Photo by Greencolander/FlickrCC
On a trip to Italy in the early '80s, I visited a roaster in Pavia, near Milan. I accepted the offer of an espresso, but declined sugar. My host was surprised. After one sip I understood his surprise, and I asked for double sugar--to defeat the vile, rubbery, bitter, fermented fruit taste of the Zaire robusta he had blended [Curator's note: Coffea canephora, or robusta, the low-growing, cheaper, and commoner kind than high-growing Coffea arabica]. When I asked why he included this coffee in his blend, his reply was, "to make better crema." I didn't understand.
A few specialty roasters in the US have begun to experiment with putting robusta into their espresso blends. The typical reasons are to make it more like Italian blends or make a thicker crema. I do understand the preference for the texture of a good crema, but I don't understand sacrificing flavor to achieve it. In Seattle recently, I visited a small roaster on First Avenue downtown. I ordered an espresso, which was very well prepared. Then I tasted. As noted, the coffee was well made, and it was decently roasted, but why go to that trouble if you are using robusta or some low-grown, unwashed arabica in the blend? Crema? Not necessary. Authenticity?