What is Espresso?
Espresso is a widely enjoyed coffee beverage at any social settings. However, it is also widely misunderstood. Espresso does not refer to any specific coffee bean, blend or roasting level. In fact, espresso can be made with any coffee bean with any roasting level. So what is espresso exactly?
In short, espresso just refers to the name of the coffee beverage made using its own special method. Just like we have drip coffee using the poured over in a filter method.
Just to sidetrack abit. Let also talk about the spelling. Sometimes, you may find espresso spelled as expresso. However, the correct spelling of espresso don’t spell with an ‘x’ according to Oxford dictionary as expresso is not used in the original italian language. Come to think of it. It’s logical to use the Italian language to decide on the correctness of the spelling since espresso originates from Italy.
Process of Making Espresso
Let’s get back to espresso itself. Essentially, the espresso involves the use of pressure. And not just ordinary pressure. It has to be very high pressure. Water also has to be heated to very high temperature. Coffee has to be grinded and pounded evenly into a puck shape. The high pressure then sends a jet of hot water into and through the coffee.
With such high pressure, the time to extract the solids and oils in the coffee is reduced. In fact, it is much shorter than the drip over method. Also, more of these coffee solids can be dissolved in the water. Oils can also be emulsified. What this process produces is an intense coffee flavour which is rich and thick. And topping it up is a nice, brown creamy layer of foam which espresso lovers called it “crema”. This coffee beverage is termed as the legendary “shot” of espresso.
And don’t mistake the richness of the coffee with bitterness. For a good shot is never bitter. If it is, something must have went terribly wrong!
History of Espresso
We can’t avoid going back to the roots when we are on the topic of ” what is espresso “. As you would already guessed, espresso doesn’t have centuries of history. Espresso was invented in Italy by Luigi Bezerra at the turn of the 20th century. The machine he invented used steam to speed up the process of brewing coffee. Desiderio Pavoni then further improved the design with the introduction of a pressure release value. However, the machine at that time could only exert less than 2 bars of pressures. These machines are similar to the modern moka pots. Although the time to brew coffee was reduced, the steam causes the coffee to have a burnt taste.
Then in 1947, Italian Achille Gaggia introduces a piston mechanism to add pressure during the brewing process. This added pressure led to the birth of the “crema” layer. Crema is the creamy foam layer on the espresso. This also marked the birth of modern espresso machines which are able to make espresso under high pressures.
From then on, espresso has taken the world by storm and created its own new industry. Fast forward to the present, technology advancements have changed the capability of the espresso machine to the extent of being able to prepare espresso at the touch of a button in your own home! An example is the Jura Ena Micro Espresso Maker. Now, it is no longer necessary to have a Barista to make your favourite espresso drink! In fact there are so many espresso makers at very affordable prices below $200.
Now that we appreciate the history of espresso. Let’s talk about the essence of espresso, CREMA. You may ask. What is the big deal about crema? Well, crema is a good indicator of the quality of your cup of espresso.
Why is that so? Let’s start from the ingredient, coffee beans. When coffee beans are roasted, carbon dioxide is created. The amount of carbon dioxide gases formed depend on two things. First is good quality coffee beans. Second is roasting being done just nice, not over, not under. As the coffee beans returns to room temperature, the gas will mostly escape into the atmosphere. But some will stay within the coffee beans.
Upon grinding the beans, the carbon dioxide is exposed. The hot water which is pushed into the coffee grounds in the espresso machine, quickly dissolves the gases until it can’t dissolve anymore. The resulting espresso then transitions from the high pressure in the machine to the lower pressure in the cup. This change in pressure causes the gas to be released to the top of the espresso, forming tiny bubbles. The chemicals in the coffee then cling onto these bubbles to form the crema.
This makes it important to use coffee beans as close to the time of roasting as possible. This will ensure that we have more of the carbon dioxide in the beans. So, from the amount of crema, we can tell the age of the roasting. If you don’t have a nice crema layer, then it could be that your Barista is serving old coffee beans.
Beside a tell-tale sign of roasting age, the color of crema tells you how strong the espresso is. Strong espresso will have dark crema.
Espresso Have More Caffeine Than Brewed Coffee?
Now you have a good idea about espresso. Let’s clear the air about the difference between espresso and brewed coffee. Many times, I hear people telling me that they avoid espresso because they want to reduce their daily caffeine intake. Instead they choose to drink the normal cup of brewed coffee.
Are they right? This question depends on the quantity being taken. As you know, espresso is made under high pressure and thus has more caffeine per ounce than the brewed coffee. If you drink as much volume of espresso as you would for drip coffee, then yes, you are going to be taking in more caffeine with espresso. However, most people don’t do that. They typically take one or two espresso shots at any one time. And the amount of caffeine in these one or two shots is definitely much lower than one full cup of drip coffee.
What Is A Perfect Cup Of Espresso?
Of course, we cannot end this topic of ” What is Espresso ” without talking about the “God Shot” of espresso. The “God Shot” is the term in barista circles used to refer to the ultimate perfect cup of espresso. So what makes a “God Shot”? It is said that there are as many as 800 aromatic substances in roasted coffee. To achieve a highly perfect espresso with the best taste and aroma, as much of the aromatic substances have to be extracted as possible. This is affected by many factors described in our guide to making good espresso.
Alright. That’s all I have to say about ” What is espresso ” today. By the way, there are several types of espresso and a variety of coffee drinks made from espresso shots. Check them out here. If you are sourcing for a budget espresso maker, don’t miss out the top picks here.