Espresso is not a flavour descriptor

May 4, 2014

When I talk to people in Cumbria about espresso it becomes obvious they have a predetermined notion about the drink (this may be true in other regions but I can only comment on my own personal experiences). They associate espresso with a particular taste; they are using the term ‘espresso’ to describe a flavour.  When I try to delve further they often associate espresso with terms such as ‘strong’ and ‘bitter’.  I even find these descriptions finding their way onto the menus in Cumbria, one of the most commonly used being:

‘a short, strong coffee’.

The trouble with this notion of an espresso is it portrays a very negative view of the drink (unless you like short, strong, bitter coffee!).  Compare that with the following description of espresso from the pages of

The best espresso should be extraordinarily sweet, have a potent aroma, and flavor similar to freshly ground coffee.  The crema should be dark reddish-brown and smooth, yet thick.  A perfect espresso should be enjoyable straight with no additives, yet bold enough to not disappear in milk.  A pleasant and aromatic aftertaste should linger on the palate for several minutes after consumption.

Suddenly we find terms such as ‘sweet’, ‘pleasant’ and ‘aromatic’.  There is a sense of intensity of flavour in this description but not expressed in a negative way.

We therefore use the term ‘espresso’ in a slightly different way – we view it as a way of making coffee.  This becomes important when we consider our approach to roasting coffee.  Our espresso blend is not roasted to create a ‘traditional’ espresso flavour.  We are trying to unlock the flavours in the coffee beans, which have been determined through the way in which they were cultivated, harvested and processed.  In fact if we can pick out any ‘roasted tones’ in our coffee we see them as a fault in our roast profile.

We use the espresso machine as a way of creating a particular style of coffee, experimenting with doses, grind settings and beverage weights, until we feel we have achieved a flavour profile which best reflects the coffee we are using.  For our current ‘espresso blend’ we have the following flavour profile:

This is a delightfully rich and creamy espresso with initial sesame flavours intermingled with floral notes. This is followed by rich black cherry and plums, with a sticky molasses finish.

I really wish there was more choice in Cumbria when it comes to espresso. As it happens I’m not a fan of dark, bitter espresso and, aside from our customers, I can count on one hand the number of places I would likely visit for a coffee. I find this slightly frustrating, not because I think all espresso should be lightly roasted, but because there should be more choice available; if nothing else it would be a way for independent coffee shops to further differentiate themselves from the increasing number of coffee chains which are appearing in smaller towns.