Espresso is a very important drink that originated in Italy in 1901. It’s the base for many coffee drinks, so it’s important to talk about it. There are contradictory opinions about the meaning of the word. If we take Italian interpretation, it means a short and concentrated drink. According to Wikipedia, espresso is an Italian coffee beverage that is made with the help of an espresso machine. The pressure in groups has to be about 9 bars, the grind size should be fine, and the espresso roast should be darker than the filter roast. Unlike the rest of the specialty coffee world, Italians use their traditional dark espresso roast.
Generally speaking, espresso is a drink with a volume of 25-30 ml. The brewing time for it is 25-30 seconds. The brew ratio is 1:3 in the Italian tradition and 1:2 in specialty coffee shops.
Italians differentiate espresso from ristretto and doppio. Ristretto is half of an espresso drink: 1 shot of coffee brewed for about 15 seconds. It’s actually one sip of the drink. Italians like drinking this beverage 8-10 times a day standing at the bar. It corresponds to their temper, as they’re always emotional and in a hurry. Doppio is a double shot of espresso, which is brewed for about 45 seconds. The brew ratio for this beverage is 1:2. Doppio is much stronger than espresso. The closest milk-based beverage to it is a flat white. It’s an Australian signature drink of a barista champion. However, you can find information that the drink originated in New Zealand. It’s based on doppio and milk. The volume of the drink is about 200 ml. It gained in popularity because of its flat, silky, soft but strong coffee taste.
Talking about espresso, we always use the word “about” because perfect espresso depends on many things. First of all, we take into account the stage of roasting, then the kind of coffee beans (robusta or arabica), and finally the location of farms, which also influences the taste of the beverage. We also pay attention to which way coffee is processed (natural, washed, anaerobic, etc.). The altitude at which coffee plants are grown, as well as the climate change, is important too. After all, a barista should be careful and conscious while brewing the espresso. The equipment (a coffee machine and a grinder) must be clean and in good condition. The customization depends even on the weather: the difference in humidity causes changes in the grind. Coffee beans are quite sensitive to humidity and strong aromas. So, don’t keep them near spices or other strong flavors.
Tamping is a very special thing as well, which influences the taste of espresso. In coffee guides, you can read advice about pressing around 18 kg while tamping. I disagree with it because this piece of advice is very general. The most important thing in this process is that the coffee tablet doesn’t fall out of the holder, and it should be even and flat.
Espresso mainly consists of water. So, it’s very important to use high-quality water because it also influences the taste of your drink. In many 3d wave coffee shops, baristas use special filters. The level of total dissolved solids (TDS) in water should be in the range of 120-150 ppm. At home, I use mineral water with a TDS level of 80 ppm, and it’s not bad. However, in coffee shops, I can try much tastier water: it’s soft and sweet for me.
Crema is the last but not least thing to mention. It’s a thin layer of foam that forms on the top of the coffee drink. It should be thick, browny, and foamy. When you stir it, it returns to its previous state; it doesn’t vanish at once.
Baristas used to use a very funny term – “mouse’s tail” – when talking about the liquid pouring out of a portafilter. The stream of coffee shouldn’t be very thick or drip down slowly. It should look like a thin tail of a mouse. The baristas of the 3rd wave coffee shops don’t pay special attention to it because they use scales while grinding and brewing coffee, and it’s enough for them. For me, it is still one of the good indicators of the perfect coffee.
What are the other famous coffee drinks based on espresso? During summertime, my favorite ones are iced latte and iced flat white. By the way, in Italy, if you want to order a latte, you should ask for a caffe latte because just latte means milk in Italian, so a waiter can bring you only a glass of milk instead of coffee.
Cappuccino and latte are based on 1 shot of espresso. The main difference is in the amount and structure of steamed milk. In a cappuccino, the amount of milk is about 200 ml, while in a latte – 300 ml. The steamed milk for a cappuccino is thicker and contains more foam than that for a latte. In my next article, I’ll discuss the perfect milk for coffee drinks in more detail.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize that for me espresso means one shot of coffee, though nowadays as a barista, I brew doppio as in specialty coffee shops. Americano is now also popular in Ukraine, but it’s based on a double shot of espresso and tastes much better than it used to when it was brewed with one shot. If you start your way as a barista, it could be difficult to keep all this information in mind. But in reality, experience comes with practice, so just keep on trying!