Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Espresso, the Myth and the Facts; Part 1

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard people say; “If I had an Espresso I’d be climbing the walls” “Who can stand that much caffeine “ Or “Boy that is strong & bitter”. Well the truth of the matter is a shot of espresso has less caffeine than a cup of coffee. If properly extracted the coffee has a lovely bittersweet after taste more full bodied that a cup of coffee but just as pleasurable. The steam pressure the coffee is extracted under produces a crema created by the coffee oils coming to the surface and standing thick on the top of the drink. Crema is the wonderful tan colored foam that appears on the top of a well-shot espresso. If you pour a little sugar on top of the crema it will stand there before sinking in the liquid. A perfectly drawn shot of espresso has a crema that holds up until the drink is consumed. A shot of espresso is 1 ½ to 2 ounces of pure joy if properly served. Now that we have blown some myths let’s talk “Espresso.

Espresso is not a coffee varietal. It is a blend of coffees. Generally roasted darker than the “American Roast” profile (Think Arnold’s Special Blend) but not so dark that it is burnt, caramelized & bitter. Of course the degree of roast color and the blend varies with the roaster. In the country of origin, Italy, there are several degrees of roast profile and blends. Some are 100% Arabica & some blends use a small percent of very high quality Robusta. Some are very dark (Rome) and some much lighter.

Drawing an espresso is really an art that requires many components. The grind, the tamp, the machine, and the Barista must all be in harmony to draw a shot worth drinking.

Real espresso is a café drink. Most home machines do not have the pressure capacity to produce a good espresso. Nor do home machines have the steam pressure to produce frothed, textured or steamed milk for cappuccino, latte, or mocha. You must be willing to spend between $750 & $2000 to get a real home machine or you are wasting your time and money. I’ll cover espresso machines in another chapter on espresso.

There are almost no coffee shops or restaurants that serve real espresso or espresso based drinks. To do so takes the training & skill of a professional Barista. Everything has to be right. It starts with the coffee, it MUST be fresh, it must be ground properly, it must be tamped properly in the portafilter (30 pounds of pressure), all the elements effect espresso, to much moisture in the air, the air conditioning (heat or cooling turning on and off) the café door opening and closing all can cause the Barista to change the grind dozens of times during his/her shift.

A few of my buddies and I go to Louisville a couple of times a month for lunch and a tour of coffee shops. We are trying to find a good shot of espresso and a drinkable Cappuccino and Latte. Of the dozens of shops we have visited only one served a great drink. Most had no clue. Several were so bad we would have been better off at MacDonald’s or a drink made on an Automatica machine at Starbucks.

Many shops can’t even produce a great cup of coffee let alone an espresso or espresso based drink. It is a sad state of the coffee drinking world.

More in the next edition. As always I love to hear from you.


1 comment:

BK Helton said...

Hey Arnold! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us all here on your blog. I must say, I am guilty of having thought that espresso had more caffeine than coffee. Of course, I always would begin questioning how that could be when I really thought about it. Thanks for setting me straight. I am eager to read about pressing coffee as that is my preferred way of brewing.