What does "sweet" mean for espresso?

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.

#1: Post by imahawki »

I'll preface this with saying this is an actual question, not me getting pedantic about people's language.

A Coca-Cola is sweet, a Hershey Kiss, is sweet, a Werther's original is sweet. I've never had an espresso that is sweet like that. But I read people talking about shots they pulled that make it sound like they are talking about it being sweet. Not "has sweetness" but "is sweet". Is this just hyperbole? Like no one is pulling shots that taste like sugary sweet like american candy are they? I feel like they are and I've never had an espresso in my life that tasted sweet.

Let me offer an analogy. If I season a steak with salt and pepper and sear it, the maillard reaction will cause and subtle undertone of sweetness. I don't walk around saying my steak is sweet though.

So when people say they had a shot taste like caramel or cherry pie or whatever else, its not sweet like that actual food is, right? I'm feeling a bit insane right now.

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#2: Post by another_jim »

It's used relative to espresso, not relative to all foods. Relative ratings hold even for the most cloying junk candy, which isn't sweet if compared to saccharin.

Definition: An espresso is sweet when the bitter and sour flavors are pleasing, not harsh. This is not just "calling it sweet," since the bitters and sours are only enjoyable when enough actual sugars and caramels are present.

The espresso will be sweet if the coffee is so stale that most of the volatile bitter and sour flavors have faded, and only the stable caramels and sugars are left. Or if the coffee was picked ripe, properly processed and roasted, and fully extracted.
Jim Schulman


#3: Post by turbo290 »

I'm putting myself out there with this one but...I cannot drink espresso shoes without sugar. There I said it! I only drink straight espresso and have tried more times than I can count to drink it straight. Taste is a very subjective issue and I find for me that a little sugar brings out all the flavours. Without sugar the bitterness overwhelms everything. Everyone tastes things differently.


#4: Post by imahawki »

Thank you both for responding. I think I was 90% of the way convinced that people were... exaggerating isn't the right word, but omitting the fact that at the end of the day espresso is a super concentrated form of coffee which at best is still a fairly bitter drink... and were focusing on the quality of the sweetness that can exist, when done right, rather than the quantity of sweetness. For example the shot I pulled this morning had an element of sweetness that reminds me of that underlying sweetness of a cashew. But it still tasted like really strong coffee.


#5: Post by Stanic »

I've pulled a really sweet espresso just once in my life so far, it was with mecoffeed miss Silvia and Colombian beans I've got from a roastery in Ljubljana
It was sweet like honey - and ever since I've been pursuing that elusive taste to no avail


#6: Post by nuketopia »

Actually, I have pulled many sweet shots. Soda pop and hard candy aren't sweet, they're hyper-intensely sweet.

If you've tasted really good quality dark chocolate, that's the kind of sweet a really good shot will have, along with richness of a variety of flavors. A great shot isn't bitter or sour, it's pleasant and just intense with concentrated, varietal coffee flavors.


#7: Post by imahawki » replying to nuketopia »

I think this becomes a matter of taste and description. I would call soda and candy sweet. No "hyper intense" modifier is needed. Sugar is sweet. No one says "sugar isn't sweet, its hyper intense sweet". Conversely, while good dark chocolate has sweetness, it also is (IMO) bitter. When I think of sweet, I think of milk chocolate. I would call dark chocolate "bitter sweet".

I don't think we're in disagreement about how a good espresso can taste, I think its the language we're using to describe. I think if you and I tasted the same shot, I would not use such strong language about its sweetness. But this is helpful to me.

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#8: Post by JohnB. »

I've got a sweet tooth & I still would call a large percentage of my shots sweet. While it isn't an in your face sweetness I definitely get a nice lingering sweet after taste from the majority of my shots. If you want to compare it to dark chocolate it would have to be a 50% or maybe 60% bar.

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#9: Post by Peppersass »

turbo290 wrote:I'm putting myself out there with this one but...I cannot drink espresso shoes without sugar.
I cannot drink the vast majority of cafe/restaurant/shop espresso without sugar, and even with sugar its a disappointment just about everywhere except some of the better places in Italy.

I never use sugar in my home-brewed shots. It ruins them.

That's why many of us are here on H-B.


#10: Post by RyanJE »

I think it helps to compare it more along the lines of sweetness than can come from ripe fruit. While a strawberry certainly does not taste like table sugar, it is still sweet. It is also acidic and a little bitter.

Also look at apples, sweet, bitter, acidic. Its just a balance of tastes like Jim mentioned. Whereas table sugar and things like candy have one dimensional sweetness.
I drink two shots before I drink two shots, then I drink two more....