What Makes A Great Cup Of Espresso

What Makes A Great Cup Of Espresso

Over the last twenty years, espresso coffee has become a wildly popular beverage world-wide. Thanks to the marketing efforts of Starbucks, Peets, Caribou and other coffee house chains, the United States has seen an explosion in espresso consumption.  Coffee carts, coffee shops in bookstores and supermarkets are now common sights and are quite often very busy.  Recently, new outlets selling espresso and other coffee drinks have started to appear in places that never offered anything too unique.  Gas stations almost always have a coffee station that offer brewed coffee and espresso in some limited form.  Cinemas, hospitals, churches and clothing stores have discovered that Americans love their espresso and other coffee drinks, and that these drinks can be a welcome source of revenue and profits.  Take a trip to Seattle and you will be amazed at the number of coffee shops and coffee carts that inhabit the entire city.

When it comes to espresso it is important to remember that means a type of brewing method that results in a certain type of beverage.  Far to often, people think that espresso just means strong coffee.  While the drink is strong, it is the brewing process that is called espresso.  When you make an espresso, you are forcing (expressing) a small amount of hot water through tightly packed ground coffee.  This results in a very concentrated, flavorful small cup of espresso.  Usually a serving of espresso will be around one ounce, called a shot.  A double shot of espresso is around two to three ounces and will have the same intense flavor, but with more volume.  It is almost always necessary to use an espresso maker to make espresso, although a few of the new pod coffee makers (k-cup) will make a decent cup.

Making A Great Cup Of Espresso

Making a great cup of espresso will require a few certain key steps and ingredients that can’t really be replaced.  First off will be the coffee beans themselves.  Generally, coffee beans become darker the longer that they are roasted (raw coffee beans are green).  Darker roast coffee beans usually start out as a specific coffee bean created for a richer coffee flavor, then roasted longer than other coffee beans.  IN the reverse, a light roast coffee bean is roasted for a shorter period of time and has a milder coffee taste.  The roasting doesn’t usually affect the caffeine level.

The second important step in the brewing process will be the grind of the coffee beans.  Espresso requires a very fine grind, more finer than traditional drip brewed coffee.  The finer the grind of the coffee, the more difficulty the water has getting through the coffee and filter, resulting in that intense coffee flavor that espresso lovers crave.

A Perfectly Brewed Cup Of Espresso

Step three is the water, specifically hot water that is at the perfect temperature.  Drip brewed coffee is not terribly impacted by water that is too hot, it will still brew properly and the results taste close to the same as coffee brewed at the proper temperature.  Not so with espresso.  Water that is too hot will give espresso a burnt, oily taste.  If the water isn’t hot enough, you end up with dark water.  It’s important that the water is at just the right temperature as it is forced by steam through the ground coffee.

Perfect Espresso Requires Perfectly Heated Water

Properly heated water will brew the espresso in 3 distinct stages.  Stage one forces out drops of oil from the coffee beans.  This is a highly concentrated form of coffee, strong tasting and very rich.  Stage two will send through more of the water that has been flavored by the ground coffee.  Stage three sends out the gases and foam that form the crema, the lovely foam on top of the cup of espresso.

Timing is crucial for a good cup of espresso.  Most espresso machines will turn out a cup in around 20 seconds, although each machine is a bit different.  Surprisingly, a cup of espresso, while it has a much more concentrated coffee flavor, will usually have a bit less caffeine than a cup of brewed coffee.

A Perfectly Brewed Cup Of Espresso

A good barista knows that a fine cup of espresso will have the 3 distinct stages of brewing and will result in 3 distinct layers in the cup.  Darker at the bottom, medium brown in the middle and a bit of foam on the top.  Most baristas will use their frothing (steaming) wand to make a design in the foam if the espresso is going to be served in the cup it was brewed in.  This process can be a real art form and is fun to watch.  Your home espresso machine may have a wand for steaming milk.  Trying creating your own designs in the crema of your espresso.  The first few will look horrible, but after a bit of practice, you will be showing off to your family.

Different Ways To Use Espresso

Espresso isn’t always drunk straight.  Often it is used in espresso based drinks, such as lattes and cappuccinos.  It can be added to iced drinks, giving them a coffee taste and a rich flavor.  Chocolate lovers will often blend espresso and chocolate in drinks, ice cream and desserts.  The two flavors, both from beans, mix very well.

Whether you enjoy your espresso at a coffee shop or make it home, it’s important to know what makes a good espresso.  Good coffee beans, properly ground, used in a good espresso maker with water at the right temperature will help ensure a perfect cup of espresso.

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