The Ultimate Guide To Espresso

by Omer Geva

Considered by some to be the 'best' way to drink coffee, espresso has become increasingly popular over the last couple of decades. While picking brewing methods can be very subjective, espresso consumption has become the most popular.

This is especially present in cafes, where a lot of the time espresso is more expensive than filtered coffee.

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Quick History

In the 19th century, coffee was a huge business in Europe with cafes flourishing across the continent. But as brewing coffee is known to be a slow process, it posed an inconvenience for customers, who had to wait for their brew to be ready. Using steam machines, inventors across Europe seized this opportunity reduce brewing time.

After many patents and prototypes, the invention of the espresso machine is attributed to Angelo Moriondo, from Turin, Italy. Moriondo was granted a patent in 1884 for “new steam machinery for the economic and instantaneous confection of coffee beverage.”

The Espresso

In the 19th century, coffee was a huge business in Europe with cafes flourishing across the continent. But as brewing coffee is known to be a slow process, it posed an inconvenience for customers, who had to wait for their brew to be ready. Using steam machines, inventors across Europe seized this opportunity reduce brewing time.

After many patents and prototypes, the invention of the espresso machine is attributed to Angelo Moriondo, from Turin, Italy. Moriondo was granted a patent in 1884 for “new steam machinery for the economic and instantaneous confection of coffee beverage.”

When you brew coffee, the grind size is crucial to the taste. As you grind the beans finer, their surface area decreases. It makes it easier to extract the coffee, and using less water results in a stronger cup. This is primarily the reason an espresso grind is the strongest.

The problem is that there is a limit on how fine you can grind the beans, because at some point the water isn't able to get through the bed of coffee.

A well recognized problem, many solutions have been attempted as solving the issue. The first was using a pressure of trapped steam to push water through the coffee. This was used by cafes but after some time became obsolete due to being extremely dangerous.

The biggest breakthrough came with Achille Gaggia's invention in 1938. This used a large lever, pulled by the operator, to compress a spring. When the spring was released, the pressure forced the hot water through the coffee. The jump in pressure was dramatic, and allowed to use of a much finer grind. This resulted in a very well extracted cup.

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Crema

For many coffee drinkers, an important feature of the coffee isn't only the strength, but the layer of dense foam at the top of the drink. Crema, an Italian word from cream, is the natural head of foam that forms at the top of the drink, like when a head appears on a pint of beer.

As the pressure the water is under increasing, it dissolves more carbon dioxide, produced during the roasting process. When the brewed liquid gets back to normal atmospheric pressure, the gas comes out as little bubbles, appearing as foam at the top of the drink.

Although it can't tell us whether the coffee is good, or well roasted, it can tell us two things.

First, if the coffee is fresh, it will have more crema, since the more time since the roast the less carbon dioxide will be present. It also tells whether the cup is strong or weak, as a darker foam shows a stronger liquid.

The Basic Technique

As you probably have seen in cafes, the brewing of an espresso starts by putting the ground coffee in a small metal basket held by a handle. The coffee is compressed into the basket so it is flat. The basket has holes just small enough to allow the water to pass through but prevents pieces of the ground coffee from making it to the cup.

The handle is locked into the espresso machine and the pump is then activated. The machine pumps nearly-boiling water through the coffee, which then drips in the cup below. Some machines switch off manually, some do based on the desired amount of water.

Great espresso is about recipe, there are certain measurements that are important to get right:

The weight of the ground coffee used (g)

The amount of desired liquid (ml)

How long the brewing process should take

How hot the water should be for brewing

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