Espresso. It’s possibly the least understood and most mispronounced way of making coffee. Most people seem to think it’s just for adrenaline junkies or art history professors. But when Luigi Bezzera invented the first espresso machine in Milan in 1901, he wasn’t trying to fuel frat parties or help the literati feel refined. He just wanted to make a really fast cup of coffee. His initial design was dramatically improved by Achille Gaggia in the 1940s, who introduced manual levers to the espresso machine, hence “pulling a shot”.
Nine Bar Blues
Technically speaking, espresso is both a beverage and a brew method. Near-boiling water is forced over finely ground coffee at around nine bars of pressure; i.e. nine times the normal amount of atmospheric pressure. The whole process takes under a minute with most espresso machines, meaning you’ll likely finish your ‘spro before your buddy’s pour-over is done blooming.
Although espresso should be accessible to the everyman, aforementioned stereotypes and misinformation create a certain amount of intimidation when ordering a shot from the smug lit major behind the bar of your local craft coffee shop. Lucky for you, we’ve compiled a step-by-step process explaining how to drink espresso.
How to Drink Espresso: 5 Easy Steps
- Order your espresso: “One espresso for here please.” should be sufficient. Most shops worth visiting only serve espresso in ceramic, but asking for the demitasse identifies yourself as a serious customer. You might be asked, “Single or a double?” Unless you’ve already had too much caffeine, make it a double.
- Drink your water. The barista will probably serve you a glass of sparkling water. This is to cleanse your pallet. You’re paying a lot for that ounce of liquid, you want to taste it!
- Skim the crema (optional). A freshly pulled espresso should have some nice, rich crema floating on top- a by product of escaping co2 and nine bars of pressure. Although thick, reddish crema often designates a good shot, it doesn’t actually taste very good. Some espresso aficionados recommend skimming it off with your spoon. This barista usually can’t wait that long to dig in though!
- Give the espresso a stir. Espresso is not homogenous, the thick, syrupy part of the shot tends to sink to the bottom while the brighter notes float on top. To get a balanced tasting experience, give the espresso a good stir with the little spoon. Your taste buds will thank you later.
- Take a sip. Let the coffee cover your tongue. Does it taste sweet? sour? Pay attention to the aftertaste. What lingering flavors are still in your mouth? Don’t be afraid to slurp!
Remember, espresso is like a magnifying glass, it accentuates certain characteristics of the coffee. The concentrated flavors may taste overbearing at first, but over time you’ll grow to love it.
So don’t be afraid or embarrassed to order an espresso. Any barista worth their apron will be ecstatic to pull you a shot.
Recommended reading for coffee professionals: Espresso Extraction: Measurement and Mastery by Scott Rao.