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What Is So Great about Espresso?

Feb 28

It's a legitimate question if you tried it and didn't like it. I encourage you to try espresso after reading this article if you have never done so before. Make sure you get it from a reputable coffee shop. Chances are if you didn't like espresso, you had a badly made one or it wasn't even espresso.

Let me first explain what espresso is since there are many misconceptions about this amazing coffee drink.

What Is Espresso

Coffee is brewed using espresso as a method, and the result is a coffee beverage called espresso. Many people confuse espresso with strong coffee, or think espresso is a stronger coffee. However, this is not the case.

While espresso is a strong coffee (it's actually the strongest of all brewing methods), it's not the strength that makes it an espresso. It is the brewing method that determines whether a coffee is espresso or not. People ask on social media: “Can you make espresso in a coffee maker?” The short answer is "NO".

This misinterpretation of the term is all over the internet, and it fuels the wrong perception about espresso. A good example is the confusion about coffee beans and roast. There are no such things as espresso beans or espresso roast. A major problem is that roasters often perpetuate this myth for marketing purposes.

When brewing espresso, we extract the most flavorful compounds from the coffee grounds without extracting the bitter components. Unlike other brewing methods, espresso allows us to extract over 800 aromatic compounds found in roasted coffee without removing the tannins. In almost all other brewing methods, tannic acids leach into the coffee brew, adding bitterness and astringency.

Now that we covered the espresso definition, let's jump in and see why is espresso so great, and why people like it.

How “Can You Like” Espresso

If you had espresso before and you didn’t like it, it’s either you or the shot. Here's why. "Liking espresso" is a two-fold issue. You have the objective perception of the quality of the espresso shot, and you have the subjective perception of the taste.

A successful combination of premium coffee beans, an espresso machine of superior quality, and a skilled barista determines the quality of the shot. The Italians call this the three Ms of an espresso shot. If you miss one of the Ms, your espresso will be average. The three M’s are Miscela, Macchina and Mano. Miscela means blend, Macchina means espresso machine, and Mano refers to the barista's skills.

Subjective flavor perception is a combination of habit and expectations. You are used to a coffee flavor, and you have been drinking it for months or even years before you decide you want to try a new coffee: espresso. Your brain doesn’t know this new flavor, and it doesn’t think it’s going to bring the energy kick that it expects. The verdict is “This coffee stinks”. Being a former barista, I was always trying new coffees, roasts, and origins, so this was not an issue for me. But for people who stick to a brew type, or a roast, changing that requires a few days to adjust to the new taste.

What Makes Espresso Brewing Special?

Let's see why espresso tastes the way it does, and what makes it different from other types of coffee.

  • Espresso is the only brewing method that uses high pressure. By using pressure, some aromatic compounds can be extracted that would otherwise not be possible. These compounds are volatile coffee oils that dissipate at higher temperatures or get trapped in filters.
  • Espresso is the fastest brewing method. A shot is brewed for 20 to 25 seconds. The short brew time prevents tannic acids from being extracted from the coffee grounds. The compounds in coffee are extracted sequentially, and the good news is that bitter compounds take longer to dissolve in water. By keeping it short, we avoid ingesting these compounds.
  • Caramelized aftertaste. Emulsified coffee oils in espresso activate taste receptors at the back of the tongue. These compounds continue to be released for up to 20 minutes. The aftertaste of a shot lasts a long time, despite the fact that we drink it in under a minute.
  • Most coffee drinks are made with espresso. Espresso is used to prepare almost all coffee drinks in a coffee shop due to its strong flavor and concentration. Macchiato, cappuccino, flat white, and latte are primarily made with steamed milk and a shot of espresso.
  • Crema. Crema may be the most distinctive aspect of an espresso. While there is some debate about whether crema contributes any flavor to the shot, all agree that crema is the most distinguishing quality of an espresso and a sign of a quality shot. Crema is an emulsion of coffee oils and water. This emulsion is a layer of foamy coffee on top of the espresso shot called crema. I personally love crema, and I think it brings its own flavor contribution to the shot.
  • Despite its concentration of caffeine, espresso is not overpowered by tannin. When coffee is exposed to hot water for a long period of time, it is more likely to extract bitter compounds that will adversely affect its flavor.
  • The second finest grind size, only after Turkish coffee.
  • Smallest of the coffee beverages. Along with Turkish coffee, it is the smallest serving size. The serving size is part of the appeal, as it packs more flavor into a tiny beverage.

Probably the best way to understand this coffee beverage is to compare it with a popular brewing method. We'll compare espresso to the most popular caffeination choice - drip coffee.

What is the Difference between Espresso and Filter Coffee?

If you look at the caffeine content of a typical 8oz cup of coffee, you will find that it contains more than a typical 1oz shot of espresso. A two-shot espresso still contains less caffeine than a drip coffee. You drink it quickly, so it feels like it has more caffeine. The short answer is that espresso is a stronger coffee beverage, but it contains less caffeine. Therefore, if you are looking for espresso for its caffeine content, it is not the best choice.

A distinctive feature of espresso is its serving size. Espresso is a small 2oz serving (a double shot), whereas a drip coffee is between 6 and 8oz. However, an espresso can be diluted into an Americano, or a Long black, so the serving size and strength are closer to drip coffee.

The flavor of espresso is quite distinctive. The taste of an Americano or a Long black is different from filter coffee. Espresso is richer in flavor because more aromatic compounds are extracted.

Espresso can be prepared using any kind of coffee bean no matter its origin or roast, just like drip coffee. Dark roasts are traditionally used for espresso since darker roasts are more soluble in water. However, we can use lighter roasts when brewing espresso if we want to retain the flavor of the origin. In this sense, drip and espresso coffee are similar.

With drip coffee, grounds are filtered through paper filters. By retaining oils and coffee fines, we can get a clearer cup of coffee. The resulting cup is brighter, emphasizing the coffee's origins. The coffee oils are stripped down almost completely, resulting in a clear flavor. Compared to espresso, however, only some of the origin flavors and notes can be identified. These delicate flavors are muted by the stronger caramel and oil notes. While I am a fan of espresso, I must admit this is the one flaw of espresso.

Drip coffee takes longer to prepare. Filter coffee requires time to dissolve the soluble solids in your cup. Water is used to wash the coffee grinds, then is passed through a filter and then collected in the carafe. Speeding up this process would result in weak coffee. An espresso machine, on the other hand, makes a cup in less than 30 seconds.

Conclusion

Espresso is the best way to prepare coffee. Because espresso involves a fine grind and high pressure to improve extraction speed, it is unlike any other brewing method, and it is what gives it its unique taste.

It may take a few tries to get used to a new coffee, so give it a few more tries. Make sure the espresso you are drinking is prepared by an experienced barista.