Do you have to use Dark Roast to make Espresso?

Coffee Bean

This is a post by Kris Silvey.

…….Thanks to him for the knowledge & experience shared with us.…..

Opening the door to a coffee shop is a flurry of sensations. The soft chatter from
patrons, the sound of typing on their laptops, and the tantalizing aroma of coffee
make up the aura of a good coffee shop.

Traditionally espresso is made from dark roast coffee. This is because the dark
roast gives the drink a thick body and bittersweet flavor, without adding too much

But is this always true?

The answer is no! While many coffee shops use only dark roasted beans for their
espresso drinks, it doesn’t mean that other roasts can’t be used as well. Many
coffee aficionados prefer the taste of a medium or light roast when making

For years, I only had espresso made from dark roast. Until the day I walked into
Just Love Coffee. After chatting with the barista for a while, he offered me an
espresso shot made from their signature light roast. I was a bit apprehensive at
first, but he assured me it would be worth it. He was right! The sweet flavors and
smooth taste gave me a whole new perspective on espresso.
Let’s look into why you should give light roast espresso a try.

How Does Roasting Affect Coffee?

A good cup of espresso starts with the beans, and the roast is a key factor in the
flavor. When coffee beans are roasted, they lose moisture content and crisp up.
If these beans are roasted too much or too long, the sugars inside will caramelize
and become concentrated. The resulting drink will be more bitter instead of

The longer beans are roasted, the darker they become. But did you know that
there are two “cracks” that occur during the roasting process? The first crack is
loud and is when the heat turns the sugars inside the beans into caramel. The
second crack is quieter, but cranking up the heat during this time causes
carbonization, changing the taste of your coffee.

Espresso Machine Requirements

Most espresso machines have a specific extraction temperature around 195°.
However, the perfect brewing temperature varies from device to device,
depending upon the type of coffee beans, how long it’ll be brewed for, and the
grind size.

If you’re using dark roast coffee beans for your espresso, the initial brewing
temperature will be around 195° – 205°. If you’re using light roasted coffee beans,
the initial brewing temperature might be as high as 208°.
You need a higher temperature for light roast because the lighter the roast, the
more dense and less porous the coffee beans. They need a slightly higher
temperature to diffuse water into all of those tiny spaces that would otherwise
hold onto some of the oils.

What Makes a Good Espresso

Three ingredients are needed to make a good espresso – coffee beans, water,
and an espresso machine. A good espresso has a thick crema (the signature
dark foam) at the top of the drink. Crema is created when the oils and the carbon
dioxide in the beans come together and create a foam.

The flavor should be strong – not too bitter, sour, or burnt. Each shot of espresso
is made with 7-8 grams of coffee and produces about 30 mL of rich coffee.
Espresso is all about the extraction process. Unlike other brewing methods,
pressure is used to extract flavor from the coffee beans. With 9 bars of pressure,
the extraction process is quick, creating a creamier texture in shorter periods of
time (between 20-30 seconds).

When to use Dark Roast for Espresso

Dark roast is usually used for making espresso because of its bold flavors.
Espresso machines pull water heated to a higher temperature at a higher
pressure – which results in a more intense flavor. And dark roasts, as their name
suggests, typically have stronger, darker flavors than lighter roasts.

Dark roast espresso is great for making specialty drinks. Specialty drinks require
a pronounced flavor because ingredients such as syrup, chocolate, and milk are
added to espresso. This makes them great for making lattes and cappuccinos.

When to use Medium Roast for Espresso

Medium roast coffee is recommended for espresso when you want to have a
lighter flavor profile. This way, the flavors of the beans can shine through and
create a smoother and more subtle flavor.

Medium roast beans are great for adding milk to your espresso, creating the
perfect café au lait. Because of their subtler flavors, medium roasted coffee
blends well when you add in other ingredients.

The flavor in medium roasts is less smokey when making specialty drinks.
Medium-roasted beans are a popular espresso choice – especially if you want to
enjoy the coffee’s flavor rather than simply its strength.

When to use Light Roast for Espresso

Light roast is the most ideal option for coffee lovers who want a brighter and
sweeter taste. A light roast espresso will have a more delicate and aromatic
flavor than other roasts. This makes it great to sip on it’s own instead of being
mixed into a specialty drink (possibly with a chocolate garnish).

Because light roasts retain more of their natural flavors, they often taste a bit
fruitier. If the beans were naturally separated then light-roasted beans will taste
herbal and floral. If the beans were mechanically separated, then the light roast
espresso will have more chocolate tones.

The flavor of a light roast can be altered by how it is roasted. Light roast coffee is
heated to lower temperatures which means that fewer oils are released from the

When to use dark roasted beans instead of light roasted

Currently, there’s a lot of debate around what type of espresso beans should be
used. Espresso is more than simply a beverage; it’s also about the beans used to
make it.

Generally, dark roasts are used for espresso because they have richer and
bolder flavors than lighter roasts. This means that dark roast coffees are typically
preferred in specialty drinks so that the punch of coffee still comes through.

If you’re brewing espresso with light roast beans, I find it’s best to order a cortado
or something with less milk. Lighter roast coffees are typically preferred in
straight espresso shots because the higher acidity balances the coffee crema.

Final Thoughts

The debate rages on about what type of roasted coffee beans should be used to
make espresso. As more specialty roasts pop up, it seems that cafes are starting
to use less dark roast beans to pull their shots. But there is no hard and fast rule
that says you must use dark roast beans to make espresso. It all comes down to
your preference and what makes the best tasting espresso for you!

The important thing is that you’re using fresh coffee, preferably roasted by a local
roaster, as opposed to stale beans from the supermarket. As long as you’re not
using pre-ground or instant coffee then don’t worry about whether your espresso
is a light or dark roast.

Bio for Kris Silvey

Kris Silvey runs and has a passion for caffeinated
beverages. He’s been a coffee consumer his entire life but transitioned to a
connoisseur in the past decade. When he’s not talking to local coffee roasters on
his travels, he goes on adventures with his family to discover hidden gems in
new cities.

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