What is the Best Coffee for Espresso?

espresso choose

Did you know that any coffee roast can be used to make espresso? Many people hold the common misconception that only extremely dark roasts and blends should be used to make espresso. I’m here to tell you it’s not actually true!

Espresso is made by forcing hot water through a compact puck of finely ground coffee and it creates a pretty strong ounce that packs a punch! A shot of espresso will contain up to 12% of actual dissolve coffee solids, whereas a cup of brewed coffee through a filtered method will contain less than 2% of these dissolved coffee solids (the rest is water). Since our taste buds detect extremely small changes in the strength of coffee, it’s not surprising that the perceived flavor of an espresso is 10x stronger than a drip coffee. You may be surprised to taste things you didn’t notice with the same coffee when you brew with a filter method. Beware though, like anything in life, too much isn’t always a good thing. Any coffee with too much strength will taste bitter to our palate. To avoid this, be sure you are using the correct amount of espresso grounds and that you aren’t pulling your shots past their prime.

Dark roasted coffees can definitely make great espresso and might bring out flavors of chocolate, burnt sugar, and tobacco: but don’t limit yourself! There are so many great medium and light roasts as well as single origins that carry an array of amazing flavor as an espresso. What coffee roasters are looking for when they create a roast that can be used as an espresso is the perfect balance between high levels of sweetness and low levels of acidity. Too much acidity in a drip coffee can leave your mouth bursting with fruit, flavor, and brightness, but too much acidity in espresso can turn the taste sour. Any single origin coffee will have a sweet spot where the acidity in the coffee drops off, and the caramelized sugars and specific tastes of the coffee varietal begin to really develop.

To find the right kind of roast for your espresso, follow these tips:

  • All over Seattle, single origins are being offered in cafes. If you have questions, look into the tasting notes! Roasts that are described as balanced and creamy or have tasting notes of chocolate, caramel, burnt sugar, nuttiness, or even dark cherry or dried fruits, will all be tasty by themselves or a pleasant addition to a latte.
  • Get creative! Any roast can be used in your espresso machine. If you enjoy espresso without any added cream or sugar, don’t be afraid to try something with brighter tasting notes as opposed to your regular dark roast.
  • “Natural” processed coffees (versus washed coffees) are favorable for espresso, because they tend to hold on to their natural sweetness.
  • Any roast labeled “espresso” was roasted with the intention of creating a flavor profile that pairs well with milk. So if you love your at-home lattes, try some of these safe-bet roasts.

Check out our Best for Espresso Coffees which include some of our favorites.

And if you are looking to try a variety, or have an espresso-loving friend, subscribe to our new Espresso Box Sampler here.