What is espresso? Well, truthfully, it is the liquid of the GODS! And that is not an exaggeration… If you haven’t experienced it, you will understand how true that statement is soon enough. It is pure, liquid bliss: extra strong coffee flavor with a concentrated and thicker consistency topped with a creamy smooth crema.
The Europeans go nuts for this stuff. Walk into any European café and you will see tiny little coffee cups and even little to-go cups dotting tables and tucked neatly into happy, jittery hands. It is hugely popular and is quickly becoming a stable in coffee shops and even homes across North America. Espresso is no longer just the underground drink of choice of the elitist coffee snob set, but is quickly going mainstream and building an audience among coffee amateurs and dabblers.
Espresso has been around for over a century following the invention of the espresso machine in the mid-1800s. This machine was invented out of necessity. At the time, coffee had three problems:
The early espresso machines solved these problems by employing this awesome principle of physics: PRESSURE. The early espresso makers were able to utilize steam to push water through ground coffee beans and extract a TON of flavor.
In a word, yes… you have to have a special espresso machine that applies pressure to the coffee grounds while brewing. A normal coffee machine will not get the job done. Alternatively, you can use a Moka pot which is a different method of making espresso that works well if you are on a budget.
The term espresso refers to both the coffee itself and the brewing process. All you really need to know is that espresso is just coffee under pressure.
When properly brewed, espresso is thick in consistency and topped with a caramel-colored foam called crema. Not to get all technical on you, but to properly brew espresso, you should use:
ANY good espresso machine can do this for you, no problem. If you are in the market for a machine for your home or office, check out my other articles that break down the best machines on the market and help you select the perfect espresso machine to meet your needs.
The thick consistency of espresso is due to the high amount of dissolved solid particles therein. These particles are the result of the pressing or pushing of the water through the ground coffee beans during the brewing process. The crema is produced from the super high pressure. You cannot achieve this same effect from traditionally brewed drip coffee. Espresso is a whole other experience.
Both the espresso’s consistency and crema are unique, the crema has a distinct coffee aroma and strong flavor. This is an acquired taste. If you are used to Starbucks’ fifty shots of liquid sugar coffee abominations, then you probably aren’t worthy of espresso and will never be able to really appreciate it. Sorry, don’t hate, you know it’s true.
There are several different types of espresso, as well as a myriad of different kinds drinks produced using shots of espresso. You may not know it, but espresso is likely the base for your favorite drink at your local coffee house. Surprise! Ever heard of an Americano but don’t know what it is? Read on to find out.
This is the base for all the other drinks. It can be drunk in a small cup on its own or used to make a more complex drink
A latte is one of the most popular coffee drinks. Walk into any coffee shop and you will find a latte on the menu. A traditional latte is a shot of espresso mixed with steamed milk. A solid ratio is three parts milk to one part espresso. The latte is a frothy, creamy drink and especially delicious.
Cappuccino consists of two shots of espresso topped with some steaming, foaming milk in equal amounts. This type of beverage may be topped with spices (e.g., some ground cinnamon, ground chocolate, or sweetened cocoa powder) for a bite of extra flavor. FUN FACT: It’s named after the cap of the hooded robe worn by the Roman Catholic Capuchin friars that is said to resemble the steamed, foamed milk.
An Americano is a shot of espresso to which 6 to 8 oz of hot water has been added. Think espresso, but diluted. It is similar to a drip coffee in flavor but usually has a lower caffeine load. The story is that the beverage got it’s name during World War II when American GIs stationed in Europe would add hot water to espresso to approximate the taste of the coffee to which they were accustomed. Americans just couldn’t handle the concentrated flavor of the European espresso and literally had to water it down. It is now a popular drink around the world.
Italian for ‘marked’, a macchiato is espresso topped with a dollop of steamed milk. Not nearly as much as a latte. Just a little bit of milk in this drink, added by a rotating spoon.
Italian for ‘restricted shot’, Ristretto is an espresso shot pulled ‘short’ in order to produce some espresso that is particularly rich and intense in flavor. In order to produce this kind of espresso, 1.5 ounces of concentrated coffee must be extracted from 2.5 to 3 oz of ground coffee beans, which is the amount of ground coffee beans usually used in making double espresso shots. Ristretto is a difficult and advanced drink that only a truly skilled barista can make.
Lungo is the opposite of a ristretto. Instead of restricting the amount of water through the espresso, you add more. The espresso shot is pulled ‘long’ in order to extract as much of the caffeine within the ground coffee beans as possible.
Dark and medium-roast coffee beans are the most popular coffee beans used in espresso. Medium-roast coffee beans produce a milder in flavor than espresso extracted from dark-roast beans. If you like espresso with a kick, use dark-roast coffee beans. I prefer more densely flavorful espresso and use dark roasted beans exclusively.
Although you might be tempted to drink espresso in one of those bucket-like mugs, DON’T. Stick with the small, thick cups in which espresso is usually served. Unlike mugs, a small, thick cup is able to retain the heat and the aroma of the espresso. It actually tastes better. If you’d like to drink large servings of espresso, drink it in multiple smaller servings.
This is a big, no, no. If you do, the natural oils within the beans will coagulate and wont emulsify during brewing. Instead, keep them in your refrigerator in airtight containers. Coffee beans will go stale after about two weeks in open air. Using fresh beans is crucial to get the most flavor.
Both direct sunlight and heat can cook the natural oils within the coffee beans, or the ground coffee beans, and adversely affect the flavor as well as aroma of the espresso it can yield.
Have any questions? Want me to explain something in greater detail? Think I am just overly crazy about espresso? I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to hear from you. I am passionate about sharing and I write this blog for fun, so even kind words of encouragement go along way.
Feel free to leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!
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Week 1 - Home Espresso Machines
Week 2 - Coffee Beans
Week 3 - Types of Drinks
Week 4 - Advanced Brewing
Join Mike (me) and learn all the basics of making great tasting espresso!
I am a die-hard espresso fan. I love every form of the drink from straight espresso shots to lattes and cappuccinos. I currently use a Breville BES870XL Barista, it is an awesome machine. BUT, my dream machine is definitely an Italian Quickmill Andreja. Those bad boys make badass espresso. I love answering your questions, leave a comment or question below!