What We Mean By “Good For Espresso”

Only some coffees come with our “Good for Espresso” recommendation, and here’s why.

If you’re like me, you want to try every coffee as espresso. No coffee is too bright or fruity to give a run through my machine. But I don’t think the same can be said for the majority of espresso drinkers! Because of this, I try to keep in mind when writing reviews that I’m not the target audience. Hopefully this post provides some context to how we come up with our espresso recommendations. -Dan

For our customers chasing the perfect single origin espresso, we do our best to point you in the right direction. You may have noticed “Good for Espresso” in the short descriptions, or perhaps you use our link to current espresso recommendations in the Green Coffee menu drop down. Whatever the case, not all coffees are created equal, and there are certain criteria we consider when looking for the best ones for espresso extraction.

What makes a good espresso is a pretty subjective question, but I’d venture to say there is middle ground to be found across the espresso flavor spectrum. Whether you enjoy fruited and wild, or bitter and mild, how well a shot is perceived has a lot to do with the interplay of bitter and sweetness in the cup. But flavor is only one part of what’s enjoyable about espresso, the other part being tactile appeal.

See the full list of "Good for Espresso" coffees via the link in the Green Coffee drop-down menu under the "Shop by Type" category at the right of the menu.
See the full list of “Good for Espresso” coffees via the link in the Green Coffee drop-down menu under the “Shop by Type” category at the right of the menu.

In order to make the cut for our recommendation, a coffee has to take well to darker roasting. Bitter is good to a point, and works well as a base that cuts through milk in a cappuccino. Sweetness should be present too, the degree to which will vary from one coffee to the next. Some fruit or acidity are OK, but we generally shy away from coffees like Kenyas with screaming vibrance, or dry process Ethiopias with over the top fruit. And viscosity of the espresso itself has to be pleasing in mouthfeel.

Answers to some common questions about how we categorize a coffee as “Good for Espresso”:

Which coffees are best for espresso?

The answer will differ from one customer to the next, but the ones we tend to lean towards for our recommendations have big body, mild to moderate acidity (“Brightness” on our cupping spider graph), and heavy chocolate roast flavors when developed to Full City/Full City+.

Do all the coffees you recommend for espresso taste the same?

Absolutely not! But they most fit the criteria laid out in the previous answer, but have their own unique flavor profile. We try to include notes on the espresso profile for all coffees we recommend, but do fall short from time to time.

All green coffees that we recommend as espresso will have "Good for Espresso" at the end of the short description on the landing page.
All green coffees that we recommend as espresso will have “Good for Espresso” at the end of the short description on the landing page.

Do you test every coffee on your menu as espresso?

We do not. We can usually tell if a coffee will work well as espresso or not when cupping it. All of our reviews are based off of 2 or 3 different roast levels, and the darker roast is provides a lot of information on how a coffee might perform as espresso.

Does a good espresso require blending?

No. You can enjoy these coffees as espresso without having to blend them. We base our espresso recommendations on how a coffee tastes on its own, what’s referred to as a “single origin espresso”, or “SO” for short. What blending does allow you to do is construct a flavor profile you couldn’t otherwise achieve with a single coffee. Check out our Blending Basics page for more on that topic.

What about coffees that don’t have your espresso recommendation, does that mean they’re bad for espresso?

Not necessarily! We recommend coffees that we think will have the widest appeal, which to some extent means “safe”. But if you like dry process Ethiopia, for example, and are a fan of espresso, there’s a good chance you’ll like it as espresso, even though it doesn’t have our official approval. We encourage you to be adventurous!

The spider and radar cupping graphs in Sweet Maria's green coffee reviews.
I can tell just by looking at these graphs that this Guatemalan coffee should make a chocolatey, big-bodied espresso with mild acidity.

I want to look for other espresso options on your list that aren’t necessarily recommended. Where should I start?

Most of the information you need to get some idea of how a coffee will perform as espresso is in our reviews. We parse out cup characteristics relevant to espresso extraction, like mouthfeel and sweetness, in the Cupping Notes tab. Our spider and radar graphs also give a good visual representation of how different cup characteristics or flavors rate. As a general rule of thumb, stick to coffees with a “Body” score of at least 8.5 on the spider graph and 3.5 on the radar graph. I also look for coffees with a “Cocoa” category score of around 3.5, and a “Sweetness” category score of 8.5 or higher. If you find bright, sharpness in espresso unpleasant, a “Brightness” category (the acidic impression) score of 8.0 or less should be safe, though dark roasts round off the acidity quite a bit, even in the flavor profile of a coffee with a “Brightness” score of 8.5. These numbers aren’t rigid rules, but a general baselines to help guide your search.

Do I need to roast espresso differently than I roast my coffee for brewing?

This depends on how you like your espresso. I tend to roast coffee light for brew, and darker for espresso. Developing a roast into the Full City/Full City+ territory will boost body and round off the acidic bite, which to me, makes for a more pleasing shot of espresso in the end. Our espresso recommendations are always made based on a Full City roasts and beyond. This doesn’t mean you won’t find the acidic vibrance that comes with lighter roasted espresso appealing. I do, though I personally don’t think it pairs well with milk.

Pulling a ristretto shot using the Flair Classic model portable espresso maker
Pulling a ristretto shot using the Flair Classic model portable espresso maker.

Will all of your espresso recommendations produce a really nice crema?

The amount of crema you yield in a shot has as much to do with method (roast level, grind particulates, tamp, etc) as it does the coffee itself. Sure, certain coffee types and post harvest process methods are more conducive to creating that lush, golden layer of emulsified coffee oils. But crema doesn’t necessarily signal “goodness” in espresso, and some espresso drinkers go as far as skimming the bittering layer off altogether before drinking!

Where can I find the espresso recommendation on your website?

You can see the entire list of coffees tagged espresso in our green coffee menu drop down, under the “Shop by Type” list, and selecting “Good for Espresso”. But we also add the “Good for Espresso” note at the end of the short description on the landing page for each coffee, and on the physical coffee labels.

Other espresso resources:

Have a look at our current list of espresso recommendations HERE.

Interested in the basic fundamentals of espresso? Check out Espresso: All Things Espresso

We go over some espresso blending basics Choosing the Right Coffee for Espresso

We offer our own espresso blends HERE.

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