Americano, cappuccino, latte, and frappe are the most popular coffee drinks in the world. All these names have one thing in common – they are made from ESPRESSO. But have you ever thought about what is espresso? Is it a coffee drink? Or maybe it is a special coffee beans blend? Or it’s a brewing method? If you’re a coffee connoisseur, we’re sure you know the right answer. But if you still have doubts about your knowledge – stay with us. We’re about to start our fascinating “espresso-tour”!
Some people say that espresso is the best coffee in the world. It’s amazing and aromatic, impudent and exciting, strong and slightly bitter – real coffee for real life! It turned from a mysterious overseas guest into an indispensable everyday companion, without which we cannot imagine any meal of the day.
Is Espresso Coffee Or Not?
So without further ado, espresso is a type of coffee drink (often called “a shot”) prepared by pulling pressurized hot water through a filter made of finely ground coffee (called “cake”). Hence, the answer to our question is “Yes, it’s coffee!” and also it’s a method of coffee brewing.
Before we dive into the world of aromatic coffee beverage, here is the definition of espresso from SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America):
Espresso is a 25–35ml (.85–1.2 ounce [×2 for double]) beverage prepared from 7–9 grams (14–18 grams for a double) of coffee through which clean water of 195°–205°F (90.5°–96.1°C) has been forced at 9–10 atmospheres of pressure, and where the grind of the coffee is such that the brew time is 20–30 seconds. While brewing, the flow of espresso will appear to have the viscosity of warm honey and the resulting beverage will exhibit a thick, dark golden crema. Espresso should be prepared specifically for and immediately served to its intended consumer.
Frankly, the standards of the Association are ideal, but sometimes in real life, we may have a different outcome. The same settings on different coffee machines work in different ways. Therefore, baristas create their own special recipes, depending on coffee beans blend and roasting. But we’ll get back to it later.
Espresso: Origin, History
It’s not difficult to guess the country of origin of the espresso. Of course, it’s Italy! In Italian “espresso” literally means “pressed-out”. Some Italians say that “espresso” can be interpreted as coffee “made right here and only for you”. And we’d say, there is some sense in it because the espresso coffee is indeed brewed very quickly, and the standard volume of one serving is only 25-30 ml and usually it is served for intended customers.
Actually, strong black coffee is the eternal love of all the inhabitants of the Mediterranean coast. And, espresso has been developed in response to the accelerating rhythm of life at the end of the 19th century. Until that time the drink was prepared only in cezves (Turkish coffee pots), and coffee house visitors needed to wait quite a long time to get their cup of joe. Thus, the owners of such cafes tried to adopt a partial solution to prepare so-called caffè express, and it was a one-cup drip filter. Inventors all over Europe started experimenting with different forms of brewing pressure to reduce the contact time between water and coffee.
In 1905 the Milanese businessman Desiderio Pavoni began production of the first commercial espresso machine “the Ideale”, using a patent, obtained from Italian engineer Luigi Bezzaire. This machine prepared a fresh cup “expressly” for an individual customer within “express” time, by “expressing” the water through the coffee. Unfortunately, such espresso was far from ideal: it had a black color, smelled burnt and had a bitter taste. Moreover, there was no famous crema – the hallmark of an espresso, and the beverage was larger in volume than today. It was more like concentrated filter coffee.
Such a flaw was fixed by Milan barista Achille Gaggia, who proposed a completely different technology, which allowed to prepare a new beverage – crema caffè. In his semi-automatic coffee machine, the pressure created a stream of hot water supplied under high pressure (3 to 12 bar) through the coffee cake. Since the water temperature in such a coffee maker was below +100°С, the essential oils and colloids from coffee beans created a mousse on top of the drink (known today as crema). Thus drink’s aroma became fully revealed and the burnt smell disappeared.
After the war, the economic situation in Italy was extremely difficult. Due to this fact, many residents emigrated to English-speaking countries: the USA, Canada, Australia, etc. Italian immigrants brought their favorite drink to these countries and started opening their own cafes and bars, where espresso was served. As a result, in the mid-60s of the last century, the drink gained popularity on all continents.
How To Make Espresso: Preparation Peculiarities
When it comes to the preparation of espresso, there are a lot of nuances to be considered.
First of all, there is a generally accepted standard of espresso (mentioned about it earlier): it’s a drink with a volume of 25-30 ml, brewed at a temperature of at least 90–96°С, under a pressure of 9 bar, which causes water to pass through finely ground and fresh coffee. Brewing time between 20 and 30 seconds.
This method of making coffee allows extracting more oils, aroma, and taste from coffee beans than any other method. Espresso is a completely opaque, viscous and dark liquid, with a tan-colored dense crema. It has a rich, deep, pungent, enveloping taste with a slight bitterness and a long aftertaste.
The Italian process of espresso preparation relies on the “4 M” rule:
- macchina (machine);
- macinazione (grind);
- miscela (blend);
- mano (the hand of the barista).
The barista chooses an appropriate blend of coffee beans and grinds it to fineness which helps to deliver the beverage within desired parameters.
Let’s take a more precise look at all the peculiarities of espresso preparation and what to consider when setting up your espresso machine for your cup of joe.
Pressure and Coffee Grind
The task of the espresso machine is to prepare a given amount of drink in a certain period of time. For this, it’s essential to control the speed of water passing through the coffee particles.
The quality of extraction depends on the speed of the water flow. If the water passes slowly, too many substances will be extracted, and, as a result, the espresso will turn out to be bitter and will have a burnt aroma. If water flows too fast, the coffee will be under-extracted, acidic, astringent, and unsaturated.
9 bar is considered to be the perfect pressure for espresso. At a pressure below 9 bar, the ground coffee layer has such a strong resistance that the water flow rate drops. At pressures above 9 bar, ground coffee becomes so compressed that the flow rate also slows down. As long as your machine gives a pressure close to ideal, there is nothing to worry about. If the pressure is too low, the resulting espresso will lack the body and creamy texture. High pressure can give the drink a strange woody bitterness, which is also not very pleasant.
The speed of water flow depends on 2 components:
- the amount of ground coffee (the more you put it in the basket, the longer the water will pass through the coffee particles);
- the size of the coffee particles (grind).
The finer the grind, the denser the coffee particles adhere to each other and the more difficult it is for water to pass through them. If you imagine two cans, one of them filled with sand and the other – with pebbles, water will flow through the pebbles much faster than through sand. The same goes for coffee: the machine pushes water faster through the coarse coffee grind.
Espresso requires one of the finest grinds. But the actual grind depends on the roast and the blend used. The darker the roast, the larger the grind, and vice versa – light roast coffee requires slightly finer grind than usual. Specialty coffee requires its own grinding level.
We think, there is no reason to say that for espresso freshly ground coffee should be used ONLY, right?
Without exaggeration, it must be said that espresso is one of the most difficult methods of coffee brewing, requiring strict following the recipe and concentration from the barista. A deviation of a few seconds, a small change in the amount of ground coffee or water – and the taste will change beyond recognition.
Coffee Roast and Origin
The method of brewing espresso is different from others. Since the amount of added water is small, achieving good extraction is not an easy task. In addition, the concentration of espresso is very high (the drink is strong), therefore it is extremely important to maintain a balance.
The darker the roast, the higher the coffee extraction (the ability to give soluble substances to water) and the easier it gives off its aromas. Dark roasted coffee has good extractability. To increase extraction for medium and light roast coffee, use higher water temperature and finer grind.
For espresso, it is better to use coffee roasted 1-2 weeks ago. If you use too fresh beans, their active degassing will slow down the flow. If less than 10 days have passed since the coffee was roasted, one more degree should be added to the base water temperature. And if the roasting was done more than a month ago, it is worth adjusting the grind – make it finer.
Coffee beans growing conditions, terroir, determine not only the taste potential. The machine settings (for espresso) depend on the beans’ variety and height of growth. The higher the coffee tree grows, the more difficult it will be to extract the necessary substances from the beans. The solution is to increase the temperature.
The dosage of coffee depends on the size of the holder basket: it can be single or double. We recommend preparing espresso in a double basket because the extraction is more stable and even in it, due to a more even mesh structure.
We recommend using larger baskets with a dosage of 17–20 grams of coffee and using the weight of the coffee that is written on the grid. The perfect dose for a shot of espresso is 18 g.
Scales is one of the main tools for the preparation of a good espresso. To ensure a stable result, before preparing each serving we recommend weighing coffee on a scale with 0.1 gram deviations.
The volume of one serving of espresso with a standard ratio is twice as large as the portion of ground coffee in the portafilter (for example, if you took 18 g of coffee, you’d get 36 ml of espresso).
8 Steps To Your Perfect Espresso
- Prewarm the serving cup. A good coffee cup has thick walls, which help to keep the temperature of the drink as long as possible.
- Make sure that the portafilter basket is clean and dry. Leftover coffee from a previous brew can give a burnt flavor. There shouldn’t be any moisture in a holder, so that ground coffee does not absorb it prematurely.
- Comply with the proportions of ground coffee and extraction time. There is a huge risk of getting under- or over-extracted drink.
- Tamping. Very often baristas do not care about this process too much, but in vain… The tamping must be even and performed only once (press once, for further leveling, the tamper should not put pressure on the coffee bed).
- Before inserting a holder with tamped coffee into the machine, do not forget to make a spill. There are 2 goals here: cleaning the machine and draining the superheated water.
- Insert the holder and start the process of making espresso.
- The coffee extraction time should be in the range from 20 to 30 seconds. During this interval, you should get a volume of coffee 2 times higher than the portion of ground coffee.
- Before serving, shake espresso in a cup in a circular motion. Pour it in a demitasse cup.
How To Serve Espresso
Espresso’s “life” is quite short, so it should be served and drunk within 1-1.5 minutes after preparation. Usually, it is served in special small coffee cups or in thick-walled demitasse cups.
As a rule, in Italian cafes, espresso is served with a glass of still water. A common mistake is to drink water after coffee. In fact, you need to drink it before coffee to cleanse the receptors and fully enjoy the taste and aroma of espresso.
What Is Ideal Espresso
Aroma. Just as a sommelier appreciates wine, you must definitely inhale the smell of coffee before tasting it. The smell of the perfect espresso is rich, with floral and chocolate notes.
Crema. Appearance, as you know, makes the first impression. Espresso foam should be deep hazelnut color with reddish tints, 2-3 mm thick and occupy about 10% of the drink on top.
Taste. From the first sip, you should feel several different notes. Firstly, this is the aroma of roasting, since heating enhances the smell of beans. Secondly, chocolate and floral motifs: high-quality coffee will have a fruity aroma with floral notes with hints of chocolate and vanilla. And finally, the taste of freshly baked bread, which confirms the quality of roasting.
Consistency. The perfect espresso is a bit bitter but well-balanced, more viscous than regular drip coffee, but not syrupy.
At a professional evaluation of espresso cup, judges focus on a balance of sweetness, acidity and bitterness in taste. According to the regulations, the drink should smell good, have a dense body, be smooth. Outside of coffee championships, there is a simpler explanation: a delicious espresso is one that won’t make your face screw up and won’t make you want to immediately drink water.
Well, the espresso world is so huge, that it’s impossible to stop talking about it. It’s not a secret that there are a lot of espresso-based drinks, which are so popular around the globe. About some of them, we’ve already told you in our article.
Here is the punch line: there is no americano or latte or cappuccino, as well as perfect morning, without espresso. Do you agree?
Want to share your observations or life-hacks about making espresso? CoC team is always open to talk in comments!
Have a nice coffee!