It’s not a type of coffee bean. It can’t be spelled with an ‘x’. In Italy, it’s a synonym for coffee itself. So, what exactly is espresso? If you’ve ever found yourself wondering just that, you’re in luck: we’ve brewed up a guide to this highly concentrated type of coffee that’s been giving us the strongest energy kicks since the late 19th century.
Though it be but little, it is fierce, as Shakespeare would say—or something along those lines. Espresso is famous for being short and strong, but it often gets confused with other types of coffee, so let’s make sure we’re on the same page.
An espresso is a highly-concentrated shot of coffee that’s been brewed by forcing hot pressurized water through the grounds.
It can be drunk on its own, and it’s fantastic for a quick caffeine pick-me-up. If you go to a bar (coffeehouse) in Italy and ask for ‘un caffè’, you’ll always get a shot of espresso.
Two popular variants are a ristretto (literally ‘shortened’) and a lungo (‘long’). As the names suggest, the former is even shorter: it’s brewed by decreasing the extraction time, which results in a slightly weaker but more aromatic shot. Because the latter is brewed for double the time, it has more hot water and a stronger caffeine kick.
However, espresso is also used as the basis to create lots of other types of coffee by adding hot water or steamed milk to it, such as in lattes and cappuccinos.
Everything about espresso extraction is unique. For the best shot, you should use very fine coffee grounds, a 1:2 coffee-to-water ratio, let the extraction last from 20 to 30 seconds, and reach at least 9 bars of pressure. Usually, the best espresso shots are topped with crema, a thin and rather aesthetically-pleasing brown layer of foam.
The difference between regular coffee and espresso is that the former usually involves medium-fine, medium or coarse grounds, can be brewed via infusion or immersion brewing methods, and follows an average 1:15 coffee-to-water ratio. Espresso, on the other hand, is much shorter and concentrated, and can only be brewed with machines that reach the required pressure. However, if you haven’t got an espresso machine, these brewing methods will get you as close as possible to the real thing.
Thanks to the popularity of coffehouses during the Enlightenment period and the innovations introduced with the Industrial Revolution, the first ancestor of modern espresso machines appeared in Italy in 1884 thanks to Angelo Moriondo.
However, it could only brew at 1.5 bars. It took several patents and modifications from other engineers to turn it into what we’re used to seeing in cafés today. The most famous are Luigi Bezzera, who created a machine that could brew coffee ‘expressly’; Desiderio Pavoni, who bought the patent and started producing lots of these machines in Milan; Antonio Cremonese, who introduced piston pumps to remove the burnt taste caused by using boiling water, and Achille Gaggia, who helped extract the coffee in a way that first resulted in its famous crema in 1938.
A cultural staple in Italy and the perfect extra caffeine kick for coffee lovers around the world, espresso is a shorter but stronger shot that is guaranteed to give you enough energy to face the day. While any of our blends work well for espressos, we especially recommend our Backdraft Espresso Coffee: its powerful rich flavor will give you a proper taste of the dolce vita.
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