dark roast will involve more beans than the same weight of light roast – more beans, more caffeine.

In fact the espresso process has less caffeine than other methods of brewing coffee, because the extraction time is very short, averaging 25 seconds. Drip coffee for example has a higher caffeine content because it can take a few minutes to extract the coffee from the grounds.

How Much Caffeine in Espresso Roast?

If you are wondering how much caffeine is in a roasted espresso bean, the answer is that all beans are the same before and after roasting.

The average shot of espresso has around 40 to 50 milligrams (mg) of caffeine, whereas a 12 ounce cup of drip coffee has up to 200mg caffeine.

If drinking caffeinated coffee is a problem for you, better stick to decaf which actually has some caffeine but only about 2mg per shot, and the good news for you is that decaf still has most of the flavour and aroma of regular coffee, but without the caffeine hit.

Does a Dark French Roast Work as Espresso?

A French roast is traditionally a dark roast, but perhaps not as dark as Italian roast. This puts it at the medium / dark end of the roasting spectrum, making it ideal for espresso.

French roast was actually originally created for use in cafetieres, or the French press, since it retains most of the oils for a full bodied flavour, but has since been adopted by espresso makers.

What is the Difference Between Regular Dark Roast and Espresso Roast?

We know that dark or medium / dark are the preferred roast types for espresso, but are dark roasts and espresso roasts the same thing? The answer is, yes but not quite.

When commercial coffee roasters want to prepare beans for espresso, they have a specific roast profile in mind, which involves roasting the beans for a little longer and at a higher temperature. This increases the body of the coffee and reduces the acidity.

It may not sound much different to dark roasts, but small changes to the roasting process can make a big change to the flavour profile of the coffee when it is extracted.

How to Make Dark Espresso Roast Taste Better

Dark roasts generally have a strong, smoky, slightly burnt flavour with less acidity or ‘brightness’, since most of the chemical compounds have been roasted out of the beans.

If you are using a dark roast and it seems to be tasting too burnt or too weak and bitter, there are a couple of things you need to look at, namely the water temperature and the extraction time if you want to enhance a dark espresso roast.

Water Temperature for Espresso

Firstly, the water temperature: the ideal temperature for espresso is between 90 and 96 degrees C (195 / 205 F). If the temperature is too hot it will extract too much from the grounds, and over-extracted coffee tastes burnt and bitter. A lower brewing temperature will result in under-extraction, and the coffee will taste weak and grassy.

Extraction Time for Espresso

The extraction time is how long it takes for the water to flow through the coffee grounds, extracting the oils and flavour compounds and the colour.

The extraction time should be between 25 to 30 seconds. Longer than that the coffee will be over-extracted, and a slower time will have the opposite effect.

The way the roasted beans are ground can make a difference to the timing. Too fine a grind and the coffee will be thickly compacted, and the water will take longer to penetrate and flow through.

Too coarse a grind and the water will flow through too quickly and not extract enough from the coffee grounds.

This means that the way the coffee is ground is a major factor in the extraction process, and the grinder has to be checked regularly.

Are Starbucks the Espresso Experts?

The Starbucks chain has its detractors, and many consider it on the same level as fast food. However the truth is that Starbucks has invested heavily around the world in fair-trade coffee growing practices, imports and roasts beans from virtually every coffee growing region, and has even established their own coffee plantations in South America to experiment with new varieties and blends of beans.

This tends to make them experts in the field, and any deficiencies in your cup of coffee from your local Starbucks store are probably due to the particular barista on shift rather than the chain’s policies and products.

What Roast Does Starbucks Use For Espresso?

Starbucks have developed their own unique espresso roast, which they call Signature roast, and this is used for most of their espresso based drinks.

They also have available a light roast, called Blonde roast which again was blended and roasted just for Starbucks customers. It is not as strong as the Signature roast but suits people who want a sweeter, more mellow coffee.

A decaf roast is also served in Starbucks stores, and this is a dark roast.

Can You Use Espresso Roast for Regular Coffee?

Espresso roast beans are just coffee beans that have been blended and roasted to suit the espresso coffee brewing method.

They can still be ground and used in other brewing styles such as French Press or Drip.

What Is The Difference Between Espresso And Espresso Roast?

Espresso and espresso roast are two different things. Espresso is a popular café drink made using a special machine, where hot water and steam are forced through the coffee grounds under pressure, extracting the flavour, aroma and colour in less than 30 seconds.

Espresso is used as a base for many popular drinks such as cappuccino, latte, macchiato and mochaccino to mention just a few.

A shot of espresso is often drunk on its own in a small cup, and is known as a ‘single espresso’. This style of espresso drink is very popular in Europe, particularly France and Italy.

Espresso roast is a type of roasted coffee bean that is specially made for espresso machines. It is usually roasted longer and at a higher temperature than other types of roast, so it is darker with less acidity and more body, as well as being easier to grind.

How is Espresso Roast Different from Regular Roast

Without getting too technical, the main difference is in the solubility of the coffee grounds – that is, how much of the coffee dissolves in hot water.

How much of the coffee that dissolves, called the solubles, determines the flavour and strength of the coffee.

Espresso requires a high level of solubles since it is extracted under pressure in a short timeframe. To achieve this, the beans are roasted longer, which develops more solubles. So a lighter roast has less solubles, which in espresso results in a weaker, flatter flavour.

Drip coffee requires less solubles since the coffee is extracted over a longer period, as the grounds are ‘soaked’ rather than forced.

What Coffee Beans are Best for Espresso?

Brazil is the world’s largest producer of Arabica coffee beans, and Brazilian beans are most often found in espresso blends.

However coffee connoisseurs agree that for a perfect espresso the best beans come from Indonesia, in particular from Sumatra, where the volcanic soils adds a depth of flavour to the beans that comes through to the espresso taste as smoky, earthy and rich.

Can I Eat Espresso Beans?

Actually, coffee beans were originally eaten, and only later made into a drink. Many people now enjoy eating coffee beans, and espresso beans in particular since they are roasted longer, have less moisture and more developed flavours.

Chocolate covered espresso roast beans are quite popular but people should be careful not to eat too many – the caffeine level in the roasted bean is much higher than when they are made into a drink, and can cause heart palpitations and other health problems if over-consumed.

Final Thoughts on Espresso Roasts

Coffee lovers around the world tend to rate espresso as one of the best ways to drink their favourite beverage, and it is used as a base for most of the popular coffees served in cafes, such as cappuccino and latte.

It is always helpful to know more about coffee, so you know what makes a great espresso shot, and why sometimes it may not be so great.

Now you can impress your companions in a coffee store by asking the barista what type of roast they are using, and perhaps where the beans come from, and you can have a knowledgeable discussion about the merits of different roast profiles and their effect on the cup of espresso.

In the end the way the beans are roasted makes a difference to the flavour in the cup, and now you know more about it, it can help you to choose the coffee you like the best. Enjoy!

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