Beginner’s Guide to Espresso

Coffee 101 – Part 3

Whether you’re a regular at your local coffee shop or an at-home barista, you’ve probably tried – or considered trying – espresso. But what is espresso? How is it different from regular drip coffee?

In Part 3 of our Coffee 101 series, we dive into the details of the “Divine Nectar”.

What is Espresso?

Espresso has an exotic name, but it’s simply a method for brewing coffee beans. The same process is at work whether you’re pulling an espresso shot or brewing coffee: extracting a caffeinated beverage from ground coffee using water.

The difference between espresso and coffee is how much water is used to extract the brew, how much pressure is used, and how fine the coffee grounds are.

Espresso is made by forcing a very small amount of pressurized hot water through a finely ground and firmly packed puck of coffee, and takes about 20-30 seconds. To make regular coffee, gravity does the work in pulling the water through coarser grounds, and could take several minutes.

One distinctive feature of espresso is the crema: the light, frothy liquid that sits on top of the espresso shot. It’s created as part of the quick, high-pressured extraction process. The fresher the grounds, the more crema will be produced.

How Can I Tell if I’m Drinking Good Espresso?

First of all, do you like it? If you’re enjoying your shot of espresso, then it’s good espresso regardless of what anyone tells you.

In general, a good shot of espresso maximizes the aromas, flavours and body of good coffee. It’s sweet and balanced, with minimal bitterness.

If your espresso tastes burnt, ashy or bitter, then there’s too much extraction from the coffee beans. Alternatively, if your espresso tastes thin, sour and watery, there’s not enough extraction from the beans.

While good espresso doesn’t require sweetener or flavored-syrups (although you’re certainly welcome to turn yours into a tasty latte), certain pairings can serve to highlight its flavor. Espresso and milk, for example, have been best friends for a long time and combining them properly enhances the best features of each one.

Want more coffee information? Take a look at Part 1 and Part 2 of our Coffee 101 series.

Or, you can make your own great espresso or coffee drinks with coffee systems from Jenn-Air, Wolf, Miele or Bosch.

With information provided by JJ Bean Coffee Roasters, one of the few companies in Canada to have a certified coffee Q-Grader on staff.