July 10, 2020

How to Build an Espresso Blend

A good, well-balanced espresso shot can be enjoyed on its own or as part of another drink. However, to create an espresso that has a balance of acidity, body and sweetness, you need to start with the right coffee beans – or combine different beans together.

While single origin coffees are popular in manual brewing, they often lack the complexity that espressos require. That’s why a well-balanced espresso is often made of different beans that have been blended together.

Building an espresso blend requires an understanding of bean ratios, roast levels, and flavour profiles. However, this effort is worth it if you’re looking to create your own signature coffee. Here’s what three roasters have to say about creating espresso blends.

Lee este artículo en español Cómo Elaborar Una Mezcla de Café Para Espresso

What Are Blends & Why Create One For Espresso? 

In the past, roasters blended different coffees together to hide small amounts of badly roasted or low-quality coffee, or used these coffees to bulk out the volume of blends.

As time passed, however, blends became popular with roasters wanting to offer an exclusive, signature coffee. It also suited those who wanted to provide a consistent flavour throughout the year without being limited to one origin or source.

Many roasters use single origin coffees for espresso, but as certain origins can have distinct tastes, this can create an imbalanced flavour profile. For this reason, roasters wanting to offer a balanced espresso will often create a blend that combines many single origin beans together.

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Why Do Roasters Create Espresso Blends?

The espresso is by no means a new beverage, but it has increased in popularity in recent years. The international espresso market is expected to reach a year-on-year growth rate of seven per cent by 2023 , thanks to a millennial preference for the beverage. Creating an espresso blend allows roasters to meet this dominant consumer group’s needs.

Espresso blends are popular in cafés, making them a predictable area of demand for roasters. Jan-cort Hoban owns Mr Hoban’s Coffee Roastery in Hamburg, Germany, and says: “For cafés and restaurants, [espresso blends are] easier to handle on a day to day basis.” This gives roasters a way to provide cafés with a consistent offering throughout the year.

Davide Cobelli owns Garage Coffee Bros. Roasters in Verona, Italy and is Italy’s 2020 Roasting Champion. He says that while many single origin coffees change seasonally, blends allow roasters to maintain the same profile over a longer period. 

Joe Molloy is director of Rumble Coffee Roasters in Melbourne, Australia. He says that blends offer “consistency, [a] depth of flavour, and [the] ability to cut through milk… By combining different coffees, we can provide our customers with a full-bodied, reliable coffee that punches through the milk and still tastes great black.” This way, customers can enjoy a standardised drink season after season.

What Characterizes an Espresso Blend?

The types and ratios of coffees that a roaster uses in an espresso blend will depend on several things. This includes what customers are looking for, what their roastery typically offers, and which coffees they can access. For this reason, no two espresso blends will be the same.

Jan-cort believes that only specialty coffees with a cupping score of 83 and above should be used in espresso blends. He enjoys using “a nice Brazilian as a base and then blending it with Central or South American coffees”, and prefers a ratio of 70% Brazilian, 20% Tanzanian, and 10% Salvadoran, or 80% Brazilian and 20% Colombian.

David says that when it comes to espresso blends, he believes “there’s no good or bad”. He prefers a sweet, full-bodied blend, and while he personally looks for low acidity and little bitterness, he says a blend should fall somewhere in the middle to provide a balance. He believes that when creating an espresso blend, each coffee used should be sustainably produced, a proven bestseller, and available at a stable purchasing price. 

David currently offers a seasonal and exclusive coffee shop espresso blend. The seasonal blend consists of 60% Brazilian Carmo de Minas Pulped Natural, 20% Ethiopia Chelbessa Washed, and 20% Ethiopia Bashasha Natural. The coffee shop blend, however, consists of 90% Arabica (Brazil, Colombia and Guatemala) and 10% fine Robusta from India. Fine Robusta is often added to espresso blends to bump up their levels of crema and caffeine, and to add a ‘bite’. 

The number of coffees used in an espresso blend will vary according to preference. David uses six to ten coffees, including at least two or three Brazilian coffees. This means that if one coffee becomes unavailable, or if he wants to experiment with the blend’s flavour, he can make subtle changes without dramatically altering the blend’s profile or taste.

Jan-cort uses up to three beans in a blend – but no more. “Sometimes it can be two but no more than three. If you’re using too many coffees then the chance that they are all included in any 20g dose of the espresso is low to none.”

When creating an espresso blend, Jan-cort prioritises “sweetness and body”. He believes that “the espresso blend [is] the highest representation of our skill and knowledge… from sourcing through to tasting and roast development, we’re always trying to improve our blends while keeping them within certain flavour profiles.” 

When it comes to specific coffees, he prefers “washed coffees from Guatemala (Huehuetenango in particular) and Colombia in our blends, as well as Brazilian coffees for the body and chocolate tones that people love.”

Tips For Roasting an Espresso Blend

There’s no single best approach to roasting coffee for espresso, as it will depend on which coffees you use, how much of them you use, and which profile you aim for. Fine-tuning a signature espresso blend will involve some trial and error, but once you’ve set a recipe, you will soon be able to replicate it quickly and easily.

A light roast can highlight an espresso blend’s acidity and complexity. This may not be suitable for drinks containing milk, however, as the coffee’s more subtle qualities could disappear.

Coffees roasted for an espresso blend will also need increased solubility and, generally, a longer roast time. They’ll also need to develop for longer to make the blend’s extraction time shorter, as well as an extended Maillard phase to create the necessary bitterness for a balanced flavour profile. Each roast should also be sampled and cupped to see if it matches the target flavour. If it doesn’t, the roasting process may need to change.

Roasters who develop and tweak their own blends can offer customers and cafés an espresso that they can enjoy whenever and wherever they’d like. However, to build your blend, you’ll need to know what your customers want, and be willing to fine-tune your efforts through experimentation. While this can take time and effort, creating a signature espresso blend is certainly worth it.

Enjoyed this? Then Read Roasting For Filter Coffee vs. For Espresso

Photo credits: Chris Flores, Neil Soque

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