What is Espresso?
Anatomy of Espresso
What is Espresso?
Contrary to popular belief, espresso is not a specific bean or roast level. Any bean or roast level can be used to make espresso. What makes espresso espresso is its brewing method, which is made by forcing pressurized hot water through finely ground coffee to create a concentrated coffee topped with a delicate foam, called a crema.
The crema should be thin and foamy with a golden-brown and sometimes slightly reddish color. The crema has a sweet flavor as it contains the espresso’s concentrated sugars and oils. The body is the middle layer and it is typically caramel-brown in color. The bottom of an espresso, known as the heart, should have a deep brown tone. The heart contains the bitterness that provides a balance to the sweetness of the crema.
While there is no universal standard in how to make the perfect espresso, it is often thought that the quality of the ultimate espresso comes from the four Ms:
Macinazione – correct grinding of the coffee bean
Macchina – the espresso machine
Miscela – the coffee blend
Mano – the skilled hand of the person making the coffee
The Origins of Espresso
Espresso made its debut in Italy in the early 20th century, at a time when coffee had already been a staple of Italian life for hundreds of years. Espresso lovers owe a debt of gratitude to Italy’s Luigi Bezzera, the owner of a manufacturing plant who set out to shorten the length of time it took to make a cup of coffee. It’s unclear whether he was motivated to speed up the brewing process out of frustration over how long it took for him to make his morning coffee or whether he was motivated by a desire to shorten his employees’ coffee breaks.
In any case, Bezzera discovered that adding steam pressure to the process produced a stronger and more robust cup of coffee. The machine used in this new quick-brew process was named the Fast Coffee Machine. The beverage produced by this machine would become known as espresso – or “fast” in Italian. In the end, Signore Bezzera wasn’t nearly as talented at marketing and sales as he was at engineering. In 1905, Desidero Pavoni purchased the rights to the machine from Bezzera and took out a patent on it. It is largely due to Pavoni’s marketing expertise that espresso grew in popularity.
In the early 1940s, Achille Gaggia’s piston-based machine greatly enhanced the quality of espresso by eliminating the burnt flavor and making it thicker. Used commercially at first, Gaggia’s and other espresso machines gradually became available for use at home.