|What is Espresso|
|In-depth look at the beverage and it's history.|
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So what is espresso?
First of all, you must have the correct lingo. Many people mistakenly pronounce or spell espresso as "expresso" which is incorrect. The name is Italian, and was derived around 1900 to describe a cup of coffee that was brewed "expressly for you" (loose translation).
Espresso is often confusing to many people. Is it a strong bitter jolt of caffeine? Is it a trendy yuppie drink that some major coffee chain invented? It is supposed to make you purse you lips? Does it use sugar? What is this frothy stuff on top?
Espresso is confusing because more often than not, it isn't prepared correctly. True espresso, brewed with a pump or piston driven espresso machine is very demanding on the poor coffee bean grinds. But before we get into the relative 'torture' that ground coffee is put through to produce a superior espresso, let us take a step back and discuss a bit more the misconceptions about the beverage.
Espresso is not a type of bean: This is a common misconception, and inaccurate marketing by coffee chains, grocery stores, and even word of mouth give the impression that espresso is a type of bean. Any coffee bean can be used for espresso, from the most common Brazils to the most exotic Konas and Ethiopian Harar coffees.
Espresso is not a type of blend: This one is also a common misconception, but with some truth to the claim in that there are specific blends designed for espresso. The problem is, many people believe there is only one type of blend that is suited for espresso. Many high quality micro roasters would disagree with this - Roaster Craftsmen the world over work diligently on their own version of "the perfect espresso blend".
Espresso is not a Roast Type: Another popular misconception is that espresso can only be roasted one way (and usually the thought is that espresso must be super dark and glistening with oils). This is not the case. In fact, the Northern Italian way of roasting for espresso is producing a medium roast, or more commonly known as a "Full City" roast if you like on the west coast of the USA. In California, the typical "espresso roast" is a dark, or "French" roast, and in parts of the eastern US, a very light or "cinnamon" roast style is preferred. The bottom line here is this: you can make good espresso from almost any roast type; the decision is purely up to your own tastebuds.
Not all espresso machines are Espresso Machines: Reading this confuses us as well, so let's clarify this a bit. Often you will see machines labeled as "Espresso Machines" but they are not true espresso machines in the modern sense of the word. A modern espresso machine must produce high pressures (at least 9BAR or atmospheres or 135 pounds per square inch pressure) to push water through a very finely ground, compacted bed of coffee. There are many faux espresso machines that are in effect electrical "moka" style pots, relying solely on steam pressure to push water through the ground coffee. Steam pressure can produce at best 50 PSI or about 1.5 BAR of pressure. These machines cannot produce the true crema that pump-driven and lever operated espresso machines can produce. These fake espresso machines are usually sold for under $75 in major department stores. A good indicator that an "espresso machine" is actually a steam driven electrical moka pot is whether or not in includes a carafe - usually a 4 cup model. If it has one, it most likely is not a true espresso machine.
Speaking of moka pots, these also are not espresso machines in the modern sense of the word. They produce an excellent coffee when used properly, but again, rely solely on steam pressure for producing the coffee it makes. These are very popular brewers in Italy, and are found in most Italian homes. You may recognize them - typically they are a hexagonal shaped device with two parts - a bottom where the coffee and water sit, and a top with a lid and spout, where the brewed coffee ends up. We discuss these types of brewers, as well as real moka pots, more in detail later on in this Guide.
So What is Espresso
Espresso is an Art
The text to the left may not say it, but espresso is as much an art as it is a science.
Espresso is simply another method by which coffee is brewed. There are many different ways of brewing coffee that include the use of a stove top coffee maker, percolator, French press (or coffee press), vacuum pot and others. Espresso is brewed in its own special way.
Espresso is a beverage that is produced by pushing hot water, between 192F and 204F, at high pressures, through a bed of finely ground, compacted coffee. A normal single is approximately 1 to 1.5 ounces of beverage, using approximately 7grams (or 1 tablespoon) of ground coffee. A normal double is between 2 and 3 ounces, using double the volume of coffee grounds. The shot is brewed for approximately 25 to 30 seconds, and the same time applies to both a single or double shot (double baskets are bigger, with more screen area, and the coffee flows faster - single baskets restrict the flow more, leading to 1.5 ounces in 25-30 seconds).
The resulting beverage, either a single or a double, is topped with a dark golden cream, called crema when brewed properly. Crema is one of the visual indicators of a quality shot of espresso. Drinking an espresso is in itself an art form of sorts. In Italy, where most true espresso is bought in a cafe, it is customary to lift cup and saucer, smell the shot, and drink it in 3 or 4 rapid gulps. You complete the "ceremony" by clacking the cup back on the saucer in a firm but not-too-hard manner.
Italians often take sugar in their espresso, and there is really no stigma against adding sugar to your own shots. However, truly great espresso can be drunk sugar-free, and the sensation gives you more of a complete taste and experience of the essence of the shot you drink.
That is the basis for how modern day espresso, how it is prepared, served, and drunk. You could stop reading here, but if you want to find out more about what modern day espresso is all about, what machine choices exist, and how to get the best out of your own machine choice, we invite you to read on.
The Road of the Espresso Bean
Ripe cherries, ready for picking.
Like other coffee brewing methods, espresso is derived from the coffee bean. The coffee bean is actually the pit, or seed, of the coffee berry. The berries grow on trees that are best suited to the growing between the two Tropics and also at specific elevations, usually between 2500 and 6000 feet above sea level.
Berries are either hand picked or mechanically picked (for reasons of quality assurance, hand picked berries are obviously the best, and one reason for the premium cost of some beans), The berries are then either air dried or wet processed, sorted and further processed until all the best beans are bagged, and "brought to market". At this stage, coffee is still unroasted, or "green", and it is shipped around the world in this state. Green coffee can keep for a long time - up to two years or longer if the storage conditions are right.
Eventually all coffee gets roasted. The trick with really good coffee is that it must be roasted as close to the "brewing time" as possible. Most roasted coffees have a shelf life of 2 weeks, and after that, the taste, aromas and overall quality start going downhill rapidly.
Roasting is an art and a science. Beans are introduced into 450F degree barrels or "drums" and typically roasted for between 10 and 20 minutes, depending on the roasting machine and the roaster's preference. Most roasters will adjust the temperatures and times, which is known as a "roasting profile".
After the beans are roasted, they require a 12 to 36 hour "degassing" period where the beans give off a great variety of gases produced by the roasting process. Roasting coffee introduces many chemical changes into the coffee bean, and the result is one of the world's most complex foodstuffs. A roasted coffee bean has at least 800 uniquely identifiable components and chemicals inside of it that directly attribute to the flavour of a cup of coffee. By comparison, a quality red wine may have 300 unique components. Coffee is serious stuff, and you haven't even got to the grinding and brewing part yet!
History of the Espresso Machine
La Pavoni Ideale
This is the machine that started it all - the Ideale was the first commercially successful espresso machine.
The modern day espresso machine as we know it dates back to 1946 or 1947, when Gaggia introduced the Gaggia Crema Caffe machine, the first machine capable of consistently producing high (7 BAR or higher) pressurized water into a bed of coffee, and easy and cheap enough for normal commercial use. Before that, almost every commercial and consumer espresso machine was steam driven, and more akin to the modern day moka brewer.
Espresso as a beverage and understood term dates back to 1901 when Luigi Bezzera patented the world's first "espresso" machine, a giant steam driven thing with two groupheads, called the Tipo Gigante. Bezzera's patent was bought by Desidero Pavoni, and in 1905 the Pavoni Ideale was brought to market, and espresso culture in Italy took off.
Here are some other milestones in the history of the espresso machine, and the resulting beverage.
Of course, this list is by no means complete, but is presented to you to give you an idea about several things, including the fact that espresso existed long before Starbucks was around, and that true, modern day espresso as we know it has only existed for around 55 years.
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