What Does Good Espresso Taste Like? (Expert Barista Guide)

The other day I was so excited to bring one of my friends to my go-to coffee shop to order, in my opinion, some of the best espresso I've ever had in my life.

I'll admit I was a bit surprised when she didn't seem as impressed as I was, and it got me thinking, "What does espresso taste like?"

I mean, what is good espresso supposed to taste like?

I've been making it at home and drinking it at coffee shops for so long I haven't stopped to think that maybe it could be even better.

So, without further ado, let's get into the ins and outs of what makes a good espresso!

1. Boldly Bitter (The Addictive Bite of the Perfect Espresso)

When tasting espresso, the first thing you’ll notice is the deep, complex aroma. If it smells burnt, chemical-ly, or sour, it’s probably a bad shot.

Quality espresso will have a kind of dark chocolate with a strong bitterness rounded out with a smooth and velvety taste.

Of course, the flavor profile and intensity will vary a bit, depending on the roasting method, water temperature, coffee beans, and how the espresso shot was pulled.

Espresso Surrounded By Coffee Beans

2. Tangy Delight (Elevating Espresso With Vibrant Acidity)

There is a certain level of acidity to coffee, though sour, acidic, and bitter flavors should all be well-balanced. 

You shouldn't notice that one aspect is stronger than any other, though astringency should be present.

Without enough acid, you may find espresso tastes flat. Too much, and it could make your mouth pucker. Again, balance is key. (And now you know why I personally leave it up to the baristas!)

Espresso From Beans To Extracted Coffee

3. Bliss in Every Sip (The Subtle Sweet of Exceptional Espresso)

While finding espresso bitter isn’t always a bad thing, it should have a notable sweetness to it to balance out the bitterness and acidity.

Coffee grows on trees, with the fruit and seeds (aka, the beans) both getting sweeter as they ripen.[1]

Roasting them further enhances this sweetness, creating a kind of caramelization that we love.

Overall, the flavor profile should land somewhere between delicately-sweet dark chocolate and caramel.

Espresso With Broken Pieces Of Chocolate

4. Lingering Effects (The Enchanting Aftertaste of Espresso)

The espresso taste should linger nicely on your tongue after a properly-pulled shot.

This lingering aftertaste should be full-bodied, long-lasting, and bold, with a perfect blend of sweetness, bitterness, and acidity.

It should be distinct from the initial flavor while sipping and can last for up to 20 minutes.

If it's too bitter or the taste lasts too long in your mouth, the shot is likely over-extracted. If it's too sour, it's an indication of under-extracted espresso. We'll get more into that in just a moment!

Man Smelling Espresso Coffee Shot

Over Extraction Vs Under Extraction

Espresso extraction is the chemical process where bits of the coffee dissolve into water.

When it comes to both under-extraction and over-extraction, both time and flavor are compromised. However, you'll get quite different results with both.

I’ve unfortunately done both and had the pleasure of enjoying a morning coffee that tasted like murky water. Learn from my mistakes!

Under-extracted coffee has a thin mouthfeel, lacking that full-bodied complexity that we love so much.

You'll notice that the aftertaste doesn't last as long and has an unpleasantly sour taste or even salty taste. This often happens when the grounds are too coarse. 

Over-extracted coffees happen when too much of the grinds are dissolved into the water. They'll have a too-heavy texture that almost feels like you're drinking a burnt, bitter syrup - Not exactly the ideal coffee taste for 99% of us.

In this situation, coffee grounds are likely too fine, or the brew time was too long.

Espresso Over Extraction Vs Under Extraction

What Is The Espresso Flavor Wheel? (Embark On A Flavorful Journey)

The Espresso Flavor Wheel is an official guide to determining the different flavors of coffee. I know it sounds like a carnival ride, but it's much more educational than that!

As I’ve mentioned before, a good espresso consists of complex flavors. It can be difficult to determine the specific flavor profile of coffee, however, if you’re new to doing so.

I’ve found a very valuable tool to be the Espresso Flavor Wheel, which helped me attune my tastebuds to very specific flavor categories.[2]

This isn't just a silly diagram, either. It's considered to be the industry standard for decades now.

Essentially, you start out with larger categories such as floral, fruity, nutty, roasted, etc., and gradually make your way to very specific flavors like anise, malt, hazelnut, grapefruit, and so on.

Espresso Flavor Wheel

How To Get The Perfect Cup Of Espresso

Coffee drinkers: if you’re on the hunt for the perfect coffee preparation method, make sure to follow these next bits of advice!

As long as you follow them, you can rest easy knowing you’ll have a perfect espresso shot every time.

It’s All About the Beans

There are two crucial ingredients when it comes to making espresso properly. A good espresso taste relies on clean drinking water and fresh coffee beans.

The coffee bean you select must be high-quality with flavors that you enjoy. If you're not sure, you can always test different types out! The taste will vary depending on many factors, including the roasting process.

While that's more about personal preference, I will highly advise you against using pre-ground beans.

It usually results in a weak brew, clogs, and the grinding process can remove a lot of the moisture, leaving the beans brittle and dry.

With coffee beans, you'll have more control over everything, resulting in a tasty, well-rounded beverage every time.

Top View of Coffee Beans

Master The Art Of Grinding Your Coffee

While pre-ground beans can be enticing and may save you time, I recommend you learn how to find the sweet spot in grinding your coffee to bring out all of the most delicious flavors.

You want to have ground the beans to result in finer grinds, to the point of a granulated sugar-like consistency that's airy and soft.

Fine grinds result in a stronger flavor, so you don't want it to be too fine, which could end up creating an espresso that tastes bitter.

The fine texture allows for more coffee contact surface for the water to pass over, allowing for a quicker espresso extraction time.

Tips From A Barista!

Make sure to tamp before brewing a balanced pull every time. This settles and compresses the grounds more into the portafilter, evenly distributing the coffee to create an even layer.

If you don't do this, it could create weak spots that water can pass through too quickly. This creates a sour espresso taste or poorly-concentrated coffee.

Grinding The Beans Using The Bodum Bistro

Find The Perfect Brewing Time

Now that you have the best beans and grind size, we now have to move on to the brewing process.

It's all about finding the right balance, where the water extracts the aromas and flavors without one aspect overpowering the other.

The ideal time for a shot of espresso is around 25 to 30 seconds, so your espresso tastes well-rounded.

Pulling Shots Of Espresso

Use The Right Amount

To avoid bad espresso, make sure the brew weight (amount of water used) lands anywhere between 1.5 and 2 times the amount of coffee.

Of course, this all depends on your individual palate, so you can experiment with different coffee blends and brew weights to create the combination you enjoy most.

Making Espresso Roast

Common Questions About Making Good Espresso

Why is espresso so intense?

Espresso is so intense because it is a concentrated amount of coffee, much more complex than the vast majority of foods and beverages we consume.

What does the color of a good espresso look like?

A good straight espresso will have a crema (the foam on top of the espresso drink) with a hazelnut, almost dark brown color with hints of red, with threads or thin stripes.

What does good espresso smell like?

A brewed espresso should have an earthy, nutty, chocolatey, caramel aroma that seamlessly blend together to make a rich, intense smell.

Is espresso tastier than coffee?

The espresso taste is definitely more bold and full-bodied than drip coffee. Regular drip coffee also tends to be more acidic and “watery” than the strong, rich espresso.

Is espresso supposed to taste sour?

Espresso isn't supposed to outright taste sour unless the coffee grounds it was made from has an acidic flavor profile already. These flavor notes should taste more like green apple, grapefruit, or even lemon juice.

What does espresso taste like at Starbucks?

Starbucks espresso is described as having a "rich caramel sweetness," balancing a strong scent with tender acidity.[3]

What is a dead espresso shot?

A dead espresso shot is when a shot of espresso sits too long after it’s pulled. An espresso shot is dead when the temperature cools down, and the heart, body, and crema all mix together. This results in espresso that may taste burnt or stale, overly-bitter flavors.

What does blonde roast espresso taste like?

Blonde espresso is known for being much more mild, with a citrusy, almost sweet flavor. Not only that, but a comparative tasting proves that it is more acidic and actually has more caffeine than regular espresso!

How much caffeine is in a shot of espresso?
What is special about a shaken espresso shot?

A shaken espresso is made by adding ice to the espresso, and shaking them together until it's cool and frothed on top. Many people like to add sugar or a flavored syrup for a bit of sweetness.


You don’t have to be a pro barista in order to enjoy a smooth espresso shot.

Follow these tips every time, and you’ll be pumping out the tastiest coffee beverages out there every time.

Good espresso doesn’t have to be a game of chance - just a bit of knowledge and the right technique!


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee_bean
  2. https://sca.coffee/research/coffee-tasters-flavor-wheel
  3. https://www.starbucks.com.cn/en/menu/coffee/whole-bean/dark-roast/starbucks-espresso-roast/
Kayla Stavridis

Kayla Stavridis

Kayla Stavridis is the Head of Marketing here at Barista HQ. While keeping up-to-date on the latest trends in coffee, you can find her sipping a cold brew with just a touch of milk on the beach in the afternoon and a Corona with lime in the evening. She is passionate about keeping you informed about what’s new in coffee.

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