Espresso is a coffee drink made by forcing high pressure hot water through a tightly packed container (called the doser or porta filter) of finely ground coffee. This process yields a concentrated coffee beverage that is strong and flavorful. It also results in an espresso drink topped with “Crema,” which is a tasty foam that forms on top of the coffee.
Espresso might be thought of as the national drink of Italy, where it is enjoyed daily at home, in cafés, and in restaurants. Espresso drinks can be made from any coffee bean; what makes espresso unique is the method of preparation and the fineness of the coffee grind.
Espresso originated in Italy where it is not only a beverage but an inherent part of the social fabric of the country. Espresso delivers a caffeine punch to the drinker; it’s consumed as a wake-up beverage first thing in the morning, like an energy drink during the day, and with meals.
Typically, espresso is served in small cups or glasses that hold only 1 to 2 ounces.
Even though these may resemble a shot glass, the proper way to drink espresso is to sip it–not to drink it all down at once. Espresso is usually consumed unsweetened, but it may be sweetened with sugar or other sweetener, and it may be consumed with a sweet biscuit like biscotti.
Espresso is typically consumed as a single shot (1 ounce) for a double shot (2 ounces). The double shot is called a doppio. Some espresso drinkers prefer a more dilute drink called a lungo (or long) espresso. The lungo is made with the same amount of coffee but with twice the water.
Over time, we have developed quite a set of espresso-based drinks that many espresso drinkers prefer.
Coffeehouses have a rich menu of such drinks which helps attract customers. Some of these favorite drinks include:
- Cappuccino – espresso topped with steamed, frothed milk—often decorated on top.
- Caffe latte – a double shot of espresso topped with steamed milk.
- Caffe Americano – a shot of espresso diluted with hot water.
- Caffe Mocha – add chocolate to a latte.
- Caffe Macchiato – espresso with a small amount of usually foamed milk (literally translates as “stained” or “marked” coffee.
- Cortado – equal parts 1:1 ratio of espresso to steamed warm milk.
Since espresso is made from “normal” coffee beans but with a more extreme process of high-pressure water passed through very finely ground coffee, it should be no surprise that all the characteristics of coffee can be found in espresso. However, these tastes and characteristics are amplified by the process of making espresso as are the taste characteristics of your coffee.
Espresso and caffeine
Because of its strong distinctive flavor, espresso has earned a reputation of being high in caffeine, but that is not necessarily so. He single shot of espresso contains approximately the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee. The actual amount of caffeine delivered depends on the variety of coffee in the method by which it is brewed.
The acidity of espresso, like brewed coffee, depends on the roast of the beans you are using. Lighter roasts generally taste more acidic than darker roasts.
Buying espresso beans
Like with other coffees, you want to buy fresh roasted, whole, high-quality coffee beans. While these beans may be available from a number of sources, you may find the best results by developing a relationship with a local coffee bean supplier or grinder.
If you find a merchant that you trust and with whom you can develop a personal relationship, you are likely to be able to get the high-quality beans you want.
Storing espresso beans
Coffee beans are best stored in a cool dark place. There is a debate as to whether it’s best that they be stored in the freezer or not. Some people feel that storing them in a freezer result in the beans picking up more water than they should have. Our personal experience is that freezer storage works well. We leave the beans in their heavy, original packaging, which seems to protect them from freezer or water damage.
Aficionados suggest that once the beans are opened, they have a relatively limited shelf life of one to two weeks. Again, our personal experience is that being stored well in the freezer will last longer than that.