I was recently alerted to a talk given by Joanna Alm of Drop Coffee Roasters in which she put forward her philosophy towards roasting coffee. She stated more or less that instead of roasting coffee to make it suitable for espresso, we should be roasting the coffee to its absolute full potential on the cupping table and letting the origin speak for itself, especially regarding acidity and sweetness. This got me thinking about how I approach dialling in espressos that are roasted in this way.
What Joanna said is something I've agreed with for quite some time, although it previously existed more as a feeling than a fully formed opinion, so it has taken me a while to really organise my thoughts. Below are some ideas I've had on this subject, they're certainly not to be taken as gospel (like everything in coffee) but I at least hope to broaden the discussion on roasting for brew methods among our community.
I believe that roasting for espresso is often based on the assumption that if a roast is too light, it cannot be extracted effectively or to the best of its ability. Therefore we're left with a sour and salty espresso which is extremely unpleasant and seemingly impossible to dial in.
In my experience as a barista dialling in well developed omni-roasted coffees, there were always some coffees that behaved extremely differently to others on espresso due to their roast profile and flavour profile. For a while I would assume these coffees were unsuitable for espresso and are just best served as a filter, as they would not work within the parameters I'm used to for brewing espresso.
When I started to talk with other baristas about espresso recipes, and when I started broadening my mind in terms of dose/yield/time, I found that coffees that I had previously written off as "best as a filter" started to shine and really sing as an espresso. I also found my extraction percentages increase, and as a result new unique characteristics of these coffees became apparent. With this came a drastic change in body due to the recipe, but I liked it!
Below are some examples I found in my espresso diary from a while ago, the coffee in question was an omni-roasted washed Rwanda that I was finding tricky to dial in.
18g in - 37g out - 29 seconds - TDS 9.89 = 20.3% Extraction
Taste: Sour, unbalanced, dirty.
Alternative espresso recipe example -
18g in - 54g out - 26 seconds - TDS 7.30 = 21.9% Extraction
Other things I would consider altering were water temperature, pre infusion and pressure in this situation.
It's important to remember that this was all done on a Mythos 1 grinder through a Synesso Hydra with 8s pre-infusion. Does the alternative espresso recipe work with a cheaper grinder on a home espresso machine? I must confess I have not had access to equipment like this yet, but am looking to try and experiment soon.
We must also consider its effect on milk based drinks, which make up a huge proportion of a cafes sales. In my experience a recipe similar to the "Alternative" recipe above yields fantastic results with milk. Yes the shot is longer and more delicate, but I've found this makes a deliciously balanced Flat White or Cappuccino.
I am by no means saying that all existing "filter" roasts can work on an espresso machine, some are just too light. What I am saying is that it would be amazing if we all roasted our coffee to its absolute best on a cupping table and took that as a priority, then applied an open minded approach to espresso testing using our adventurous recipes to see if it works. If it does work albeit in an unusual way, then it is our duty to let our customers know, the same goes for if it doesn't.
By roasting in a way that refuses to compromise on certain characteristics for the sake of espresso brewing, we are making a huge business decision about what type of roaster we want to be.
If we are going to make bold decisions like this it is important to nurture and help our wholesale/retail customers. That's why we at Horsham offer free continuous training for all of our wholesale customers, and have suggested espresso recipes on all of our coffees online. The former may not be possible for all roasters, but the latter certainly is.
While it could be argued that some origins lend themselves better to certain brew methods, I find this to be purely a subjective view that is more in keeping with the assumption that a traditional espresso recipe will be applied.
Letting the origin's true nature shine through your roast should be paramount, as we all know. If that means re-evaluating our brewing to accommodate high acidity or sweetness, then so be it.