Espresso is a brew method not a roast style
Seems fairly obvious as a title, so what's my beef? A question I get asked quite a lot by my retail and wholesale customers is "is it roasted for espresso, or brewed?" It's a question I am never really able to answer, as I don't know what it means.
Asking amongst my peers it seems most will conclude that a coffee should be roasted darker for espresso. They are people I respect in the industry, who have far more experience and knowledge than I do. But then when I press them on why it needs to be roasted darker I get a mix of replies; certainly no consensus of opinion.
But I believe everything that I am told by these people can be fixed by the barista with very simple changes to their technique and brew recipes.
The main reason that I believe we roast darker for espresso is because we always have done. It's a nostalgia / habit that we have got into and our taste buds have changed accordingly, and I see it as no more sensible than throwing salt over your shoulder or avoiding walking under ladders. There is no reason to do this, but many continue to roast this way.
The coffee producer goes to an enormous amount of effort and time over a 12 months period to make the amazing coffee, and make it the best it can be (or at least that's what I expect from our growers). They do this so we can present the coffee to the end consumer at the very highest quality we can. And with filter coffee we seem to have no problems with this; understanding that some coffees need to be roasted lighter and some coffees need to be darker, treating the coffee with care attention and developing roast profiles to do this.
But with espresso we have a mindset that it should be darker roasted, something that we could and would not imagine with brewed coffee. Now I understand that espresso is a magnifying glass on the coffee compared to brewed coffee, but I believe it is the lazy barista that's pushing the roaster towards treating coffee this way. It's something I will not do.
I also think we need to accept that some coffees are not suited to some brew methods, and there is nothing we can do as roasters to help this without compromising the coffee as a whole.
There is a compromise when you roast a coffee darker (or lighter), one that we will not accept in any other area of specialty coffee. I do not like compromise in anything I do with coffee. And so I urge you to look at other ways you can get the experience you and your consumer want in espresso without resorting to taking the roast darker. The measurement of a good coffee roaster is to get all the flavours of the coffee delivered to the barista / consumer without imparting anything of the roaster's personality: you cannot do this when you roast for the brew style.