An espresso is a concentrated coffee beverage brewed by forcing very hot, but not boiling, water under high pressure through coffee that has been ground to a consistency that is between extremely fine and powder. A perfect espresso has a soft crèma with a nutty or reddish/brown colour and has a dense sweet aromatic body. Contrary to many beliefs, espresso is the preparation of the drink – not the type of bean or the type of roast. Not all espressos are made from dark roasted beans – the roast depends entirely on the particular bean. An espresso should be consumed within 2 minutes from when it is served. A perfect espresso will look like a mini pint of Guinness with a creamy head. Espressos serve as the foundation of many other coffee drinks:
The Straight Shot:
- Ristretto – (or short shot) Meaning restricted, this is a shot that is stopped at ¾ of an ounce. This restricted extraction ensures that only the best qualities of the coffee are extracted and not the bitter elements. This is the preferred straight shot in Europe.
- The Single – Basically a shot extracted to 1 ounce.
- The Lungo - (or long shot) a shot extracted to 1.5 ounces.
- The Doppio (or double) – A 2 ounce shot using twice as much coffee in the portafilter.
The Americano – An Americano is a really good way to enjoy a regular strength cup of coffee. Simply extract a shot of espresso and fill the rest of the 6 to 8 ounce cup with hot water. This makes a smooth cup of coffee similar to drip brewed.
The Espresso Macchiato – Macchiato means “marked” in Italian. Therefore this drink is a shot of espresso marked with a small amount of foamed milk dabbed on top with a spoon and served in a demitasse (small cup).
Espresso Con Panna – Con Panna means “with cream” so basically this drink is the same as a Macchiato except using a dab of whipped cream instead of foamed milk.
Cappuccino – By far the most difficult coffee drink to prepare properly. When prepared properly, a cappuccino is made with velvety, wet foam that mixes with the pour instead of a large bubbled meringue floating on top of the espresso. The cappuccino is a shot of espresso with steamed milk poured in without holding back the foam (like in a latte).
Latte – A latte is probably the most popular coffee drink served in cafes and coffee shops. It starts with a single shot of espresso for a 6 to 8 ounce drink. Steamed milk is poured on top but the foam is held back with the spoon until about 70% to 75% full. Then it is topped off with foam.
For a larger latte (12 to 16 ounces) a double shot is used to maintain the coffee flavor.
Latté Macchiato – An inverted latté, with the espresso poured on top of the milk. When the milk is vanilla flavored with caramel drizzled over the top, it is called a caramel macchiato.
Café Bonbon – A shot of espresso served in a small glass filled with condensed milk. The shot and the milk remain separate unless stirred, as in a black and tan.
Mocha – A latte blended with chocolate.
About the Espresso
The best espresso should be extraordinarily sweet, have a potent aroma, and flavor similar to freshly ground coffee. The crema should be dark reddish-brown and smooth, yet thick. A perfect espresso should be enjoyable straight with no additives, yet bold enough to not disappear in milk. A pleasant and aromatic aftertaste should linger on the palate for several minutes after consumption.
The following steps describe in detail how to make espresso. You will also learn about the various factors and problems with espresso that limit its perfection. If any of these factors are off, you will not achieve a high quality espresso.
Making Perfect Espresso
Without a good espresso coffee blend you cannot have a good espresso. The best espresso coffee beans are blended to achieve the sweetness, aromatics, and smoothness desired in espresso. The espresso blend must also be fresh.
Too often you will find espresso roasted very dark. This results in a bitter, charcoal tasting brew. People that know how to make an espresso will roast light to preserve the aroma and sugars.
The grind must be continuously monitored throughout the day to achieve an extraction time of 25-30 seconds. Do not change the pressure you tamp with to compensate for a grind that has become too large or small.
A high quality burr grinder is essential for espresso. A conical burr grinder is preferred to flat burrs since the particle size is more even, they last longer, and the coffee is not heated during the grinding process. A conical/parallel hybrid blade is considered the best design by many coffee professionals.
Coffee must be freshly ground to achieve peak flavors. Grind and dose on demand. When someone orders an espresso grind only what is necessary for one shot, dose properly, tamp, and brew. Discard any espresso grounds that are not used within 30 seconds.
Distribution in Portafilter
Distribute the coffee evenly after dosing in the portafilter before tamping.