The idea for an ‘espresso shot’ originated in Italy as a way to produce quick, high-quality coffee. Now, however, espresso is ubiquitous and became the foundation of many types of coffee drinks in modern coffee shops.
Without espresso, we could never have the latte, cappuccino, americano, and many more espresso-based coffee drinks that we rely on to keep us going throughout the day. So it’s worthwhile for any coffee lover to take some time getting to know the humble espresso.
What is Espresso? What Makes It Different?
In simplest terms, Espresso is a small, concentrated shot of coffee that can only be made with an espresso machine that brews a small amount of finely ground coffee under immense pressure for a short period of time. This intense brew method packs a punch in a small package when it comes to flavors and caffeine. Here are few things that separate espresso from its weaker counterparts.
- Taste – Espresso actually has a very different taste to a regular cup of brewed coffee – it’s generally a lot bolder from the addition of flavorful coffee oils which give it an intensified coffee flavor.
- Making Process – To make an espresso shot, you will usually be using some kind of mechanical espresso machine, to which you will need to add very finely ground coffee beans that are lightly compressed.
These coffee beans then have hot pressurized water forced through them and the result is a small puddle of golden-brown coffee that really packs a punch, with a foamy crema on top.
While there are methods to make espresso without an espresso machine, true espresso can be made using an espresso machine.
- Crema – The crema is the hallmark of a good espresso, it forms as a result of the reaction between the coffee beans and the hot pressurized water, which lifts the oils from the coffee and deposits them in the espresso, forming a rich, golden layer of foam on top of the shot.
- Caffeine Content – Although smaller, a shot of espresso tends to carry almost as much caffeine as a full cup of drip coffee. The average shot of espresso contains 63mg of caffeine, compared to a regular cup of coffee which contains 80mg.
Why Is it Called Espresso Shot?
Espresso is different from other forms of coffee drinks. In most parts of the world, espresso is meant to be casually sipped without any additives while engaging in conversation. It’s usually a lot smaller, and a lot stronger – hence why it’s called an ‘espresso shot’.
How to Make Espresso?
For a true espresso, you need to invest in an at-home espresso machine. Although it may seem like quite an expensive investment at first glance, it can be worth its weight in gold by saving you the daily expense of running to Starbucks. At-home espresso machines offer you the ability to make your own barista-standard coffee, without having to leave the house.
An espresso machine isn’t just an investment of money however, it’s also an investment of time – you need to learn how to use your machine well in order to get the best result.
Some espresso machines may offer a simpler setup with pre-set settings, so all you need to do is press ‘go’ but if you want to experience a truly barista-standard espresso, you need a machine with adjustable settings.
Ingredients and Equipment you will need:
- Finely ground coffee beans
- Espresso machine
- Filtered water
- A portafilter (essentially a filter with a handle that fits into the machine)
- A tamp
- Espresso cup
Steps to Make
- To start, you’ll need to preheat your machine by running through a ‘blank’ shot – essentially filling and running the machine without actually putting any coffee in.
- Take portafilter and fill it with finely ground coffee beans, the exact amount will vary depending on your machine and portafilter, but it will usually be around 20g of coffee.
- Compress your beans by applying firm pressure with your tamp.
- Once your portafilter is ready, you can twist the portafilter into the machine and select the right button for your desired espresso.
- Make sure you place the espresso cup beneath the portafilter before you press go though, so you don’t end up losing your espresso!
If you want to take your coffee further, invest in an espresso machine with a milk steamer attachment and use this to froth up some milk.
Guide to Make the Perfect Espresso
If you want to make to perfect espresso for yourself, you will have to follow several steps
Choosing the Espresso Roast
The most important step to making the perfect espresso is choosing the roast of your preference. Beans for espresso are roasted longer to break down the beans and make them more soluble to provide a higher concentration of coffee.
Usually, espresso beans are medium-roasted but there are three roasts to choose from light, medium, and dark. Each roast has its own benefits and deficits.
- Light roast – also can be referred to as blonde roast. It tastes bright and usually has notes of floral or citrus. It is commonly thought to contain the most caffeine per espresso shot but that is not entirely true. While most light roasts contain more caffeine than dark roasts, there are many exceptions.
Light roast is known to have an almost bitter or burnt taste to it. Because it has been roasted the least out of all three types, it takes longer to brew to get the same amount of flavor.
- Medium roast personifies the middle ground. It is a beautiful blend of both light and dark roasts, but this can also make it a little bland. While you can’t go wrong with choosing a medium roast, there will be less character to the espresso. Flavors won’t be well-defined like they are in light and dark roasts.
- Dark roasts are known for their earthy flavors. They usually have notes of chocolate or caramel and are often considered the most robust. Dark roasts often have deep, spiced aromas and are well known for being less acidic than blonde espresso. While they have beautiful flavors, these flavors are harder to extract during the brewing process when compared to blonde espresso.
If you believe you have a preference for light or dark roast coffee, I challenge you to try the opposite side of the roasting spectrum first and work your way to medium roast coffee. This way, you will be well-versed in how each of the roasts tastes. And who knows, your tastebuds might surprise you. Check out these best espresso beans you can buy.
Now that we have established which roast to use for your espresso, proceed to grind the beans!
Choosing the Grind
Espresso requires a much finer grind than regular coffee beans. To get the best result, you need to make sure the beans are ground finely. Espresso tastes best if you brew it immediately after the coffee beans are ground. So always try to grind your beans just before making espresso.
Most Automatic espresso machines come with an integrated grinder. So you can grind the coffee right before the shot is pulled. If your espresso machine doesn’t come with a grinder, you will need a grinder. It is better if you have a burr grinder. Large burr grinders are able to get a more consistent grind.
Tamping is the process of pressing the coffee grounds into the basket with a tamping rod so they are nice and snug.
Before tamping, round out the coffee grounds the portafilter to get more flavor in the espresso. Once the portafilter basket has been filled, settle the grounds by tapping them lightly on a counter. Then tamp the grounds.
This will get rid of the air in coffee grounds and create more pressure for the hot water, leading to better extraction. Here are few things to consider while you tamp:
- Keep the tamping leveled. So you will get evenly extracted espresso.
- Tamp firmly and not too hard.
- Do not twist the tamping rod while pushing. This might create tiny air bubbles.
Now, snap the portafilter and prepare to pull a shot!
Pulling The Shot
Semi-automatic and automatic espresso machines make shot pulling a fairly easy process. All you need to do is push the button.
Single(solo) vs Double Shots(doppio)
At this point in the espresso brewing process, we have two options: single shots also known as solo or double shots also known as doppio. These terms refer to the amount of espresso you are pulling from the grounds. Outside of Italy, most espresso machines are made for doppios, which are also referred to as double shots.
Doppios require a slightly larger basket and doppio machines will release two streams of espresso simultaneously. These are traditionally caught in two espresso glasses at the same time. If a solo (single) shot is needed instead of a doppio, oftentimes a doppio is brewed but only one of the shots is used for the drink.
How To Make Espresso Without an Espresso Machine
Espresso is a fan favorite, but most people believe they need to go to a coffee shop to enjoy this type of coffee. That is simply not true. Espresso(not true espresso) can be made in the comfort of your own home, and it is not difficult.
There are several methods you can use to create the strong and robust flavor of espresso in your own kitchen – using a french press, Aeropress, or using the more traditional Moka Pot.
My personal recommendation is by using a Moka pot. Moka pots originated in Italy, and offer a cheap, elegant, and easy way to make espresso-like coffee at home. Moka pot coffee doesn’t technically count as espresso, but if you don’t want to spend money on a fancy espresso machine, it is the next best thing.
How to Make Espresso By Moka Pot
Moka pots are constructed from three main compartments:
- A base that holds hot water,
- A filter basket to hold the coffee that sits on top of the base,
- And then screwed onto each of these is the upper chamber, with an odd-looking funnel poking out from the bottom.
Moka pots work by heating up the water in the base of the pot, which is then pressurized since it’s trapped, forming hot steam, which is then forced through the coffee grounds and creates a rich espresso-like coffee that trickles out from the funnel and collects in the upper chamber of the pot, ready to drink.
To brew espresso-like coffee in a Moka pot, you will need:
- Coffee beans or ground coffee
- A coffee grinder(not applicable if you have ground coffee)
- A tea towel
- A stovetop
Steps to follow:
- Grind espresso beans finely. Unlike regular espresso from a machine, the coffee beans do not need to be ground as fine, or the coffee will taste bitter. I recommend using a burr grinder to get a more even grind.
- Begin by filling the bottom chamber with water.
- Lightly fill the filter basket with the ground coffee beans. Take care not to compress the beans too much and do not tamp. While tamping the grounds creates a stronger espresso, it creates a weaker Moka pot coffee. A lightly filled basket is all you need.
- Once the filter is filled with coffee grounds, place it gently on top of the water and screw the basket onto the base, followed by the upper chamber.
- Place the Moka pot on the stove on high heat immediately until it begins to steam. Then turn the heat to medium or low and wait for the coffee to bubble into the top chamber of the Moka pot. Open the lid to watch for the coffee to start to flow from the spout inside.
- Once a light brown foam starts to appear, turn off the heat and remove your Moka pot – your homemade espresso is now ready!
Although Moka pots cannot make true espresso the same way an espresso machine can, they still come pretty close and will be 3-4 times stronger than a regular cup of drip coffee. Moka pots brew coffee so strong they are easily mistaken for espresso.
Health Benefits of Drinking Espresso
Like many other forms of coffee, espresso has a variety of health benefits!
Improves Long-Term Memory
A study at the University of California has recently shown that two espresso shots can help to improve your long-term memory. The espresso shot improves the process of memory consolidation in the brain, allowing your brain to store more and remember better – all the more reason so grab a coffee before you study.
Aids Physical Performance
If you’ve ever had a strong cup of coffee or had an energy drink before going on a run, you’ll know why coffee can help improve your physical performance. Ingesting caffeine before going to workout gives you a boost of energy, helps your body to release adrenaline and keeps you going for longer, so you can get the most out of your workout.
Coffee is very high in antioxidants, and for many people is their primary source of antioxidants, without them even realising it. Antioxidants can help to protect against premature aging, cancer and much more. Plus, espresso contains a wealth of different types of antioxidants, from hydroxycinnamic acids to polyphenols, which all play different important roles in the body.
Coffee can actually improve your mood! Drinking espresso causes your brain to release dopamine, which can impact your mood significantly. This is why you may find that you feel lighter and brighter after drinking a cappuccino. Not only that, but espresso boosts energy, limits exhaustion, and increases response times.
Aids Digestion and Weight Loss
An espresso after dinner is a common tradition in many European countries, and for good reason. Espresso acts as an anti-inflammatory and can keep you from feeling bloated and overly full after a big meal, plus, it stimulates the digestive tract so you can process your meal faster.
Espresso can quite literally improve your brain’s ability to concentrate, as any student before exam season will tell you. By increasing dopamine in the brain, espresso can help you to sit down and focus for longer periods of time than you usually would.
Misconceptions About Espresso
Even though espresso is such a common drink, there are many misconceptions about it.
- If you’ve ever heard of a barista throwing out a shot because it sat a couple of minutes, that was a lie. Espresso shots don’t die after sitting out for a couple of minutes, but the flavor changes over time and the crema decreases.
- Turkish coffee is not espresso
- Another common misconception is that Moka pot coffee counts as espresso. This is simply not true, but it is easy to see why that myth came about. Moka pot coffee uses steam pressure to create a wonderfully rich and bold coffee. It is served in a very small glass, much like espresso, however, because the brewing methods are distinctly different, Moka pot coffee cannot be considered espresso.
- Many people mistakenly believe that because of espresso’s compact form and strong taste, it must have a much higher caffeine content than other forms of coffee – but this isn’t actually the case.
Espresso contains around 212mg of caffeine per 100g, which means the average shot of espresso contains 63mg of caffeine, compared to a regular cup of coffee which contains 80mg. Per ounce, espresso does contain more caffeine, but it is also generally only consumed in small amounts, whereas your regular mug of coffee is a lot larger.
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It may be an exaggeration to say espresso makes the world go round, but it definitely helps. From the wall street bankers to the stay-at-home mums, espresso is a part of most people’s lives. A well-made espresso is a mouth-watering, empowering experience, so it’s no wonder that espresso is now the basis of nearly every coffee shop around the globe.