Espresso coffee is more popular today than it has ever been at any time in its history, perhaps thanks to the marketing power of coffee giants such as Starbucks. Many of the most popular drinks that we consume everyday are made using espresso, rather than the more traditional filter or drip coffee. Drinks such as lattes, cappuccinos, mochas and machiatos.
Given this strong popularity for these espresso drinks, it's surprising that many people don't actually know what an espresso is. For anyone who has never had an espresso, the first taste can be quite shocking. An espresso is very concentrated, and comes in a very small cup. However, it packs a large punch and the flavor can take some getting used to. (In other words, your first impression might be that you just swallowed something vile. But don't worry, it gets better with experience.)
Espresso is made by forcing very hot (not boiling) water through finely ground coffee. The coffee is ground more finely than filter coffee, but is not as finely ground as Turkish coffee, which is more like a fine powder.
Originally, espresso machines used steam pressure to force the water through. Today, a spring piston lever machine is used, which used a piston to generate the pressure and force the water through the coffee. It is important that the temperature does not go too high or low, as this will spoil the beverage. The ideal temperature is 85 to 95 degrees Celsius.
If the water is too hot, the espresso will be too bitter. If it is too cold, it will be too sour. As you can see, making espresso drinks is a very exacting job, and care must be taken to do it right. The people trained to do this are called baristas (which is Italian for barman).
As the water blasts through the coffee, it extracts the flavor, oils, sugars and proteins and dissolves them. This results is a very potent mixture that has a very strong, yet rich and subtle flavor. It also has all the caffeine of a large cup of filter coffee, giving it a strong kick.
To enjoy these drink at its best, it is important to drink the coffee as soon after it is made as possible, definitely within 2 minutes. If you intend to blend it to make espresso drinks, you need to do so within 10 seconds of pulling the espresso.
This is because the flavor packed volatile molecules in the drink rapidly degrade, both through contact with oxygen and as the heat leaves the drink.
The espresso is made up of 3 different parts, the heart, body and the crema, which is the delicate, creamy foam that naturally forms on the top of the drink. The crema is a sign of good espresso, and care should be taken to ensure it is preserved. To do this, some people use pre warmed shot glasses, which prevents heat loss.
There is no such thing as an "espresso roast" - you can make good espresso from light or dark roast beans. A very dark roast is a bad idea, as it can lead to a burnt, charcoal taste. The only important thing is that the coffee is ground to the correct grade, and that the beans are freshly roast.
Selecting the blend is important when making espresso drinks, as it is for any kind of coffee drinks. The factors to concentrate on are sweetness, aromatics and smoothness.
Also, the type of grinder used is important. The best choice is a conical burr grinder. This will produce a consistent grind (the particles will all be the right size), and will also make sure that the coffee does not overheat as it is ground (this would spoil the aroma).
How to make the best espresso drinks could fill books, as there are many factors to balance. This is why coffee shops spend so much time training their staff. When you find a place that serves excellent espresso, recognize that this is not just a happy accident, and recognize the skill and care that goes into making this most demanding drink.
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