Back to All Articles

What is Espresso?

header image

By

Bryan Huynh

on January 31, 2023

Coffee is a great way to kick start your day! If you are looking for a quick and easy caffeine fix, then maybe an espresso shot will do you right. 

An espresso could be described as the way in which it is brewed. Depending on how strong the coffee grind is, the size of the coffee grind, and the type of espresso machine you decide to use, you will get different results in flavor. 

The quick answer to this question would be that an espresso is a more concentrated form of coffee that is often thicker and more flavorful. 

What Makes It An Espresso?

Typically, an espresso is made with medium to medium-dark roast coffee beans such as Arabica beans mixed with Robusta beans, finely ground down. What makes the espresso taste stronger is the water to coffee ratio. A single shot of espresso is around 1.5 ounces with the ratio being 1:2. 

To properly make an espresso, the brewing process such as the temperature and pressure of the water being pushed through the coffee ground must be perfect, or atleast to your liking. The pressure is also known as “pulling” in coffee terms. However this all depends on the espresso machine you use and the fineness of the coffee grind. Espresso is still coffee but the process in which it is made is what differentiates them. 

The Components Of An Espresso

The heart, body, and crema are the three crucial parts of an espresso shot. The heart is in the bottom, the body is in the center, and the crema floats on top.

The heart should be a dark brown and be the bitterness of the shot. The body should be caramel brown in color. The crema located on the top of the espresso is the sweetness of the coffee that helps balance out the heart.

What Drinks Are Made With Espresso?

Keep in mind that there are many different drinks that you can make using espresso! The more commonly known ones are the Cappuccino, Latte, Mocha, Macchiato, and Breve, each with their own twist. I will discuss how to make these drinks below.

How to Drink Espresso

Believe it or not, there are arguments of whether there is a right or wrong way to enjoy espresso. Espresso should be consumed at your own pleasure. Some argue that drinking it soon after brewing is best, however studies have shown that regular ingestion of hot liquids can contribute to esophageal cancer. As an espresso shot rests, its flavor may alter and certain attributes get stronger or weaker.

When it comes to comparing espressos, consistency is so much more important than any other factor. Make sure that you're using the same volume of grinds, the same extraction procedure and duration, and wait the same length of time after drawing the shot to consume it.

Drink your espresso at the pinnacle of its freshness and with a feeling of formality all in one swallow; this is known as "solo" consumption and allows you to fully appreciate the finer nuances, refined scents, and tastes.

To make your espresso experience even better, pair your drink with a Biscotti, brioche, or perhaps a croissant. For dessert, give gelato, sorbet, or affogato a chance!

Espresso Drink Recipes

It may be difficult to make a high-quality espresso without an espresso maker, but it can definitely be mastered without one using some practice. An espresso machine does however make this process easier in the mornings.  An espresso drink is a specialty coffee drink and most of these specialties use finely pulled espresso shots as the foundation or base of the drink. 

Cappuccino

The traditional cappuccino is originally based in Italy. To make this, “pull” that shot of espresso into a Cappuccino and add double the amount of steamed milk as espresso, finally top with foam.

The ratios and percentages of these ingredients are solely based on your liking and can be changed but that is the basics.  

You can make a “dry cappuccino” which means the addition of more foam. Alternatively, a “wet cappuccino” means to add more milk. There is also something called “bone dry cappuccino”which simply means it's made with no milk, replacing it with foam only.

A cappuccino's froth should be moist and silky, perfectly blending in as you pour rather than a bubbled foam resting above the drink. 

Latte

Similarly to the cappuccino, the latte is also originally based in Italy. To make this, “pull” two shots of espresso and triple the amount of steamed milk.  

While you pour the steamed milk into the cup, remember to hold back the foam using a spoon until the cup is almost full but don’t finish it off just yet. To put the cherry on time, add a small cap of foam. Lattes are often flavored with sweet syrups or nutty flavors as vanilla, hazelnut, caramel or almond.

Mocha

Originating in Mocha, Yemen, known as a high quality coffee-growing region, the term Mocha referred to that specific type of coffee bean.

Using the Arabica coffee bean to make the espresso shot, “pull” two shots into the bottom of the cup. The next part of the recipe calls for one ounce of chocolate syrup or powder and steamed milk until almost filled. Fill the rest of the up with whipped cream and some chocolate flakes. You can also make a Mocha Latte by adding more milk.

Macchiato 

To make an Espresso Macchiato, pull a single shot of espresso macchiato and about 1.5 tablespoons of foam. 

If you don’t want to use foam, you can use a dash of steamed milk or cream. A truly traditional Espresso Macchiato should be served in a demitasse or a half cup. 

To create a Latte Macchiato, you must then fill a cup with steamed milk and then pour the espresso slowly on top so the drink is stained with espresso and forms a dark swirl.

Breve 

A Breve is a rich, creamy Cappuccino with half-and-half cream. When combined with espresso, the half-and-half produces a creamy froth. The ingredients call for 2 ounces of espresso, 2 ounces & half steamed, and 2 ounces foam half & half.

How to Make An Espresso

The more common way to brew or make an espresso would be through an espresso machine. However, it is possible to make a strong espresso without one. There are three main espresso machine types; semi-automatic, automatic, and super automatic. Consider how frequently you'll be preparing espresso and how much control you want over the brewing process before purchasing an espresso machine.

The most important thing is that the correct amount of pressure must be applied to the finely pressed ground coffee as well as the force in which the boiling water is pressurized through the coffee. 

Another important factor in making a proper espresso is the quality of your coffee beans. Espresso coffee beans should be specialty coffee in its purest form. A bean that is processed, transported, roasted, and kept correctly in a dry, cold, and dark location to maintain the delicate flavors. 

What Coffee Grind Size Should You use

Depending on the amount of time, effort, or money you want to spend on making your coffee, you can either purchase the coffee in bean form and grind it yourself or you can simply order your coffee ground from the supplier. 

The perfect grind level equals the perfect coffee. If the grinding is done too fine, then not much water can pass through, leading to a strong overpowering taste. If the grind is too coarse, then too much water will pass through too quickly, resulting in a watery, weak coffee flavor in the espresso shot. 

An easy way to remember the grind level is: 

Too Fine = Over extracted 

Too Coarse = Under extracted

There are some subtle factors that might influence the quality of the espresso. Environmental factors including humidity and temperature as well as how the coffee was stored can affect how you grind the coffee beans.

How to Tamp Espresso Grinds

Tamping is the process by which a barista takes a loosely dosed amount of coffee grinds and compresses them into a firmly compacted, flat and even bed of coffee in the portafilter for the water to flow through.

A Portafilter is the component of an espresso machine which holds ground espresso coffee that is attached to a group in an espresso machine to produce espresso.

To begin tamping your espresso grinds, remove the portafilter from the espresso machine and run it under extremely hot water to heat it up. Various machines can now do this automatically.  The justification for heating the portafilter for fine espresso is that a cool portafilter might reduce the brewing temperature and interfere with optimum extraction.

Next, warm up your demitasse and allow the espresso to pour directly into it from the espresso machine spout. When you fill up the portafilter with the roasted and ground coffee use an even pressure with a slight twisting. This is the optimal movement for perfect compaction and no weak spots Perfect this subtle tamp for the perfect espresso.

Finally, slide the portafilter back into the espresso machine and press the brew button. After  a few seconds, the brewed espresso will begin to stream out. The espresso should flow in a continuous stream and resemble maple syrup.

How to Pull An Espresso Shot 

The length of time you brew the espresso shot is an important factor in making great espresso. It is both an art form and a science. The peculiarities of espresso brewing demand that the barista be well-versed in all forms of coffee, grind, temperature, pressure, and brewing time.

22 seconds is the industry norm that is practiced. The objective is to prevent both under-extraction and over-extraction, which can impair the best attributes of espresso.

An espresso brewed too long will be too bitter, but under-brewed will miss the subtle aromatic oils and delicate flavors of gourmet espresso coffee. So the goal is to make sure it's not watery, weak, or bitter.

Once the espresso starts coming out of the spout, watch the speed in which the espresso flows. Lack of speed indicates that your coffee grind is too fine, your tamp is too firm, or your pressure is too low. These variables should be fine-tuned. A sluggish flow will result in over-extraction and bitterness.

However, if the espresso is brewing too quickly, it may not be tamped properly or the coffee may be coarsely ground. Start by analyzing the size of the particles coming out of the grinder.Check the portafilter for any particular issues as the hot water passes through the roasted and tamped coffee grounds. Adjust these variables and try again. The process could be seen as a trial and error until you have perfected the art of using an espresso machine and pulling an espresso shot! 

Continuing to allow the espresso to run too rapidly results in under-extraction and a weak, watery, and flavorless espresso shot. The espresso shot should be roughly 1.5 ounces in volume.

Types of Espresso Maker Machines 

There are a ton of different options out there but the typical espresso machines come in four basic types; Pump-Driven, Steam-Driven, Piston-Driven, and Air-Pump. Within these models, the common ones would include commercial, prosumer espresso, home espresso machines, pod espresso machines, and the super automatic espresso machines.

Pump-Driven Espresso Machines 

Today, the most common type of espresso machine is the pump-driven espresso machine, which utilizes a motor to provide the appropriate pressure to brew the espresso. With a pump-driven espresso coffee machine, it will do the work for you, eliminating human force errors.

Water in a pump-driven espresso machine may be stored within the machine's reservoir or could flow straight. Pump-driven espresso machines are said to be superior to motor espresso machines.

Steam-Driven Espresso Machines

The earliest espresso machines employed steam pressure, and many low-cost espresso machines still use it today. For household uses, steam-driven devices are also linked to drip filter coffee makers.

Piston-Driven Espresso Machines

Piston-driven espresso machine is operated by the barista pulling a lever that then pressurizes hot water through the coffee grinds.

The term “pulling” an espresso shot originated here because the barista is quite literally pulling the handle.

Air-Pump Espresso Machines

The most recent type of espresso machine would be the air-pump espresso machine. It uses compressed air to generate the pressure required to brew your espresso. The operator would then put hot water from the stove into the machine. However, N2O or CO2 cartridges, or a manual pump can all be used to create compressed air.

Air-pump espresso machines are typically smaller and lighter, rendering them more mobile than the other types of espresso makers that require to be plugged in.

So much thought and effort is put into an espresso from the way it’s is brewed, the type of coffee bean, the size of the coffee grind, and the type of espresso machine, the tamping process, and extraction levels will ultimately determine the flavor and consistency of your espresso.

About the Author

Author-Bio -Bitmoji

Bryan Huynh

Product Tester & Writer

Bryan Huynh is a determined Product Tester & Writer. Being a coffee addict, it is only right that he mainly tests and reviews different coffee from around the world and coffee subscription services.

Bryan Huynh is a determined Product Tester & Writer. Being a coffee addict, it is only right that he mainly tests and reviews different coffee from around the world and coffee subscription services.