Ahhh the scent of espresso in the air. I love it.
So, what is it exactly and why is it so hard to get right? (I’m looking at YOU most restaurants and cafes).
espresso ( noun espres·so \e-ˈspre-(ˌ)sō\ )
- coffee brewed by forcing hot water through finely ground, compacted coffee beans
- a cup of espresso
>The following explanations are via wikipedia, my opinions come after them<
Espresso is made by forcing hot water under high pressure through finely ground, compacted coffee. Tamping down the coffee promotes the water’s even penetration of the grounds. This process produces an almost syrupy beverage by extracting both solid and dissolved components. The crema is produced by emulsifying the oils in the ground coffee into a colloid, which does not occur in other brewing methods. Generally, one uses an espresso machine to make espresso. The act of producing a shot of espresso is often termed “pulling” a shot, originating from lever espresso machines, which require the pulling down of a handle attached to a spring-loaded piston, forcing hot water through the coffee at high pressure. Today, however, it is more common for the pressure to be generated by an electric pump.
I’m not sure if this is clear, but if you’re serious about espresso, you’ll be getting your own machine… and also a grinder. Don’t forget a grinder. When you have taken the plunge and invested in an espresso machine, you need to practice. You need to take your time, make small modifications to grinding the bean, tweak the size and length of your shot and generally find your taste preferences by trial and error with your setup. Putting a capsule in, pressing one button and then bumping into George is not quite the same thing.
Espresso is both a coffee beverage and a brewing method. It is not a specific bean, bean blend, or roast level. Any bean or roasting level can be used to produce authentic espresso. For example, in southern Italy, a darker roast is generally preferred. Farther north, the trend moves toward slightly lighter roasts, while outside Italy, a wide range is popular.
Don’t get bogged down with what bean you “should” buy. Tastes are different and just because it’s a well know brand, doesn’t mean it’s for you. Again, take your time and try out different beans and blends. Some online coffee websites offer test packages with small quantities of different brands. Go wild. This is a long game. Once you’ve found “it” you’ll know.
The main variables in a shot of espresso are the “size” and “length”. This terminology is standardized, but the precise sizes and proportions vary substantially.
The size can be a single, double, or triple, using a proportional amount of ground coffee, roughly 7, 14, and 21 grams; correspondingly sized filter baskets are used. The Italian multiplier term doppio is often used for a double, with solo and triplo being more rarely used for singles and triples. The single shot is the traditional shot size, being the maximum that could easily be pulled on a lever machine.
The length of the shot can be ristretto (or stretto) (reduced), normale standard (normal), or lungo (long). These may correspond to a smaller or larger drink with the same amount of ground coffee and same level of extraction or to a different length of extraction. Ristretto, normale and lungo may not simply be the same shot, stopped at different times – which may result in an under extracted shot (if run too short a time) or an over extracted shot (if run too long a time). Rather, the grind is adjusted (finer for ristretto, coarser for lungo) so the target volume is achieved by the time extraction finishes.
When you’re at home, you will likely only be pulling single normal shots. As you get to grips with your machine, this will become second nature. The amount of coffee, the tamping pressure, length of time it takes etc. will all lead to your fave shot of espresso. Honestly, I can’t remember ever making myself a doppio. If needed, I just go again.
A barista (from the Italian for “bartender”) is a person who prepares and serves espresso-based coffee drinks.
While the title is not regulated, most coffee shops use the title to describe the preparer of coffee and operator of an espresso machine. Espresso is a notoriously finicky beverage, and good manual espresso making is considered a skilled task. Beyond the preparation of espresso and other beverages and general customer service, skilled baristas acquire knowledge of the entire process of coffee to effectively prepare a desired cup of coffee, including maintenance and programming of the machine, grinding methods, roasting, and coffee plant cultivation, similar to how a sommelier is familiar with the entire process of wine making and consumption. A barista can acquire these skills by attending training classes, but they are more commonly learned on the job.
If you’ve ever had an espresso in an Italian espresso bar, you’ll know the difference between those guys and gals, and the people who work in Costas. Just saying.
As most people drink cappuccino, latte, macchiato etc, cafes neglect the quality of the shot of espresso, because the customer can’t tell if it’s good or not. The steamed milk and whatever else people have started putting in their coffee disguises the taste of the shot. Therefore, more often than not, when an espresso is ordered, the drink itself is below average. When you do happen to chance across a cafe that can produce a good espresso, tell them. And keep going back for more.