Coffee Break : Espresso
Updated: Mar 17
You gotta love the Italians. They've given us so much. Including the espresso. It's hard to think of how we can ever repay such a gift as this essential elixir of the gods. The Italian government considers espresso such an important part of their day-to-day life, that they regulate it. You may know that you love drinking the stuff, but what else do you know about this tasty beverage? Read on and let Sippy expand your understanding of all things espresso.
It All Began With a Man Named Moriondo back in 1884, a genius by the name of Angelo Moriondo patented his steam-driven “instantaneous” coffee beverage making device. His invention was one of the very first which controlled the supply of water and steam separately though the coffee. His device is considered one of the earliest espresso machines. The major difference here between this first prototype and the modern day versions, is that Moriondo's machine brewed in bulk instead of individual servings or “shots”.
It didn't take long at all for espresso to see massive popularity in Italy. Espresso bars were a byproduct of urbanization and were considered a wonderful place to go to socialize. Prices were even controlled by local authorities to ensure they didn't rise too high. The only catch was that the coffee must be consumed while standing. It didn't take long for the rest of the world to catch on to the magic of espresso. The rest, as they say, is history.
So, What Is Espresso, Anyway?
Well, for starters, espresso isn't in reference to a kind of bean or roast. Espresso only refers to a kind of coffee drink that is prepared in its own specific method. One of the major aspects that sets espresso apart from other coffee drinks is what is called the “crema”. This refers to the reddish-brown froth that forms when the soluble oils from a fine-ground coffee combine with air bubbles.
A shot of espresso is created by sending hot water through finely-ground coffee (that looks like a solid puck rather than loose grounds) under high pressure. This increase in pressure means the extraction time is significantly shortened compared to other methods. This form of preparation serves to thicken body, intensify flavor, and of course, results in that lovely crema.
What Does It Taste Like?
Espresso can have a bit of a reputation for being bitter. However, that has more to do with bean quality than something that should be taken as a given. Brewing with fresh beans, which are specialty grade or higher, will produce a less bitter and more flavorful espresso. What's also important to keep in mind here is that you are getting a super-concentrated form of coffee. Therefore, the flavors become that much more intense. This can cause the taste buds to become a bit overwhelmed, and individual notes harder to detect.
Espresso has an overall full flavor and longer aftertaste that other methods. Learning to taste all the different nuances of espresso can take time and practice. Just remember to sip slowly and savor. You will find the more often you drink it, the better you become at detecting all those delectable notes.
Single Shot Vs Double Shot
So, what's the difference here? Is there much of a difference? If we break things down by ratios, a single shot of espresso uses 7 or 8 grams of grounds and yields approximately 1 liquid ounce of espresso. A double shot, naturally, just doubles those numbers. So, 15 grams of grounds equals 2 ounces of espresso. When you order an espresso out, chances are good that you're actually getting a double shot. Unless specifically stated, or you request a single shot. As far as flavor goes, since ratios stay the same, there really isn't any noticeable change in flavor.
How To Make Espresso
So, now you've got the facts and you're ready to make your own espresso. Luckily, we've got a how-to, just for you.
Step 1: Fill your machine's reservoir with cold filtered water. Water quality has a significant effect on the taste of espresso.
Step 2: Turn on your machine and let it heat up. This can take anywhere between 15 to 45 minutes. You want the entire machine to feel good and warm.
Step 3: Lock an empty portafilter in place and let it run for a few seconds. This will force warm water into the parts of the machine that come in close contact with your coffee. Remember to wipe off the group head and the portafilter so they're nice and dry.
Step 4: Grind your beans with a burr grinder. Beans you mean to use for espresso need a rather fine grind. You're going for pieces about the size of grains of table salt. When the grounds begin to clump together, you're in the right neighborhood.
Step 5: Next, you'll need to dose your coffee. Using a scale is best for this. For a double shot of espresso, you'll want anywhere from 13-18 grams of coffee. You will adjust this measurement as you make more espresso and begin to discover what tastes you like best. 15 grams is typically the amount used to produce 2 ounces of espresso. For a single shot, use 6-8 grams of coffee to produce 1-1/5 ounces of espresso.
Step 6: Now it's time to fill your portafilter. Once you've poured the coffee in, you'll need to make sure it is properly distributed. You don't want any channels or huge gaps that might interfere with the water doings its job optimally. Simply do this by hand.
Step 7: Time to “tamp”. Set your portafilter down on a steady surface. You want to compact your grounds to help restrict the flow of water. This forces the water and the coffee to properly interact. You will want to apply a firm, even press. The grounds should form a solid “puck” shape. A firm tamp is absolutely paramount to even extraction and a superior shot. Pre-warm your desired espresso cup by swirling warm water inside and then discarding.
Step 8: When your puck appears level, return the portafilter to the group head and begin your brew. You'll end your brew according to your desired yield. Before serving, mix crema by stirring. A double shot or a single shot should take around 20-30 seconds to complete from the time you start the pump. If you seem to be undershooting or overshooting those numbers, check your grind and adjust.
You'll also want to be sure of your dose amounts and you're tamp. You're good to go!