Towards the end of the 19th century certain Italians felt that brewing coffee in the traditional way simply took too long. This impatience encouraged creativity resulting in a new brewing machine which delivered something extraordinary - the first Italian espresso.
It was a 'shot' heard throughout the coffee world as authentic Italian espresso quickly became the integral part of 20th century café culture, as the central ingredient in a whole new field of espresso-inspired beverages such as latte, cappuccino and many others.
Made In Italy: True Espresso...
Espresso is one of the greatest Italian success stories - a style of roasting and preparing coffee that is widely imitated and, sadly, distorted in some interpretations.
To understand the components of a true Italian espresso, it is vital to understand the precise blending process in which each bean type has been chosen to provide the end product with specific characteristics in terms of...
* Aroma-rich Flavour
'Espresso' comes from the Italian for express (quick), as espresso is made and served immediately.
A double espresso is between 47 and 62.5 ml (1.5 - 2 oz) which uses 14 - 17 grams of coffee, through which purified water of a temperature between 88 - 95°C has been forced at 9 - 10 atmospheres of pressure during a brew time of 22 - 28 seconds.
The espresso should pour from the porta-filter like warm honey, with a deep reddish-brown colour and a crema that makes up 10 - 20% of the beverage.
Espresso brewing is determined by the four "M"s, namely - Macinazione which is the correct grind of a coffee blend, Miscela is the coffee blend itself, Macchina is the espresso machine, and Mano is the expertise of the barista. When each factor of the four Ms is set in place, the espresso that is produced is the ultimate in coffee experience.
An Espresso coffee has three essential properties...
1. The Cream/Crema: The foam that characteristically tops every good shot of espresso
2. The Body: The extraction of the oils produces a fullness of body that cannot be matched by any other coffee brewing technique;
3. The Aroma: The superb richness in the aroma of espresso is due to the crema which prevents the properties from dispersing into the air following the preparation of the brew.
Ideally, espresso should be sweet, with a full aroma and a flavour similar to freshly ground coffee. The crema must be dark reddish-brown, and be smooth, but thick. A perfect espresso should be enjoyable without any additives, yet bold enough not to disappear in milk. A pleasant and aromatic aftertaste should linger on the palate for several minutes afterwards.
The following factors are compulsory when preparing a true espresso:
* Blend - Without a good blend of beans you cannot achieve a good espresso. Coffees must be blended to reach the sweetness, aroma and smoothness desired in a true espresso. The beans must be fresh and it is recommended to use up espresso within four days of roasting.
* Roast - Too often you will find espresso roasted too dark. This results in bitterness and a charcoal-tasting brew. People that know how to blend espresso will roast correctly to preserve the aroma and sugars.
* Grind - The grind must be fine enough and coarse enough to achieve an extraction time of 25 - 30 seconds. Maintain a consistent tamp pressure rather than alter it to compensate for an incorrect grind.
* Grinder - A high quality burr grinder is essential for espresso. A conical burr grinder is preferred to flat burrs since the grind will be more even, plus they last longer and the coffee is not overheated during the grinding process. If the burrs become hot the aroma of the coffee will be affected. A conical/parallel hybrid blade is considered the best design by most coffee professionals.
* Dosing - Coffee must be freshly ground to achieve peak flavours. Grind and dose on demand. When making an espresso, grind only what is necessary for one shot, dose properly, tamp, and brew. Discard any espresso grounds that are not used within 30 seconds.
* Distribution - Distribute the coffee evenly after dosing in the porta-filter before tamping. Grind, dose and tamp.
* Tamping - Tamp the coffee once very evenly with 5 lbs of pressure, then once with 30 lbs of pressure, and polish 720° with 20 lbs of pressure.
* Water mineral content - The water used for espresso should be filtered. Over time oxygen will be forced out of the water in the espresso machine leading to off-tasting water. Periodically, fill a small glass with water, let it cool and taste it for off flavours. If the water tastes strange you may want to empty the tanks daily and begin with fresh water.
* Water temperature - The water temperature should be stable and between 92 - 96°C. The choice of the espresso machine is very important to both water temperature and temperature stability.
* Temperature stabilizing - A consistent temperature means consistent espresso.
* Water pressure - The pressure of the water forced through the espresso should be between 9 and 10 atm. This pressure is responsible for the production of a good crema.
* Boiler pressure - The boiler pressure determines the amount of water present in the steam. If your milk doesn't foam correctly you may want to change the boiler pressure, but this should only be altered by a professional. Keep an eye on your boiler pressure in the boiler pressure gauge on the front of most espresso machines.
* Extraction time - Extraction time to fill two 1 oz cups should be between 25 - 30 seconds. The goal is to have a dark red espresso take approximately 25 - 30 seconds to brew with no change in color.
* Porta-filter and basket - The porta-filter should be the same temperature as the water used to brew the espresso. Thus it should always remain in the group head. The basket should hold 16 - 18 grams of coffee and must be straight walled. A curved basket will lead to an uneven extraction.
* Time - Be quick, but careful. You should spend no longer than 30 seconds to dose, distribute, tamp, pre-heat, and brew the espresso.
* Espresso machine cleanliness - This is probably the main problem with espresso nowadays. If the machine, basket, and porta-filter are not cleaned properly and frequently then the espresso will taste poor.
* Espresso grinder maintenance - Everyday the burr blades must be brushed clean. Between shots you may want to sweep out the excess grinds that get stuck between the burrs and the dosing chamber. The burrs must be replaced yearly so that they continue to produce coffee grinds with a uniform surface area.
* Environmental Factors - Humidity and temperature will change throughout the day. Since coffee is hydroscopic (absorbs moisture), the grind size must be varied through the day to maintain a brew time of 25 - 30 seconds. The temperature will not affect the espresso like the humidity, but the coffee mustn't be exposed to any high temperatures until the brewing time.
* Espresso cup - The espresso cup must be pre-heated using a source other than the espresso machine. Filling a cup with hot water from the espresso machine before brewing will lower the temperature of the water in the boiler resulting in an uneven extraction. The espresso cup should be thick with a narrow mouth to retain heat and espresso aroma.
* Practice - The importance of practicing and experimenting is vital. The key to espresso is to realize that there is always more potential. By changing any of the above factors one can improve or diminish the end result. Espresso preparation is an art that demands the precision and dedication of science. The beauty of espresso is that it is unpredictable and not easy to prepare. If it were easy, then anyone could develop a machine to brew a perfect espresso every time. There are so many factors involved in true espresso preparation that only a concentrated and dedicated mind combined with a passionate heart can begin to understand and control its complexity.