A lot of people talk about espresso (often mispronounced ex-presso) these days but what really is espresso? Is it a roast of coffee? Is it a drink by itself? Many drink espresso to show that they are coffee experts. In fact, I didn’t realize how little I knew about this drink until I started doing research for this blog post. Did you know that espresso is the basis of many popular drinks such as the caffe latte, cappuccino, caffe macchiato, caffee mocha and caffe Americano? When espresso was introduced to the west, where people were used to drinking drip coffee – it was a totally unique way to experience coffee.
What Espresso is Not
Before getting into the fine details about this drink, I think it would be a good idea to clear up any misconceptions about espresso. Firstly, espresso is not a type of coffee roast. In fact, Espresso coffee is often made from several roasts to form a bold flavour.
So What is Espresso?
Espresso is a unique method of brewing where hot water is forced under pressure through tightly packed coffee one serving at a time.
You need a specific type of machine in order to make espresso. The machine is made up of a chasis with a boiler. When the water in the machine gets hot enough, a pump allows it to flow into a metal device called a head which contains tightly packed coffee grounds. The pressure from the machine then forces the water through the grounds extracting the coffee oils very quickly.
One of the main differences between espresso machines and a regular coffee brewer is the pressure applied to the hot water. In the drip brewing method, the coffee is placed into the filter loosely and the water comes down through ground coffee by gravity. In brewing espresso, water is forced under pressure through very finely group coffee that is packed tightly over the filter.
The best coffee is made using a fast yet thorough brewing method. The more unpleasant chemicals in coffee become extracted the longer hot water and ground coffee stay in contact. This results in the more flavourful parts of the coffee and pleasant aromas evaporating. In the espresso brewing method, the pressurized water makes instant contact with every piece of ground coffee and quickly produces the coffee into the cup.
Espresso is a highly concentrated coffee and is served in one or two ounce amounts (approximately 30 or 60 ml). A one ounce serving of espresso is generally known as a “shot” of espresso.
Some consider espresso to be the strongest tasting coffee. Espresso has a higher concentration of coffee per ounce but since a cup of coffee is greater in size – a cup of java will have more caffeine than a shot of espresso.
What Defines a Great Espresso?
Now that we know a little about espresso, it’s a good idea to take a look at what makes a great espresso. There are three components of a great espresso shot; grind, taste and foam.
The grind is very important when it comes down to espresso. No two espresso machines or grinders are perfectly similar. With espresso the grind is much finer than the grind that you would use in a drip machine.
Espresso has its own unique taste than other coffee brewing methods. Espresso tastes more bitter than regular filtered drip coffee. The amount of bitterness can be reduced depending on the roast of coffee used. If one likes to drink a less bitter espresso, they can experiment with making espresso using lighter roast coffees. One characteristic that all well made espresso shots share is that they are tangy.
A sign of a good espresso shot can be determined by a layer of brownish foam on the top called the crema. The crema should appear strong and indicates the creaminess of the entire drink. You can think of it as something similar to what you might see in a pint of beer.
You can usually tell a few things about an espresso shot by visually looking at the crema. The first thing you can determine is the strength of the espresso drink. For example, a darker crema indicates a stronger espresso shot. The second thing the crema indicates is the freshness of the coffee used. Espresso shots containing more crema indicate that the coffee is freshly roasted. Espresso shots containing a less crema are signs that the coffee used was older.
I hope this article was helpful in answering some questions about espresso. Are you an espresso drinker? Do you like to drink espresso straight or do you prefer it to be the base of another drink like the caffe Americano? I would love to hear any thoughts of comments.