What is Espresso – Everything You Need to Know About it: Beans, Roast and Preparation

Before we go into much detail about Espresso, its caffeine level, how you should drink it, and all those expert knowledge, let us clarify one thing at the very beginning. It is not the beans that make Espresso. Indeed, roasts, beans, and grind size do matter but it is mainly the preparation that makes a coffee espresso.

In the coffee world, espresso undoubtedly holds a special place, and rightly so. The creamy and silky texture of espresso makes it a popular drink among many, especially in its place of origin, Italy.

Here, we will go through everything that you need to know about this coffee drink and describe exactly what is espresso, starting from its history to the process of preparation. Also, as a bonus, you will get to know how to make new drinks using espresso shots as a base.

What Is Espresso?

Espresso is a coffee drink that is highly concentrated and rich because of which it is not served in large quantities. It is usually served as strong shots that can also be used as a base for other coffee-based drinks.

As it is very strong and thick, serving it in shots reduces the caffeine level you consume. Although there are specific kinds of beans that make one espresso better than the other, it is not exactly very different from the normal coffee you drink in terms of the beans.

Espresso is prepared by letting high-pressurized hot water follow through the finely ground coffee. In the end, you have a very small amount of espresso, topped by a crema. We will get back to Crema in a while.

The word “espresso”, in Italy, has more than one meaning, all of which refers to the characteristic of this particular coffee drink.

The word refers to pressing which indicates the process of making an espresso that requires pressurized water.

At the same time, the word means “fast” referring to the brewing time of espresso which is a lot less than any other coffee. However, usually, only one shot is made at a time.

History Of Espresso

As already mentioned, espresso is an Italian invention. It is attributed to Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy who also built and patented the very first espresso machine in 1884. However, this espresso machine was later improved and developed into a better version by Luigi Bezzera, from Milan.

Bezzera’s machine was capable of preparing one shot of espresso, serving it directly in a small espresso cup. Although it was first popularized in Italy and its colonies, with the cappuccino, a coffee drink that uses espresso shots as the base, espresso took hold of the world beyond Italy.

How Does Espresso Taste?

Usually, we all see the drink before tasting it. In the case of espresso, the perfect color would be dark brown, nearly black, with a layer of golden-brown colored micro-foam crema on top. This layer of crema will eventually collapse but the color of the espresso shot will remain exactly the same.

The taste of espresso is very difficult to exactly pin down, but a perfect shot of espresso must have a sweet undertone and resemble rich caramel in flavor. To get the perfect flavor for your espresso, the grind size, extraction time, and water temperature play important roles.

Coffee Beans And Roast For Espresso

Before trying out all the different techniques and milk frothing strategies to get the perfect coffee drink based on the shot of espresso, it is essential to choose the best possible coffee beans and roast.

Please note that there are no such things as espresso beans. Espresso refers to the brewing method used to make coffee. The coffee beans, on the other hand, are distinguished on the basis of their roast which can range from light to dark.

For espresso, the medium to medium-dark roasted coffee bean works the best.

Medium-dark roasted beans

Medium roasts are heated till the second crack. They are generally dark brown in color. There will not be any oil on the surface and the flavor is slightly less acidic than on lighter roasts.

A medium roast is the best to begin your espresso experiments with.

Medium-dark roasts are heated beyond the second crack. They have a rich, dark color and show some amount of oil on the surface. The flavor can range from spicy to bittersweet, caramel to chocolatey, depending on the origin and the age of the beans used.

Going for 100% Arabica or blended coffee beans with medium or medium-dark roasts will give you the perfect shot of espresso, just as you deserve.

Here we have a guide on choosing top-quality espresso beans.

Grind Size For Espresso

The grind size for espresso is an important factor when it comes to getting the best shot. Coffee-making involves extracting caffeine and flavor from coffee beans.

This means that after selecting the beans most suited for making espresso, the next important step is to have an idea about the grind size. In the case of espresso, the water from an espresso machine passes at a very high pressure very fast through the coffee grounds.

Finely ground coffee beans

Therefore, the finer the beans are, the more the exposed surface area, resulting in faster extraction. For the shot of espresso that will make you want more, the grind size for the beans will be fine, resembling fine granulated sugar. Make sure that you consider the brew time and temperature as well.  

Caffeine Level Of Espresso

If we measure the caffeine content per unit volume of espresso, Espresso has a higher amount of caffeine than drip coffee.

Fact Check: One shot of espresso (about 1 oz volume or 30 ml) has around 47 to 64 mg of caffeine. Drip coffee (in North American standards) has a basic volume of around 8 oz and contains 95 to 165 mg of caffeine.

However, we must also take into account that usually people who drink espresso buy a doppio or a double shot, rather than a solo or single shot. The total amount of caffeine in a doppio falls between 90 and 130 mg.

Measuring the caffeine amount from the same quantity of drip coffee reveals that it has more caffeine per gram of fine-ground coffee.

Similar to a doppio, the amount of caffeine to be extracted from 8 oz of drip coffee is around 95 to 170 mg.

How To Drink Espresso?

Espresso is a very versatile drink. Depending on espresso concentration and espresso size, there are three types of espresso that must be tried by all coffee enthusiasts.

In the case of concentration, an espresso shot can be pulled in three major concentration variants – normale, lungo, and ristretto. There is another kind of diluted variety called the Americano that is equally popular. The variants differ on the basis of the quantity of water used to extract a given coffee quantity and the extraction time required.

A cup of Normale espresso
  • A normal espresso shot is the regular one where you use one fluid ounce of water for 7 grams of coffee.
  • A ristretto espresso shot, on the other hand, is very concentrated. To make a ristretto shot, you need to add half an ounce of water to 7 grams of coffee.
  • A lungo shot uses the highest amount of water (around 130 to 170 ml) for 7 grams of coffee.

On the basis of the espresso shot size, you can choose from solo (single shot), doppio (double shot), and triplo (triple shot). When hot water is poured on top of the coffee, the drink is called Americano. When the hot water is poured into the cup and the shot is pulled over it, the drink is called long black.

Espresso is popularly consumed after blending it with milk. This has led to the creation of a variety of espresso and milk-based drinks. The milk that is used to make these drinks is usually heated and then textured to create steamed milk (without much foam), wet foamed milk (microfoam), or dry foamed (frothed milk).

Espresso and milk go so well together that they have created some of the most well-known beverages available in coffee shops. These include macchiato, cappuccino, latte, mocha, and flat white. Espresso is used because it adds a distinctly strong flavor and an enticing aroma to the coffee.

How To Make Espresso?

Espresso is obtained by pushing hot water through a concentrated amount of finely ground coffee. Devices such as Moka pots or even steam espresso machines can be used to brew a good cup of espresso. However, they are not that effective if you want your cup of espresso to resemble a work of art. This is because pulling an espresso shot requires a lower water temperature and a mandatory 9 bar pressure.

*Moka pot

Moka pot and AeroPress are therefore espresso alternatives that you can use when you have no other option available.

The brewing process of Espresso is the most complicated among coffee brewing mechanisms. Several brewing methods need to be taken into account. These include extraction pressure, brewing temperature, size of the grind, and the dose of coffee ratio which is usually 1:2. All these factors are dependent on each other and thus need to be managed carefully.

Different Types Of Espresso Machines

There are 5 major types of espresso machines or makers that produce the kind of espresso that even coffee connoisseurs will be impressed by. These include:

Super-automatic espresso machine

1. Manual Espresso Machine

As the name suggests, a manual espresso machine uses human force to create the necessary pressure for brewing coffee. The most popular ones are the lever-operated ones which have manual pumps. A few manual espresso machines also have built-in water heaters.

2. Semi-automatic Espresso Machine

This one is a combination of hand-operated and machine-powered. The semi-automatic machine controls the brewing temperature and pressure.

3. Automatic Espresso Machine

This is completely automatic and stops the extraction of the shot at the perfect 25 to 30 seconds.

4. Super-automatic Espresso Machine

The super-automated espresso machine has all the automatic features for extracting a shot of espresso from weighing the coffee beans to grinding the coffee to steaming the milk as needed. This is one of the best espresso machines on the market right now.

Related: Our top picks of best espresso machines under $200

5. Capsule-based Espresso Machine

This is relatively new. Here, the automatic machine uses coffee capsules to prepare espresso. There is very little space for human error. However, the espressos can sometimes come out milder than intended.

What Is Crema?

A frothy layer of Crema on top

Crema is the brown frothy layer that rests on top of a shot of espresso. It is formed by the emulsification of air bubbles and coffee colloids to form oils soluble in coffee. It is often referred to as the “Guinness effect” because it resembles a well-known Irish drink.

A perfect shot of espresso is said to be complete only with the layer of crema on top.

However, it is interesting to note that although the espresso brewing method is more than 150 years old, the first shots of espresso did not have the crema. It was only when Achille Gaggia invented the hand-pumped machine that espresso got the crema it is now famous for.

How To Store Coffee For Espresso?

It is quite simple to store coffee beans for espresso. Store the beans or the coffee grounds in a thick, airtight, and opaque container inside a cool and dark place. Try not to put the coffee beans in the freezer unless you want to store the entire bag. Storing coffee beans in the freezer sucks out the moisture and reduces the flavor of the coffee

If the coffee beans come in a thick, resealable foil bag, with a valve or breathing space, then just keep it stored as it is. Once opened, it is best to consume all the coffee in a week or two. If possible, grind the beans just before using them for more flavor.

Difference between Espresso vs Other Coffees

There are certain key differences between coffee and espresso. The difference lies in the fact that pressure is used during the extraction of a shot of espresso. During espresso extraction, aromatic oils in the coffee are emulsified into the water, and the solids that are soluble are then extracted very fast.

Related: Espresso Vs. Cold Brew
Related: French Press Vs. Espresso
Related: How to make espresso in a French press

For drip coffee, the extraction process is not as fast and the application of pressure is absent in the brewing procedure. There is usually no crema in this case. Espresso also uses a finer grind which contributes to it being much thicker than drip coffee.

Moreover, usually, espresso is brewed in a concentrated manner (1:2 dose or coffee ratio).

Final Thoughts

Now that you have a clear enough idea about what espresso is and how to prepare a delectable shot of this amazing goodness, get your hands on some fine beans and an espresso machine and make your mornings that much brighter.

I'm a coffee lover, foodie, and blogger - passionate about coffee and all the things that go with it. I write about coffee, and news, learn about new coffees from across the world, do some home roasting, and share my thoughts on various other topics.

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