Posted November 28, 2012 by Matt in General Information

What is Espresso?



spresso is both a coffee beverage and a special method to brew coffee. A common belief is that espresso is a type of bean, blend or roast level, but this is not correct. In fact, you can use any bean or roasting level to make espresso. What makes espresso different from regular coffee is that it is very concentrated and a lot thicker. A usual serving size is only 30 mL (1 US fl. oz.), but contains about twice as much caffeine (per unit) as a regular cup of coffee.

Making an espresso shot is often called pulling a shot, which originates from the manual espresso machines. The Batista had to pull a lever down to force hot water through the coffee, hence the term pulling. Today, of course, an electric motor creates the pressure. We will now take a look at how a cup, or a shot which it is actually called, of espresso is made.

How is espresso made?

In short, espresso is brewed by forcing water close to the boiling point through finely compacted ground coffee. To be able to force the hot water under pressure through the ground an espresso machine is needed. This is the reason espresso has been only available at and associated with cafes for a long time. Today, the art of brewing a delicious shot of espresso is not only limited to the Baristi thanks to user-friendly and affordable espresso machines found in kitchen and appliance stores.

Pulling an Espresso

Image by Flaivoloka

The process of pulling a shot of espresso starts with choosing a good blend with the right sweetness, aromatics and smoothness. It is also important that the espresso blend is fresh, to get the best result the blend should be used within four days after it has been roasted.

The next step is to grind coffee beans enough for one serving (16-18 grams) only due to the aroma will start to diminish when the beans are ground. The finely ground coffee is then added evenly to a portafilter (basket) and pressed with a tamper. Start off by tamping the coffee once lightly (5lbs/ 2.5kg of pressure) to make sure the grounds are evenly distributed in the portafilter. Then tamp the coffee with about 30lbs (roughly 15kg) of pressure until the surface is even and hard. If the espresso pellet has any weak spots the water will find its way through these and the coffee aromas won’t extract properly.

The water temperature should be stable between 92-96°C and the pressure around 10 bar (150 psi/10 atm). If the pressure is not high enough the development of crema (foam) won’t happen. The extraction time of the espresso shot will also affect the development of crema and of course determine the strength of the brew. The optimum extraction time of an espresso shot is about 25 seconds, if it is too short the espresso will not get its full flavor and if it is too long the espresso will get too much bitterness. The stability of temperature, pressure and extraction time are very important for the consistency and taste of the espresso. All these factors depends on the espresso machine alone and it is therefore significant to have a proper machine to make the best espresso.

A brief history of espresso

Espresso machine inventor

Angelo Moriondo

In 1884, an Italian named Angelo Moriondo registered a patent of a machine that could control the supply of hot water and steam through coffee. The problem with this machine was that it could only make coffee in large quantities. Roughly 20 years later another Italian named Luigi Bezzera made some improvements to Moriondo’s machine. The improvements made it easier to prepare and serve coffee immediately which made it more suitable for coffee bars.

In Italy, the popularity and consumption of espresso increased with the urbanization and espresso bars became a place for socialization. The popularity of espresso grew internationally due to the tourism to Italy. In Great Britain the espresso became popular in the form of cappuccino; this was due to the tradition of drinking coffee and tea with milk. In the United States the lattes became popular especially with sweet flavored syrups. The great breakthrough in USA came through Starbucks in the 1980s and 1990s with long cappuccinos and lattes.

As the increased interest of espresso the popularity of home espresso machine also grew. When the first espresso machines for home use were first made in the 1970s they were expensive and difficult to operate. Today, an espresso machine doesn’t cost much and will fit neatly on your kitchen counter. The last few years coffee pods and capsules have revolutionized how to make espresso and coffee and drastically increased the consumption of espresso.

Beverages based on espresso

There are a lot of different coffee beverages based on espresso blended with either milk or hot water. We will only take a closer look at the most basic.


Milk-based beverages

The first and smallest milk-based espresso beverage is the macchiato. A macchiato is made of one shot of espresso with just a small amount of steamed milk. A modern macchiato is either one or two shots of espresso and equally much milk.

The cappuccino has one or two shots of espresso with a significant amount of dry foam.

The latte has one or two shots of espresso with everything from 1:3 to 1:9 milk.

Hot water-based beverages

The only difference between a long black and Americano is the order the hot water is added. An Americano has the espresso shot at the bottom and then hot water on the top, while the long black is made by adding espresso to the hot water.