Espresso is a coffee beverage born in Italy. It is both a method of brewing coffee and a descriptor for the rich flavored coffee produced by forcing hot water through fine-grind coffee beans. This is done within 25-30 seconds to acheive the distinctive taste and aroma of fresh espresso.
Espresso coffee is different than standard coffee, as espresso is somewhat thicker and has crema on top. The crema is a brownish foam that forms on good espresso, that adds to the complex taste and wonderful aroma.
Espresso also has more suspended dissolved solids compared to regular brewed coffee or drip coffee. That dissolved coffee provides a higher dose of caffeine, which makes any espresso based drink a great choice for early risers.
The first sign of espresso quality to check for at your favorite café is crema. A good espresso bar will always serve espresso drinks with crema on the surface.
Of course, no matter how talented your barista or how fancy their portafilter, the most important factor for flavor has nothing to do with the brewing method, and everything to do with which type of coffee bean your café is using.
There are many grades and subtle flavor differences, some with more or less caffeine.
Because espresso coffee is brewed by forcing hot water through ground coffee, a finer the grind creates a shot with richer flavor and more caffeine. A quality coffee grinder is as important as an automatic espresso machine to brewing good espresso.
It is also important to know how espresso is ordered and served. It is done in small pours called an espresso shot. A solo is one espresso shot, and a doppio is two shots, also called a double. Doppio's have become the more standard fare for regular espresso drinkers.
Whether your barista pulls a solo or doppio, it is usually into a demitasse cup. A demitasse looks like a small coffee cup, and it will hold either amount of espresso.
While espresso is served in a small coffee cup, that does not mean that it is meant to be gulped down. A shot of espresso is not the same as a shot of tequila. There is a correct way to enjoy it.
The aim is to savor the drink and enjoy its rich, strong flavor. Sip at it but drink it quickly enough that you get the full effects of the crema on top.
When first trying an expresso, no one wants to look unsophisticated by drinking it wrong. However, how do you know how to do it if you have never had one? Here are a few basic steps to make sure you get the most out of your espresso and look good while doing it.
- Order — This is probably the most obvious step. Put in an order for espresso at your favorite coffee shop or get everything ready if you are making it at home.
- Water — Drink some water, preferably sparkling to make sure your pallet is cleansed. If you want to experience the full-bodied taste of expresso, you do not want the flavor competing with whatever you have had to drink and eat already that day. In some places, baristas will automatically serve sparkling water with your espresso.
- Crema— Once you have your espresso, you can choose to skim off the crema or leave it on. Crema indicates that your drink is well made but that doesn't mean you have to drink it. Some people enjoy it and others do not. You will be able to decide what you prefer once you have tried it.
- Stir — Once you decide about the crema then you can stir your drink. It will often come with a small spoon for doing this. You can add sugar if you wish as well.
- Sip — Now that you are set, enjoy. Sip the espresso to savor its deep, bold flavor.
Popular Espresso Drinks
While espresso is a great drink on its own, it is also a great base for other coffee drinks. There are lots to choose from. Try ordering a few different ones to find your favorite espresso-based drink.
- Doppio – A double shot of espresso. It is actually more the standard offering than the solo.
- Ristretto – A short shot or one that is “restricted”. It is concentrated espresso and is half the amount of a solo shot.
- Lungo – This is the same size as a doppio espresso but is stronger due to concentration.
- Latte Macchiato – This is a regular doppio espresso but has foamed milk as well.
- Café Noisette – A doppio espresso along with one ounce of hot milk.
- Cappuccino – This is 2 ounces of espresso with another 2 of milk that has been steamed. Finished off with 2 ounces of milk that has been foamed.
- Americano – Espresso diluted with water. Between 1 to 2 shots of espresso making up half the drink and water making up the other half.
- Affogato – Yum! This is 2 ounces of espresso along with 3 of vanilla ice cream.
- Breve – This combines 2 ounces of espresso with a full 3 shots of cream that is ½ and ½ . This is a really rich, smooth blend.
- Red Eye – Basically this is a drink that will increase your caffeine intake. A solo of espresso in a regular cup of coffee.
- Caffe Latte – A doppio of espresso put into a large cup of steamed milk. These drinks can be flavored with different syrups.
- Mocha – This is for the chocolate lover. It is a blend of 60ml of espresso, another 60ml of hot chocolate and then topped off with steamed milk.
- Café con Hielo – Simply an iced espresso coffee (hielo is Spanish for ice) 50 ml of espresso poured over ice.
- Con Panna – If sweet is your thing then this dessert drink is great. A double shot of espresso with 3 ounces of whipped cream on top.
How to Drink Espresso Like a Pro: The Final Word
Any coffee shop has a basic comfort brew, but when you get into the world of specialty coffees it can be intimidating. With so many terms and variations, it’s hard to know what to order, let alone the proper way and etiquette of drinking it.
Whether you are out at a café or brewing at home, there is a science to it. Understanding the science and the world of espresso means a more enjoyable experience when ordering and drinking it. Choose your espresso and sip away.