#69 – Looking for the Unicorn: Espresso and Filter roasts



… is there really a significant difference between them, or dividing the roasts these way is more of a remnant of the past?


I was trying to buy some coffee from the Spanish roaster this morning, and found again that division. That they have 2 roasts, for espresso and for filter, and they highly not recommend using the filter one in espresso. Didn’t buy the coffee, for other reasons (10 euros for shipping one 250g bag, really?), but stayed thinking about it. About espresso/filter roasts, and how one can be tasting good only in one method, but highly not recommended to be done in the other.


I will not tell you anything new if I say that only in the last 2-3 years, due to the development of the coffee roasting software, better grinders and our growing understanding of extraction and solubility, roasting coffee became something that can be considered a more or less repeatable act. Only now we are getting close to be able to repeat the same profile again and again. And for coffee to taste the same. Some sort of quality, in that sense, appeared, or is appearing, in the segment of specialty coffee only now.


Only now, guys.


All that time before, when roasting was surrounded with some kind of magic, and considered a craft, for which you need to have “a feel”. All that witchcraft with taking out the trier, smelling the coffee beans, checking out the color, when it is the right yellow color, when it is not yet yellow enough – it has been completely arbitrary, and definitely completely imprecise.


Not even talking about the fact that nervously taking out the trier means altering the reaction going on in these beans, and eventually making the roast even more inconsistent.


Today you have enought light, and you, with your imperfect human eye, decide that this yellow is the right one. Tomorrow you are tired, haven’t sleeped well, your eyes tell you something different – you make another decision. Were the profiles the same? I doubt.


And espresso roast and filter roast existed, and had been practiced, long time before we got some insight about what’s happening inside the machine.


So what roaster were paying attention at was something obvious, something that was always available, always in front. Color.


So, this way, “tradicionally”, “espresso roast” is a darker roast, and “filter roast” is a lighter roast. And, of course, every roaster has it’s concepts of lighter and darker. Therefore, more inconsistency and mess.



Now that we entered the era of Cropster, and other similar coffee roasting logging programs, we know more, and objectively more. Actually, here comes little secret, roasters don’t need to take out the trier and visually “inspect” the coffee. Those photos that you see everywhere, guys staring at the beans, pretending they are looking for something. There is no need of that. It is something done because this is how it has been done years and years, when there were no other ways to evaluate the state of roast except for usin your vision.



So. Why these “espresso” and “filter” roasts appeared, and made sense before, but not anymore?


They appeared to mitigate the underdevelopment.


Roasts prevailing for all that time were baked roasts. Muted, not having enough clarity nor sweetness, with the sharp acidity. Imagine something like that in espresso, in the method that basically intensifies everything the coffee has. You would get a sour liquid with no traces of sweetness of any sort.  But if you roast it a bit longer… If you roast it longer, acidity will stop be a bother, the aromas in coffee will be represented mainly by those from the dry distillation phase… But no acidity bothering anymore.


There was no way, and no understanding, and even no idea that it can actually be done – balancing acidity with sweetness, while not turning coffee into carbon. So “espresso” roast was a way of making coffee drinkable in espresso, best tasting at the moment. And at the moment it had been done by mitigating the acidity, and “hiding” the underdevelopment behind burnt and smoky notes.



It was before.



But now. We have much more control, and we are actually able to control the development, to achieve the desired levels.


And the questios is. If the coffee is developed, shouldn’t it be tasting well in any method? 


What do roasters mean by “espresso roast” now? What is it supposed to be?


Published by liza maksimova

Q Grader. Roast Master. SCAE certified.

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