"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2002 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
3Real coffee for much of the world revolves around espresso. Espresso is a thick, rich dose of what coffee is "supposed to be." Just describing it gets complicated, but it should taste like fresh ground coffee beans smell.
The Grail After Which We Quest
We are trying to brew a perfect cup of espresso. To do that we need to combine a number of elements that, according to the experts, comprise at least forty steps! Most of those steps are out of our hand- things like how the beans were grown and when they were picked as well as how they were processed and roasted. As I surfed, read, and was educated, I learned that some of the steps over which we have control over include the following elements:
* Properly chosen and roasted beans, no more than about three weeks from old since their roasting date.
* Properly ground beans. Ground to a consistency, which for espresso is a very fine grind that feels something like granulated sugar. Too coarse and the water runs through it without picking up the proper elements. Too fine and the coffee packs too densely and brewing takes too long and the product will be bitter, and we have all experienced too much of that stuff. Experimentation is needed to find the correct grind for your machine.
* Quality water, free from minerals and pollutants that could taint the flavor of the product.
* Water heated to about 195-200 degrees. Never boiling. Putting boiling water over coffee beans ends the process of creating real coffee immediately. Not hot enough and the critical components are not extracted from the grind.
* Forcing that hot water through the beans at around 130 pounds per square inch.
* A proper portion of coffee to properly resist that flow of water. About 7 grams (1/4 ounce in mass) for a single, one ounce serving of espresso, or 14 grams (about ½ ounce in mass) for a double, two ounce serving.
* Properly packed coffee- a tamper should be used to pack the coffee into the portafilter with a pressure of about 30 pounds. Too little pressure and the water flows through without picking up the proper elements from the grinds. Too much pressure and the brew takes too long and the result will be a bitter brew and without crema.
* Time- If all the above is properly done it should take about 20 to 25 seconds to create one or two ounces, respectively, of the illusive brew we call espresso.
* Time again- the brewed espresso should be served very quickly, shortly after it leaves the portafilter.
[open delusion mode] Pretty simple process on the surface- coffee, hot water and pressure.[close delusion mode] The entire idea behind the process is to control all of those factors to extract all that is wonderful and flavorful in the coffee bean and leave behind all that is bitter and nasty.
How do you know when all that approaches correctness? Floating on top of the dark, rich brew will be the layer of crema. A rusty, reddish-brown foam that is comprised of, among other things, emulsified oils and carbon dioxide which have been wrestled away from the bean's fibers during the brewing process. The crema dissipates quickly- it is transient, just a visitor to your espresso, dropping in just to say, "Hello." As it leaves your cup it should be inhaled deeply and thoroughly with the nose nearly in the cup. Smell is a very large part of taste, and the smell of the crema will assist in experiencing the best way there is to brew coffee.
It all sounds so deceivingly easy. It is all quite difficult. Not physically difficult or mentally difficult- it's
just hard to get all the factors to occur properly all at once. If the pressure drops in your machine, no crema.
If the beans were ground too coarsely and the water passes through too quickly- no crema. If the water is
not hot enough- no crema. If the water is too hot- a bitter brew and no crema. There are a lot of variables
that make a delicious cup of espresso. There are all sorts of things that can come from your portafilter- from
perfect espresso to "tincture of coffee"®.