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What is Espresso?

Oct 28

Many people heard about espresso, however, not many know what it is, or how is different from regular coffee. What is espresso and what does an espresso shot look like? There are many myths surrounding this popular beverage. For instance, a popular belief is that espresso is a type coffee bean.

Espresso gained its first foothold in America among immigrants from Italy. However, it wasn't really popularized in the rest of the country until the "second wave" of coffee-basically Starbucks. With the rise of "third wave" coffee roasters such as Intelligentsia and Stumptown, Blue Bottle, and New York's Gimme!, espresso has become something between an obsession, and an art form.

What's Espresso?

Contrary to popular belief, espresso is not a specific type of coffee. You need a special machine to make espresso.

Espresso, (expresso is not the correct word), is a concentrated, full-flavored form of coffee. It is prepared by forcing hot water through finely ground coffee beans with an espresso machine. This produces a stronger liquid than drip coffee. Espresso has a top layer called "crema," which is a brown foam formed when air bubbles and the soluble oils in fine-ground coffee beans. We find crema on top of a properly pulled espresso shot. The crema adds to the rich flavor and lingering aftertaste of espresso.

If you're looking for special espresso beans, you might see them in the coffee aisle of your local grocery store. Contrary to a popular belief, the espresso label does not refer to the beans. What makes espresso different from regular coffee? It's not the beans themselves, but how you roast and brew them.

Espresso is made from the same plant as coffee and is processed in the same manner. Espresso can be made from any origin or roast coffee. Espresso and coffee are different because of how the beans are processed and brewed.

For instance, in espresso brewing, the beans are ground to a finer consistency than coffee, and then firmly packed before the hot water is forced through an espresso machine. This produces a shot of espresso.

From a taste perspective, espresso is a combination of all the flavors found in coffee, but it's amplified. Coffee roasts will also affect the flavor profile. Espresso is thicker and creamier than coffee.

The Espresso Machine

At the end of the day, the difference between coffee and espresso derives from the way they are processed and brewed.

A specific machine is required to make espresso. A high-pressure espresso machine pumps water through the finely ground coffee beans. Automatic espresso machines include built-in grinders, and other ways to automate the brewing process, and simplify the operator’s task. With cheap espresso machines, however, you will need a separate grinder to obtain the fine coffee powder. You will also need to measure coffee, tamp, and time the shot.

You can choose from a semi-automatic, automatic, or super-automatic espresso machine depending on your needs and budget.

The super-automatic machines can do all the work for the barista. These machines will automatically measure, grind and tamp the coffee. They also time and extract the espresso shot. The barista only needs fill the bean hopper, and fill the water reservoir. Some models even include an automated milk frothing device.

There is an entire science on how to choose an espresso machine, but this is an entirely different subject and we are not going to talk about it here.

What is Crema?

Espresso crema refers to the thick layer of foam that forms on top of correctly brewed espresso shots. The foam is caused by carbon dioxide in your ground that has been off-gassed. It is first dissolved into solution when the pressurized hot water passes over freshly ground coffee. As the liquid returns at atmospheric pressure, carbon dioxide is released from solution and forms bubbles. These bubbles are then wrapped in a liquid film consisting mainly of emulsified oils and coffee fines.

Although not the most important aspect, seeing crema in your cup is a sign that you have successfully combined the base extraction factors. If you don't get crema, you may need to adjust one or more of the main factors in espresso brewing: your coffee beans, grinder, resistance in coffee bed and water temperature.

So little understood, yet espresso is found everywhere in coffee shops. It is part of cappuccinos, lattes, or the flat white. The strong flavor and the concentration makes it the perfect type of coffee to us for milky caffeinated concoctions.

And as a last comment, espresso is a strong coffee, without a doubt. But not any strong coffee can be called espresso. I had to say that.