All coffee beans, whether branded as espresso, blend or single origin, are grown in the same way - on coffee trees in locations with optimal growing conditions. So what exactly makes ‘espresso beans’ ‘espresso beans’? Espresso is simply a brew method, however, the beans play an important role in the quality of shots pulled, among other factors including equipment and technique.
The nature of espresso extraction itself - exposing finely ground beans to high water temperatures & pressure in a short time span - magnifies the flavor profile of the beans, exaggerating flaws as well as showcasing the best notes.
Traditionally, espresso has been made using blends. One of the many reasons that coffee roasters create espresso blends is because they believe that they are able to achieve a more well-balanced shot when the characteristics of different beans compliment each other. Blends aim to hide undesirable bean characteristics while highlighting others. However, that doesn’t mean that a single origin espresso (SOE) isn’t capable of achieving the same harmony on it’s own, it just takes a special bean.
You have probably tasted at least one ‘traditional’ shot of espresso in your life. The flavor profile of what I consider a good ‘traditional’ espresso is what you would find in a typical Italian cafe. These are darker roasted beans that when extracted via the espresso brew method produce a bold mouthfeel, with rich & nutty tasting notes and a distinct bittersweet finish. I’ve pulled shots of both blends and SOEs that yield the traditional espresso flavor profile.
Lately speciality coffee in the U.S. has trended towards bright, fruity and more complex espresso flavor profiles. To achieve this profile I prefer single origin beans, especially from Ethiopia. The espresso brew method for single origin Ethiopian beans highlights the sweetness of the citrusy tasting notes while balancing the acidity with a smooth finish. Of course, there is a smaller window for error when pulling a SOE shot. Technique can vary widely to pull the perfect shot when it comes to dose, grind size, brew temperature, extraction time & yield. But then again, the same variation (albeit probably less) can apply to blends.
I’m not here to tell you that one is better than the other. It’s possible to get great shots from both SOEs and blends, but ultimately it’s a matter of personal preference and technique. As always, we hope you found this interesting and would love to hear any thoughts you have on the topic in the comments below. Special thanks to Meka Coffee SD for the beautiful photo we used for this blog post.
♥ Peace Love and Coffee, Joan & David