Light or Dark? By now, it’s well known that we (and many in this industry) are self-admitted light roast coffee snobs. But! Just because light roast coffees tend to highlight features and origin nuance, this does not mean lighter is always better. This can be particularly true with espresso due to its highly concentrated nature.
A coffee with pleasant acidity that makes a great pour-over will not taste the same when brewed into a concentrated demitasse. Understanding this difference is critical in roasting and blending great espresso.
Building Your Blend. Creating a blend is fun, can improve on many single origin espressos, and is a great way for small roasteries to make a name for themselves. Here are some tips as you dive in:
Know Your Beans. Before you go hog wild on blending, you should be familiar with each coffee you’re considering. Make a plan for your blend by knowing which coffees will provide acidity and nuance, and which will deliver body and sweetness. Choose a range and separately roast up small batches of each, and then cup.
All About the Ratios. Most experienced espresso blenders like our friends at St. Frank Coffee in San Francisco, caution against using more than three or four coffees. (Our Espresso Classico uses three). Any more than that and you’ll end up with muddy results. Think about it: did you ever really create a great tasting soft drink by filling up your cup with all the options from the soda fountain when you were a kid? Exactly.
Also, keep in mind that each espresso shot uses a small amount of coffee (say, 8g or so), which may only be something like 50-60 beans. If you have a blend of 6 coffees you’d need to literally count beans to achieve consistency.
Doing the Work. We suggest starting with 50% of a mild “base” coffee, 25% of another bean to boost the body, and the final 25% for a “highlight” coffee (maybe a bean with fruit or citrus notes). Brew each coffee individually, cup them individually, then start blending and experimenting by mixing those brewed coffees before pulling shots.
Roasting. Roast each coffee separately to better control the profile of each coffee. Coffees you want to bring out body and sweetness should develop a little longer, and coffees you want to showcase a sparkling highlight can develop a bit less. Roast batches to different degrees to home in on what you’re looking for in each component.
Acidity. We sometimes jokingly shame light roast espressos, but really, there’s some truth to it. An under-roasted, high-acid espresso can almost peel the enamel off your teeth. That isn’t to say we haven’t had some fantastic espressos from lighter roasts, they just tend to come from folks who work very hard at their craft (both roasting and brewing). Try to choose coffees that are generally less acidic and more balanced, and roast them well enough to tame the edges and coax out body and sweetness. You can add some higher acid coffees for highlights, but use discretion.
Base (Up to 50%)
- Brazil — dry process or pulped natural
- Africa (Ethiopia, Rwanda) — natural process
- South/Central America — low acid Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala or Costa Rica
- Sumatra or other Indonesia coffee
Accents (25% or more)
- Pretty much anything goes, but be careful with overbearing coffees. Consider fruit forward coffees or dropping the percentage if you want to use something with higher acidity.
Neutrals (Up to 15%)
- These solid options can add body and crema, but can also add unwanted grittiness.
- India Monsooned Malabar
- Robusta — high quality (yes!) washed Robusta (India, Asia, Brazil) (we will talk more about “quality” Robusta in another post)
Tinker in the lab. Roast exceptional. Share your discoveries!