Light roast coffees for espresso - Haven't discovered the joy...

Discuss flavors, brew temperatures, blending, and cupping notes.
Posts: 73
Joined: 2 years ago

#1: Post by ZebcoKid »

Hello All,

I'm new to home espresso. I recently purchased a Rocket Appartamento. I'm loving the learning curve. Some cups are fantastic, while others can use a little TLC.

The one thing I haven't been able to unlock is the joy of espresso from lightly roasted beans. The dark "espresso" roast is recognizable and delicious. The light roasts are quite sour...tending toward nasty. I've tried to employ a finer grind, thinking that would result in more extraction. But no success.

Is the difference in light and dark roast polarizing for customers? Am I doing it "wrong", or is there a tremendous difference in the product...and taste is in the palette of the consumer?

Any suggestions?

Thank you.


User avatar
Posts: 198
Joined: 13 years ago

#2: Post by CoffeeMac »

Light / filter roasts can be hard to pull good shots with; don't feel bad!

Sour shots can be a result of under-extraction. To increase extraction:
  • Grind finer; this will increase surface area of dose making it easier to extract. Will need a really good grinder for the lightest roasts
  • Extend shot time; this will increase water contact time with grounds. Can be achieved with finer grind or more restrictive basket like E&B Superfine
  • Increase brew ratio, for example go from 1:2 up to 1:3. More water to extract more coffee
  • Increase brew temp. Hotter water extracts more/faster
I also saw this guide referenced in another thread: ... ing-in.pdf

Good luck!
Eventually you will end up with a lever.

LMWDP #706

User avatar
Posts: 3690
Joined: 15 years ago

#3: Post by Peppersass »

Excellent suggestions.

I'd add that light roasts often require more rest after roasting than darker roasts. It's not unusual for light roasts to need 10-14 days or more to outgas enough to extract properly.

Some light roasts may defy all of the suggestions, or you may not like the dilution inherent in longer pulls. For those roasts, you'll need to use flow control, which means grinding much, much finer and using long, slow preinfusion. I'm not familiar with what would be involved in adding flow control to an E61 machine like yours. Others here probably can help with that. But my advice is to stick with medium, medium dark or dark roasts until you gain more experience. You might even be able to pull some medium-light roasts using the suggestions above.

ZebcoKid (original poster)
Posts: 73
Joined: 2 years ago

#4: Post by ZebcoKid (original poster) »

Thank you for your advice and encouragement.


Posts: 106
Joined: 3 years ago

#5: Post by henri »

ZebcoKid wrote:Is the difference in light and dark roast polarizing for customers? ... is there a tremendous difference in the product
Based on what I've read on multiple coffee forums, and also on personal experience, I'd say yes. People seem to be divided fairly clearly into two camps, those who love lighter roasts and those who love darker roasts (or perhaps I should say, those who hate darker roasts and those who hate lighter roasts?). And yes, the end product tends to be very different.

To the excellent suggestions already made, I'd add a couple of points:
  • It's incredibly easy to confuse sour with bitter and hence to confuse underextraction with overextraction. On more than one occasion, I've managed to salvage a coffee which my taste buds said was "bitter" by grinding finer and letting the shot run longer, thus extracting more. What I had thought was overextraction (based on tasting) had actually been underextraction, so going in the opposite direction helped.
  • Traditional espresso-making parameters may not work very well with lighter roasts, so one should be prepared to break them when needed. To give an example, I'm currently drinking a single origin Ethiopian which the roaster recommended for pour over, but which turns out to yield delicious espresso as well. But my shot times for delicious cups with this coffee are in the 40 seconds range, far longer than what's in the textbooks. I also find that this coffee benefits from a longer ratio, about 1:3, to bring out the sweetness - whereas with dark roasts I'm almost always between 1:1.5 and 1:2.
  • Meticulous puck preparation is good practice with dark roasts, but is indispensable with lighter roasts.
  • To complicate things, the axis dark vs. light roast may not map entirely intuitively onto the axis traditional vs. modern espresso. This skews our expectations of what kinds of flavours different roast levels will yield. I used to think traditional Italian espresso meant dark roast, and not much beyond that, and was very surprised when I found out that some of the classic blends I'd been enjoying were in fact roasted lighter than some of the speciality coffee I'd been buying. In traditional espresso, blending is as important as roasting, and I'd suggest that many of the qualities we popularly attribute to "dark roasts" are just as much a consequence of blending different origins in a traditional way, as of the roast level itself.

ZebcoKid (original poster)
Posts: 73
Joined: 2 years ago

#6: Post by ZebcoKid (original poster) »


Thank you for the additional thoughts. I'd say you articulated the complexity (or the potential thereof), as well as the joy of this coffee journey. Surprisingly deep and wide.



Posts: 268
Joined: 4 years ago

#7: Post by zefkir »

Do you like filter coffee?

Try diluting your light roast espresso to the same concentration as filter coffee and evaluate, that should give you a decent comparison point. For example, if you are doing 18:300 for filter, that should give you roughly 250g of liquid coffee. Take your shot and dilute it to 250g and then compare.

A lot of light roasted coffees perform really well with fast, long and hot shots. 16:64 in 30s will be in the lungo territory, but it's a safe and easily approachable shot. Good puck prep is essential though, with that fast a shot, it can get messy, but sometimes messy is better than grinding too fine and having an unevenly extracted puck.

Posts: 209
Joined: 6 years ago

#8: Post by cskorton »

Everyone has different tastes and preferences. I struggled to enjoy light roasts at home with my starter setup. I now have very nice gear, but my preference is still for high body, less acidic shots. Namely, high quality Italian blends.

I still like to try light roasts out in cafes in the hands of a skilled barista to switch things up, but I just don't want them as a daily driver.

As others have also mentioned, light roasts are difficult to make espresso with. It requires extra skill, and better equipment (on average) than medium to dark roasts, with totally different brew parameters.

Coffee is journey, enjoy the highs and lows, try different things and see what you like and don't like, and don't be afraid to circle back and try something again you didn't previously like. You may be surprised! Palates change over time.

User avatar
Team HB
Posts: 6616
Joined: 19 years ago

#9: Post by Jeff »

Classic espresso and light-roast espresso are effectively different drinks prepared with similar raw materials and equipment.

When I had an E61, I was about 50/50 on being able to pull a shot that I enjoyed from "drip" roasts, even with several years of practice. The one thing I wish I learned sooner was that if I couldn't dial it in reasonably quickly with my gear, to accept it and not waste the rest of the bag. A lot less frustration and more enjoyment would have been had with a Kalita, V60, press, ...
★ Helpful

User avatar
Team HB
Posts: 1130
Joined: 19 years ago

#10: Post by luca »

Good comments above. Basically, with coffee, most things end up being a tradeoff, and you have to be realistic about what you're trying to achieve. But most of what people write about is only selectively discussing one or two features that are good. People who like dark roasts tend to like the reduced acidity and don't mind about the cost of decreased aroma and increased bitterness. People who like light roasts tend to like the increased aroma and decreased bitterness and they don't mind, or actively like, the increased acidity.

To give just a little more detail on the equipment front, for example, I had a small flat burr grinder that really only delivered about 15-16% extraction yield, and that really punished light roasts, failing to extract much aroma, but extracting a lot of acidity. We upgraded the burrs. Equally, I also have a grinder that tends to deliver more like 22-24% EY. I like it for light roasts, but it does make dark roasts taste very bitter. It's entirely possible that if you have found extraction conditions that work well for a particular roast level, they will work poorly for other roast levels.
Is the difference in light and dark roast polarizing for customers? Am I doing it "wrong", or is there a tremendous difference in the product...and taste is in the palette of the consumer?
Yes, there is a huge difference and it is polarising. There are all sorts of differences between different coffees that most people start off oblivious to. Different varieties and different processing methods taste markedly different and you may have strong views on them.

Also worth mentioning that lots of roasts are just bad, by whatever metric. There are plenty of roasts of all colour levels that are underdeveloped, overdeveloped or baked. I'd guess easily more than half of all commercial coffee probably has some roast defect that could be improved. Then there is plenty of scope for the green coffee itself to be bad. And plenty of roasters that have fantastic reputations and large turnover suck. It's entirely possible, likely even, that the coffee you are using could be better. It might be worth trying many different roasters and coffees.
LMWDP #034 | 2011: Q Exam, WBrC #3, Aus Cup Tasting #1 | Insta: @lucacoffeenotes