“Coffee and love are best when they’re hot.” You’d be hard-pressed to find a coffee drinker who doesn’t agree with this saying. After all, who likes lukewarm coffee? But contrary to popular opinion, the temperature is not the only factor that goes into making a delicious espresso ...
Ordering an espresso can be like a lottery. We’ve all been there – one minute you’re looking forward to a delicious cup of coffee, the next you’ve been served a bitter black concoction. But what makes a great espresso? Naturally, it shouldn’t be bitter. And definitely not sour. It needs to have a rich coffee flavour. That little cup may not look like much, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Italy: the birthplace of espresso
Italy is not only known for fashion and architecture, but also for great coffee. And it has been for quite some time. The first espresso was served in Milan around 1900. Industrial production of espresso machines began soon thereafter, and it wasn’t long before this tiny yet powerful drink became famous around the world. The word espresso comes from the Italian word esprimere, which literally means “to express”. Despite what many people think, the word espresso has nothing to do with speed, but rather comes from the fact that it is made “expressly” for the customer.
Unlike other brewing methods, when an espresso is made, the hot water is forced through the ground coffee under very high pressure. In classic espresso machines, this translates to 7 to 9 grams of coffee at a pressure of 9 bar and a percolation time of 25 to 30 seconds. The perfect temperature is somewhere between 90°C and 94°C. This process releases significantly more flavour from the coffee, which is why espresso has such an intense taste. When all these aspects come together, the result is a well-balanced, richly flavoured espresso with a dense, hazelnut-brown crema. But making the perfect espresso involves proper preparation and the right amount of skill. At least when you’re using a traditional espresso machine.
Man versus machine
A barista has to master the four Ms: la macchina, the coffee machine; la mischela, the coffee blend; la macinacaffè, the grinder; and la mano, literally the hand, or rather the barista’s skill. These four aspects must be precisely coordinated in order to brew the perfect espresso. The process sounds simple: fill the portafilter with freshly ground coffee, level the grounds and then tamp them down, then securely attach the portafilter to the machine and brew the espresso. Easy, right? Well, not quite. Every setting and every step of this process must be correct.
The tricks of the trade
It’s worth it to pay more for a high-quality espresso machine. The best option is a piston-driven machine with a stable temperature. Temperature stability is important because if the machine is too cold, the coffee will be sour, and if the water is too hot, it will burn the coffee. However, when it comes to the variety of coffee, it’s better to choose a dark roasted blend or an Arabica. A darker roast ensures that the espresso’s flavour is not dominated by unwanted acidity or overly high caffeine content. The grind should be finer than for filter coffee, for example. If the coffee is too coarsely ground, the water will pass through too quickly, which will release too much acidity and too little of the desired flavour compounds. On the other hand, if the grind is too fine, the water will be unable to get through. The result: the espresso will taste bitter. No matter how you prepare your coffee, it’s important to ensure that the grind is even and that the coffee is properly stored.
Is there a barista in the house?
A barista needs to be an expert in all things coffee – from the grind to the percolation speed. It’s an exact science. When it comes to our Café Royal Espresso, all of these factors are perfectly attuned. All that you have to do is place the flavour-sealed capsule in your capsule machine and press a button, and in a few seconds you can enjoy hot, barista-quality coffee – all from a small, unassuming capsule.