The coffee industry throws around a lot of terms to describe various drinks, flavors, and roast types, among other things. Some of these are meaningful, while others are used primarily for marketing.
Starbucks, for example, may have introduced you to the “blonde espresso,” but the mega chain’s popularization of the term left a lot of people wondering what exactly it is.
Blonde espresso is a coffee drink derived from lightly-roasted beans. It’s usually lighter in color and taste than other espressos, mainly because the coffee beans used to make it are subjected to lower temperatures and shorter roast times.
Blonde espresso differs from other espressos in a few other ways. The rest of the article will dive deeper into the complexities of this roast type, why it’s appealing, and what you can expect if you order it at your next coffee shop visit.
Espresso drinks explained
Unlike drip coffee, which uses gravity to bring water through a filter, espressos are made when hot water is forced through finely-ground coffee beans.
Espresso drinks are made in smaller batches and are typically served in “shots.” The brewing method creates a highly-concentrated coffee drink, which often has a stronger flavor and a higher caffeine content per ounce.
You can order one as a standalone, but espressos are the basis for many of the coffee drinks you’ll find in a coffee shop.
What makes an espresso “blonde”?
Color is an important characteristic when we’re talking about coffee, and the color of a given drink can often tell you a lot about it. Traditionally, espressos are made with dark-roasted coffee beans, and the resulting drink is similar in color.
An espresso that is blonde is characterized by lighter color and taste than other espressos, mainly due to how long the coffee beans are roasted. The coffee beans used to make this type of espresso are usually lightly roasted.
The longer you roast a coffee bean, the darker it will be. So as the name suggests, blonde espressos come from coffee beans that have been only lightly roasted. The result is coffee beans that are light brown or sometimes “blonde” in color.
Blonde espressos are also known to be a little bit sweeter, more acidic, and less bold than traditional espresso.
Blonde espresso vs. blonde roast
Although you might see these two terms used to describe the same thing, they’re technically different.
A blonde roast coffee is what is used to create a blonde espresso. Blonde roasts are made during the roasting process, where roasters apply heat in a particular way so as to produce a lighter roast.
The resulting beans can then be used to make espresso, brewed hot coffee, cold brews, and other coffee-based drinks.
Starbucks and the blonde espresso
Starbucks introduced the blonde espresso in 2017. While they didn’t exactly invent the concept, they certainly introduced a lot of people to the drink.
They use their blonde roast coffee beans, which have been around since 2012, to craft a variety of blonde espresso-based drinks. In all fairness, though, some of those drinks are definitely unique to the coffee chain.
Debunking whether Starbucks blonde roast is actually “blonde”
Starbucks may market their blonde roasts as lighter roasts, but there’s debate about where the Starbucks blonde roast actually falls on the “light” spectrum.
Starbucks is notorious for roasting their beans extra long, and a medium Starbucks roast could be classified as a dark roast. That said, you can probably find blonde roasts that are even lighter than those from the coffee chain.
Ordering a blonde espresso
You can order a blonde espresso in the same way you would order any espresso. The core espresso drinks include:
- A shot: This is just a single serving of espresso.
- Doppio: “Doppio” is the Italian word for double. Order this if you want two shots.
- Lungo: “Lungo” is the Italian word for long, and it’s meant to describe a “long” pull. A lungo will use the same amount of espresso with twice the amount of water.
- Ristretto: This is an even smaller, more concentrated version of espresso (usually slightly less than an ounce per serving).
- Cafe Americano: This is a serving of espresso with water added afterward.
Aside from the basic espresso-only beverages, you could also add a shot of blonde espresso to any of your favorite coffee drinks.
Starbucks even has a whole list of drinks that specifically call for blonde espresso instead of regular espresso.
How to make a blonde espresso at home
It’s never been easier to recreate your favorite coffee drinks at home, and doing so actually gives you a lot more freedom to customize.
To make a blonde espresso at home, you’ll need the following supplies:
- Espresso machine
- Blonde roast coffee beans
- Quality, filtered water
- Coffee grinder
- Milk, creamers, or flavorings of your choice
The greatest hurdle to making an authentic espresso at home is the need for an espresso machine. The process of brewing espresso can’t really be recreated without one. Once you get the machine, it’s all about finding the right coffee beans.
If you are a Starbucks fan, you can purchase one of their blonde espresso roasts, but there are plenty of other coffee companies that produce their own blonde or “light” coffee beans. Any of these will work.
Unless you buy ground coffee, you’ll have to grind the coffee beans yourself. Some espresso machines come with a coffee grinder attachment.
Many espresso makers come with a milk frother attachment as well. Once your espresso is brewed, you can add milk, froth, and flavors as you see fit.
The many names of blonde espresso
If you drink enough coffee, you’ve probably seen all sorts of variations in the naming of the drinks.
Some are simple and matter-of-fact, while others are trendier and less frequently used. Some coffee shops will even have different names for what are essentially the same drinks.
While Starbucks may have popularized the term “blonde” to describe their line of lightly-roasted espressos, they certainly didn’t invent the roasting process.
However, the name has produced some confusion about what the drink actually is. The term “blonde” has more to do with marketing (i.e., meant to separate Starbucks from other companies) than defining the actual drink.
Here’s a list of names that refer to very similar roast profiles:
- Light roast
- Half city
- Light city
- New England roast
- Cinnamon roast
- Nordic Style Roast
The name you see might depend on your location, but all of the above names essentially refer to the same thing.
Cinnamon roast is seldom used, especially when it comes to marketing. The actual color of a lightly-roasted coffee bean and the resulting drink is close to the color of cinnamon:
However, consumers more often made the connection to the taste of cinnamon rather than the color.
Thinking they were getting a cinnamon-flavored coffee turned a lot of people off of the product. “Blonde,” on the other hand, doesn’t have this problem, making it a much more effective marketing term.
Opposite of blonde espresso roast
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the dark espressos and dark roasts. These are the French and Italian roasts, among others.
Dark roasts endure much longer roast times and slightly higher temperatures. The resulting beans are a much darker brown, if not black like these extra dark roasted coffee beans:
Some of the coffees produced with these beans may even have a slightly burnt taste to them. Sometimes that is intentional, and other times it may not be.
Blonde espresso: caffeine level, acidity, and flavor
Coffee bean roast times make all the difference in terms of acidity and flavor profile. While roast levels in the middle of the spectrum might vary in terms of these qualities, the contrast between dark and blonde is much more distinct.
Blonde espressos are typically more acidic than regular espressos. The higher temperatures and longer roast times of dark roast coffee beans bring out more of the acids and, in turn, more of the flavors.
However, the high acidity remaining in the lightly-roasted beans will come out when the coffee beans have been ground and brewed. Blonde espressos might taste sharp and even a bit sour due to the contained natural plant flavors.
The acidity of the blonde espresso will be one of the more noticeable features of its flavor profile, as it produces a citrusy or even sour taste that is sharp on the tongue.
Blonde espressos also retain more of the natural plant flavors, so you might notice hints of fruitiness, along with some herbal notes.
Floral and citrus flavors may also stand out, and blonde roast beverages typically aren’t as bold or full-bodied as their dark counterparts.
Dark espressos, on the other hand, give coffee drinkers a much different experience. Due to the longer roasting time, much of the acidity in dark roasts is extracted from the bean. Oils are removed from the inside, giving the bean a shiny exterior.
Flavors of dark roasts vary as well, but you can generally expect them to be more bitter. You might notice hints of dark chocolate. And while they can also be sweet, they tend to be very bold in a way that blonde espressos are not.
Due to blonde espressos being marketed as “lighter” roasts, some consumers might wrongly assume that caffeine levels are lower.
Not only are caffeine levels in blonde espressos virtually the same, but they can also be higher than that of darker espressos. However, it depends on how the beans are measured.
Coffee beans that have been roasted for shorter periods of time typically retain more moisture than their dark roast counterparts. The moisture and oil content add weight to the beans, which can throw off a measurement.
So, a “scoop” of blonde espresso beans might contain more caffeine than an equivalent scoop of dark roast beans. However, if you measure the beans out by weight, the caffeine content in each is more or less the same.
That being said, if you’re looking for a less caffeinated drink, you might be better off going for decaf.
The origin of the coffee beans may also influence the caffeine level. Beans that originate in Africa, for example, tend to have relatively higher caffeine levels.
Robusta beans typically have higher caffeine content, while Arabica beans will be a bit lower.
You can check out this article where I go in-depth about the difference in caffeine when comparing blonde roasts vs. dark roasts.
How to know if you’ll like blonde espresso
Since blonde roasts essentially carry the same level of caffeine as other roasts, those looking to reduce their caffeine intake aren’t exactly the target audience.
And while some people simply don’t enjoy drinking coffee, others perhaps have not found a coffee that they like yet.
So, how do you know if blonde espresso is right for you?
While the caffeine content may be similar, dark roasts still tend to produce stronger drinks in terms of flavor and tasting experience.
Blonde roasts are milder and less bitter, which generally means they are less powerful when they enter your mouth.
On the other hand, dark roasts are considered “full-bodied,” which is often associated with strength. Full-bodied coffees feel thicker and heavier, so for some, the lightness of the blonde roast is a little more pleasant.
Some people are also turned off by the taste they typically associate with coffee, and they’re usually thinking of a medium or dark roast. These types of roasts have been around for much longer.
If you’re turned off by the bold, bitter taste that you imagine when you think of coffee, a blonde roast might be worth trying.
Creating a blonde espresso begins at the roastery. Professional roasters use lower temperatures and shorter roast times to produce light or “blonde” beans, which, in turn, produce coffee drinks that are lighter in color, body, and acidity.
Despite the name, caffeine levels of blonde roasts are often the same as other roasts.
Traditionally, darker roasts have always been used to make coffee, but light roasts have gained popularity over the years.
While Starbucks may have popularized the “blonde” espresso, plenty of coffee shops now offer a light roast option.