Espresso is a type of very concentrated coffee brewed in small amounts, most often used in lattes and cappuccinos but also enjoyed on its own. Espresso is many times stronger than typical coffee, because it’s brewed using a smaller ratio of coffee to water.
The process for brewing espresso can involve any type and roast of beans, but when roasting the beans yourself, it’s possible to roast your beans specifically for espresso. By roasting for espresso, you can ensure your espresso has the right level of acidity, thus tasting much better. An overly-acidic espresso shot is something you definitely don’t want. Good espresso should be strong yet full and smooth.
Many people will tell you that espresso is best brewed with a dark roast. Dark roasts are definitely much bolder in flavor than other roasts, and their acidity is less than that of a light roast. In fact, there is a type of dark roast called the Espresso roast, which is considered the best for espresso.
However, I argue that a medium-dark roast is ideal for making espresso. The way I see it, if the roast is too dark, it takes away from the flavor tones in the beans that you want to have in an espresso. Italian baristas I’ve met will argue the same thing; some of them will even say that a medium roast is even better, although I worry about acidity when making espresso with a medium roast.
So, when you’re roasting your beans, you’re aiming for a medium-dark roast. The roasting process involves two distinct sets of cracks from within the beans. The first crack signifies the beginning of the light roast. At any point after the first crack, the beans are brewable. The second crack is often associated with the beginning of a dark roast, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Anywhere from the beginning to the middle of the second crack is considered a medium-dark roast.
Recognizing where the beginning, middle, and end of the second crack is takes practice, so don’t expect to get it right on your first time. There are three levels within the medium-dark roast: Full City, After Dinner, and Vienna. The Vienna roast is not only my personal favorite, it is what I consider to be ideal for espresso.
Getting to a Vienna roast exactly takes even more practice than achieving a medium-dark roast. The best way to learn is simply to practice. It is important to understand the difference in taste between Full City and Vienna. The two have very unique flavors. A Vienna roast tends to have a more uniform flavor, while Full City is much broader and definitely more acidic.
If you are looking to make espresso with a darker roast, you can keep roasting further into the second crack. Roasting further will take you into the French, Italian, and Espresso roasts. In many ways, the best roast for espresso is a matter of personal taste. Some people like to use a darker roast. Don’t be afraid to experiment and compare. That’s the most effective way to learn.