Anyone who has stepped foot into a coffee shop has probably heard of espresso. This type of coffee drink is made by using pressurized hot water to extract the flavor from roasted coffee grounds. Because of its high concentration of solids, the texture of espresso is usually thicker than that of other brewed coffee drinks. Espresso is bold, rich, and perfect for those who like strongly flavored coffee.
The espresso is created with a unique machine, which was first patented in 1884 by an Italian man named Angelo Moriondo. His model was a bulk brewer, as opposed to espresso machines today which create one cup of coffee at a time. Still, its mechanism provided the model for its successors. In 1901, Luigi Bezzera made improvements to Moriondo’s model with the aim to produce coffee beverages that could be served immediately. Bezzera’s patent was sold in 1905 to Desiderio Pavoni, who began commercially producing espresso machines for sale to the public.
To make espresso, finely ground coffee must be used. Many people use dark roasted coffee grounds to make espresso, which is common in Italy and Europe. However, any roast, from super dark to light, can be used to make an espresso coffee. The darker the roast, of course, the more intense the coffee flavor will be in the finished cup.
Once the ground coffee is placed into the espresso maker’s basket, it is tamped down with a tool called a tamper. This compacts the coffee and helps the water to evenly penetrate it and extract the most flavor. After the coffee has been properly tamped, the espresso machine generally takes care of the rest. It heats up to water to a temperature high enough and then shoots it through the coffee grounds.
The resulting brew is an intense coffee beverage — this intensity is why many people call a serving of espresso a shot. There are many types of espresso shots. The single shot is usually one ounce of espresso, while the double shot uses double the coffee in the machine’s filter to make a two ounce brew. Ristretto, or the short shot, is comprised of the first 3/4 ounces of extracted espresso in a single shot, while lungo, or the long shot, contains 1.5 ounces of espresso.
Great espresso that has been properly brewed is defined by its crema — this is the layer of creamy foam that sits on top of a cup of espresso coffee. Crema isn’t made by frothing, it is the natural result of the coffee’s oils being emulsified during the brewing process.
Since its flavors are so concentrated, one cup (or shot) of espresso is measured in smaller servings than regular coffee. While a cup of regular coffee is typically 6 to 8 ounces, a cup of espresso is no more than 2 ounces. It is widely believed that a cup of espresso contains more caffeine than a cup of drip brewed coffee, but this usually isn’t true. You can expect to find up to 170 mg of caffeine in a serving of espresso as opposed to a high of 200 mg of caffeine in a standard cup of drip brewed coffee.
Some coffee lovers call making espresso “pulling a shot”, largely due to espresso machines having levers for many years. Espresso machines with lever pulls can still be found, but most modern models work via an electric pump.
Making excellent espresso at home requires the use of an espresso machine. One of the best espresso machines for this is the Breville “Infuser” (you simply can’t make good espresso with cheaper machines, sorry!). The machine that I personally own. It looks beautiful and is nearly foolproof, which allows for the creation of high quality espresso at home even if you’re not a coffee making expert. Espresso forms the base of many other gourmet coffee drinks, including cappuccino, cafe mocha, macchiato, and caffe latte. With a machine like the Breville Infuser, it’s easy to make specialty espresso drinks due to its included accessories and milk frother.