Brazilian coffee forms the base of the vast majority of espresso blends. Even for roasters that decline to blend their coffees, it is usually coffees from Brazil that are the backbone of their selection of espresso roasts. The typical qualities of coffee from Brazil — low acidity, sweet, nutty or chocolatey flavours, and rich body — make it ideal for making espresso. Perhaps more importantly, the lower cost of Brazilian coffee helps to control the price of espresso blends, which are generally expected to be cheaper than single origin coffees.
While this assessment holds true today, Brazilian coffee production has changed a lot since these expectations were laid down. Increasing numbers of producers have moved into the specialty market, and lots of coffee are more commonly separated by origin or variety, rather than being blended together and sold as ‘Santos’, with no indication of where the coffee was grown. For roasters, therefore, treating Brazillian coffee as a single entity belies the diversity of flavour profiles available in this vast country.
That said, the kind of Brazilian coffees used in espresso blends make up most of the market, and tend to share certain characteristics. Processed either as natural or pulped natural, and grown at relatively low altitudes, such coffees tend to be soft, low-density beans. Low density coffees are generally less effective at conducting heat into the centre of the bean, so they benefit from slower roasting at lower initial temperatures, to allow more time for the centre of the bean to reach the desired temperature. In general, Brazilian coffees from lower altitudes are more likely to have soft acidity and develop bitter and roasted flavours (de Toledo et al 2017).
The most common exceptions are coffees from higher-altitude regions of Brazil, such as those grown in Caparaó or the mountainous regions in the west of Espírito Santo. In these conditions, the fruit ripens more slowly,