Secret # 1: Espresso Terminology Misnomers
There is no such thing as an espresso tree that grows espresso beans
There is also no such thing as an espresso roast
Whether you’ve purchased chocolate covered espresso beans from your local grocery store, or bought a bag of espresso beans from that cute barista at your café, don’t be fooled by the name. Your beans did not come from an espresso tree. This is a myth. There is no espresso tree that grows espresso beans (or, technically, espresso cherries from which we remove the seeds that are processed into beans). Espresso is a drink that results from pushing water through coffee under pressure. To be more specific, it would be pushing nearly boiling water through finely ground and compacted coffee under pressure–usually around 9 bars. There is no one type of bean that can be ground and compacted to create espresso. Any coffee can be roasted, ground, dosed, tamped, and pulled as a shot of espresso. Some just taste better than others.
What is this product then that companies are calling “espresso beans”? While not always the case, chocolate covered espresso beans tend to be cheaper beans that would make a terrible cup of coffee, but when slathered with chocolate become delightfully palatable. If the makers roast the beans dark enough, you will only end up tasting the dark roasted flavor under all that chocolate. The espresso beans that are used to pull shots of espresso are either single origin (coming from one region), or blends (coming from many regions). While the specialty coffee world (including us) has fawned over single origin coffee for Pourovers, Drips, Alternative Brew Devices, etc., the same cannot be said about espresso. Beans get blended for Espresso to complement each other and to bring unique flavors to the shot. This is not to say that single origin espresso can’t be great, but it is a very different experience to taste the characteristics of one bean and requires some explanation on the barista’s part to walk the customer through the experience. Coffee geeks, like us, spend lots of time experimenting with different beans and different roasts blended in different percentages. One bean may be chosen for its nutty or fruity notes, another for its contribution to the crema, and another for its level of juiciness or acidity.
Finally, there is no such thing as an espresso roast. Different people and different cultures may tell you they enjoy a darker roast for their espresso, but that doesn’t mean that beans chosen to be used for an espresso should be roasted dark. In fact many companies blend beans that have been roasted to different levels. The bottom-line, espresso beans can be any bean, or any combination of beans, roasted to any level. Next time you are at Crop to Cup’s Brew Bar order an espresso, ask the barista what beans are in it, what level they were roasted to, and see if you can pick out the complex flavors!
Knowing is half the battle…