Hey people. I have a favor to ask. Stop Messing with My Espresso. Ok? I have not had a decent shot of espresso from a local coffee shop in – I don’t know how long. I used to take my normal drink (a large, quad americano) straight-up black. Sure, I might deviate and add something when I visit national chains. Lately, however, the taste of the espresso at any given coffee shop – locally owned or national chain – requires me to add cream. Period.
So, I say this again: Stop Messing with My Espresso!
What happened to Espresso?
Second wave era American espresso was always a blend of a darker roast. Now that we’re in the era of third-wave American coffee, roasters tend to be a bit more liberal and experimental with their espresso. When I enter any given locally-owned coffee shop, I almost always end up with a light to medium roasted espresso.
Even worse, at said coffee shops, I used to find a blend of Indonesian and African (or possibly Central American) beans harmoniously blended and balanced. Now that’s simply not the case. Most coffee shops and roasters (specifically third wave and locally-owned shops) will use a single origin bean. Yeah – that’s not espresso! That isn’t espresso at all!
Don’t get me wrong, I love single origin coffees!
Let me back up and say a few things in defense of (so-called) third-wave coffees. Sometimes it’s refreshing to try something new. Sometimes you get that one bean, and you’re like: “Hey, I wonder how this tastes when brewed as espresso.” After all, the nuances of an individual bean can taste marvelous! I remember scouring the city for Ethiopian Harrar (by the way, not cool, Starbucks!). The Kopi Luwak beans I bought in Bali were so incredible, I wanted to scream in joy as I savored their greatness. And Yemen mocha? More like Yummen Mocha! I selfishly must say the civil war must end soon so that supplies of this sacred and delicious bean are more readily available.
That being said, just because I love Ethiopian Harrar or Yemen Mocha or Kopi Luwak coffees, I don’t necessarily want these coffees as espresso. The espresso maker rushes the water through the grounds as fast as possible. This means that even though the grind of the coffee is fine, there’s not a lot of flavor extraction. Instead, methods like pour-over, the coffee press, the AeroPress, and even an automatic drip gives a greater flavor yield than an espresso maker. The water in non-espresso brewing methods makes contact with the grounds longer than the water on espresso. More oil extractions happen, and we get more flavor. Contrast that with the espresso-maker. Running a single origin, particularly one with such tender nuances as your average third wave bean just seems wasteful!
Why are blends better for espresso?
Espresso should taste bold. Espresso should also taste balanced! Bold but balanced seems oxymoronic, but it’s more of a juxtaposition. We taste the boldness, but the boldness does not take full control of our palettes. With bold flavors, we also taste weaker flavors. We taste a few flowery undertones with the strong, cherry overtones. That is the balance that makes great espresso. This balance is hard to find in single-origin coffees. Single-origin coffees should not be balanced. Single-origin beans should present a full-on, unapologetic flavor (with subtle nuances that we barely taste). There are a few exceptions, Some single-origin coffees when roasted properly, make excellent espresso. For the most part, however, blends just make espresso better!
By the way, undertones and nuances are not the same. Undertones are not subtle, they are fully present. Nuances, however, are extremely subtle and almost nonexistent. We can barely taste nuances. We must savor the coffee to find the nuances, but the undertones are immediately recognized.
Stop messing with my espresso roasts!
Another feature of third-wave beans that just does not work for espresso: the roast. I realize this is entirely subjective (heck, most of this article is pretty subjective), but espresso should be DARK!!! I mean so dark you can’t see through the glass! So espresso should be so dark, you feel like you’re looking into the deep abyss of a bottomless pit! Ok, perhaps that last part was a bit hyperbolic, but yeah. I like it dark! Espresso just tastes better when it’s darker than Mitch McConnel’s soul. While I in no way believe the Italians perfected espresso, there’s a reason Italian espresso is so dark. It just tastes better.
The darker a coffee is roasted, the more subtle nuances it will loose. This is why so many single-origin beans come in medium to light roast. The nuanced flavors of the beans are too delicate for a darker roast. The coffee tastes like burnt crap if you roast certain beans too dark because all you get are the bolder flavors coupled with a burnt taste.
For the record, third-wave coffee shops aren’t the only ones messing with roasts. Starbucks now serves a blonde roast. Gag me with a spoon! Seriously, Starbucks blonde roast is the most disgusting coffee I’ve tasted this side of Folger’s.
You can still experiment with coffee!
I want to emphasize this point: Do not be afraid to experiment with coffee. Even I sometimes run a single origin bean through my home espresso maker just to see what it tastes like. Sometimes the coffee tastes excellent. Other times, the coffee tastes like crap. It all depends on the bean. As I already stated, the beans with subtle nuances won’t work right. The beans with a more balanced flavor, however, might work well.
Of course, you can experiment with roast as well. Feel free to run a lighter roast through your espresso maker if you must. I wish you well in this endeavor. However, I do not wish to partake – thank you very much.
But seriously, stop messing with my espresso!
This article is not in criticism of third-wave era American coffee (aka the global coffee movement). I realize my tastes will deviate from yours. However, maybe we can at least get a compromise here? Maybe Coffee shops might offer two options for espresso. I could walk up to the bar and request, say, my shots from a Vietnamese single-origin. Or, perhaps I might want a standard espresso blend with a proper roast. Maybe the freedom of choice should be what we move towards in coffee culture. Maybe this will bring us a more harmonious coffee culture. Sure, coffee shops will need to buy another grinder – so as not to pollute the different beans amongst each other. With that in mind, a small equipment investment will make more of your costumers happy. And I’ll stop yelling “STOP MESSING WITH MY ESPRESSO!” at the mustached baristas.