Good Coffee: The Truth About Espresso

We love espresso. If you ever visit our office and roastery, you will have no problem finding a willing and able volunteer to pull you a shot or throwdown a cappuccino from our lever machine.

We regularly receive various questions regarding espresso, so we thought it would be great to throw some of these at Mike Singletary, our Director of Roasting and Coffee Excellence, to take some of the most common ones and provide some insight and answers for those who may be asking the same thing.

espresso shot

1) What is espresso?

This pretty much lays the foundation for most of the other questions that people have about espresso. Contrary to popular understanding, there really is no such thing as an “espresso roast.” It’s also not a type of bean. It’s a beverage. Technically speaking, espresso is a type of finished coffee drink that is created by using high pressure to force nearly boiling water through finely ground coffee in about 20-30 seconds. This produces about 2oz of coffee that consists of a much higher concentration of dissolved solids, or in other words, really strong, concentrated coffee. That “shot” of coffee is called espresso; the finished product, not the roast or the bean.

2) Does espresso have more caffeine than drip-brewed coffee?

Yes and no. Because of the concentrated form of espresso, you also have a concentrated level of caffeine. So the ratio of caffeine per volume is greater than that of regular drip-brewed coffee, but a double-shot is only 2 oz, and a standard cup of coffee is usually 8 oz. In total, 2 oz  espresso will actually have slightly less caffeine than an 8 oz cup of coffee.

3) What is an espresso blend and why do you say there’s no such a thing as an espresso roast?

Because of the way in which espresso is made and the highly concentrated finished form, the tasting notes of a particular coffee will be much more pronounced; both the good notes and the not so good. For this reason, it is ideal to source coffees that will work together to highlight the right notes of each other and mask the undesirable notes. For example, Rwandan coffee has a generally high level of acidity. While its brightness can be a desirable attribute when drinking it from other brewing methods, this may not be something that you want so pronounced in an espresso. To help with this, you might pair it with a coffee that has a lower acidity level and more body. In the end, it’s all about balance and how well the coffees play together when forced into a shot of espresso. This makes single origin coffees a bit tricky to use for espresso. They can be used and they can be great, but you must great beans and pull a great shot to get the best finished product while only using a single origin and not a blend.

At Land of a Thousand Hills, we have three different espresso blends. For each of these, we start with an idea of what we want the finished espresso to taste like and we blend from there until we have it just how we want it. We roast the beans used in these blends at the optimum roast profile to give us that desired result. This roast profile can vary from blend to blend, but 10 times out of 10, these roasts are not going to be overly dark as you might see in the hoppers of some bigger coffee shop chains. Most of us have been trained to believe that espresso is a type of roast, and that roast is supposed to be very dark and oily. And that if it is not dark, then it’s not a proper espresso roast. This is hugely false and has resulted in many people missing out on what a really great shot of espresso can taste like.

4) Can an espresso blend be used to brew standard drip coffee?

Absolutely. Remember, most espresso blends are created with espresso in mind, but they often work really well as a drip coffee too! So brew away! I personally love how our Vooba Vooba Adventure Level 3 comes out in a Chemex.

5) What is the difference between Land of a Thousand Hills’ espresso blends?

To explain it simply, our espresso blends build in complexity from Adventure Level 1 to 3. The Level 2 is our baseline. It produces a nice straightforward shot of espresso; nice acidity that is not overbearing balanced with a full body and some nice chocolate notes. It works really well for any type of milk drink and also as a straight shot.

From there we move to the Adventure Level 1, which takes the acidity of the Level 2 and cuts it down. The goal of this blend was to produce a milder, more muted espresso blend that can serve as an intro to espresso. This one can be used in milk but also pulls a nice shot for those who are just getting into espresso drinking.

The Adventure Level 3 takes the baseline of the Level 2 and adds in a third fruitier coffee that is naturally processed and produces a more complex cupping profile. This is a nice espresso to use as either a straight shot or a macchiato.

So there you go! Hopefully that helped clear up some of the questions that may have been hanging around. If you ever have any questions about any type of coffee or brewing method, feel free to send them our way! Oddly enough, coffee is something we love to talk about around here!

You can find our three different Vooba Vooba espresso blends here.

Drink Coffee. Do Good.®

  • Daniel

    Great article, especially comparing your three different levels of espresso blends. Curious, which level blend do you guys use locally at your shop when pairing with latte’s?

    • 1000HillsCoffee

      Hey Daniel! That’s a great question, thanks for asking! At our Roswell shop, we currently use Vooba Vooba Adventure Level 3. We believe it’s really important to include the complexity of three different coffees in our primarily used espresso blend. Reasons for this range from the wonderful sweetness that comes from the aged Nicaraguan, and the brightness of the Ruli Mountain. Both of these hold up very well when milk is added.

  • Ryan Pride

    I have been reading a lot lately about pH and how incredibly important it is to keep the body alkaline. Coffee is often listed as one of the worst substances we can put in our bodies because it increases acidity. I LOVE my coffee, though. I have a home espresso system, and make 4-6 shots per day. I also have stomach issues (no surprise). My question: is espresso BETTER or worse than drip coffee in terms of acid production?

    • 1000HillsCoffee

      Hi, Ryan. When it comes to extraction and the levels you get out of espresso and drip coffee, in the end they are nearly the same. Espresso does have a higher concentration of dissolved solubles, but as mentioned, it is only 2 ounces. If you drank a 2 ounce cup of drip coffee, then the espresso would contain much higher levels of pH, caffeine, etc. But since a standard cup of drip coffee is 8-12 ounces, it essentially balances out in the end in regards to those levels. Hope that helps! Cheers to more espresso!