Through time, we have marveled at the mystery that is espresso. Not many people seem to know much about it in terms of how it’s prepared or even how its original taste ought to be. Andrea Illy, a famous coffee maker, once described espresso as “a miracle of chemistry in a cup.” The misinformation and the misunderstanding have even been made worse by notable coffee makers like Nespresso, Starbucks and other global brands looking to make espresso cheap and easy. Do not fall into their deceit since espresso made right is a wonderful drink; you would not want to put down your cup.
So what is espresso?
Contrary to popular belief, espresso is not a type of roast or coffee bean. Simply put, this is a process of brewing coffee. In fact, any type of coffee can be prepared or brewed using espresso even though some types may taste better than others. To make espresso, you will need to push some near boiling water through a compact puck of ground beans with some pressure exerted, usually about nine times the sea level’s atmospheric pressure. Usually you would find bags of coffee labeled espresso. This could be either because it is a blend made to bring out a balance of flavors or its contents have been pre-ground to help suit the espresso brewing and you can use for your advantage.
A delicate balance of man and machine
Making espresso is not as simple as many would want to believe, it calls for a confluence of events that combines clear mechanical precision with human judgment. Not any one of these can work independently if at all you are looking to prepare the best quality espresso. In fact, it all begins with the roaster making tough decisions. The decisions will have to do with if they will either be blending different coffee types to come up with a balance of flavors or use a single origin bean to portray and experience that will become unique to that specific variety.
The age of your beans is crucial in making espresso. Once a bag of beans is at your disposal, it will be up to you to make sure that they are fresh and that they are no more than two weeks from the day they were roasted and ground. During the preparation, you ought to be quick in your actions since there are some important aromatics that are bound to evaporate within fifteen minutes of grinding. The grind size will vary according to certain characteristics like bean variety, age and roast profile. This is still true, even for the highest level espresso making because there is no secret formula and one will have to make adjustments according to taste. Finally, the coffee will now be dosed, made compact in a portafilter or basket before meeting the mysterious espresso machine.
Heat and pressure
By now, you should know that there is no espresso without the input of heat and pressure. The only difference in terms of taste and quality will come from your judgment when making the coffee. The better your judgment, the higher the quality of espresso you will make. All espresso machines make use of boilers that contain a heating element to help bring the water to the right temperature. The pressure used to pull a shot is generated using steam power, a piston or a motor-driven pump depending on the type of machine used. For commercial machines however, a rotary pump is used to help keep constant pressure while a vibration pump would be used for smaller machines to generate pressure only while the shot is being pulled. It is important to note that stability is one of the most important aspects of any espresso machine. You do not want to experience any fluctuation in temperatures since this can drastically alter the taste of the coffee, thus making it a challenge to pull good consistent shots.
These steps are paramount when it comes to making great quality coffee. Whatever you have had at your local coffee maker or even renowned brands like Starbucks does not reflect even half of what a well-made espresso ought to taste. Freshly roasted and ground coffee coupled with a commercial machine and made with the attention it deserves, gives you the best quality espresso; rich and sweet.