Espresso 101: What is it?
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A saucer clinks on the counter. As you order your drink, a bearded barista hands off a tiny cup. Another scruffy soul sashays forward. You watch as the second bloke whips out the world's smallest spoon, stirs the cup's contents, and raises the beverage to his lips. He drains his cup in seconds. Sipping your mocha, you wonder, "What just happened?"
Many know espresso as a cranial kickstart. And for some, it's a daily delicacy, the elixir of life itself. To others, though, it's just a mystery. If you spell espresso with an "x", you can't tell a frapp from a capp, or when I say "demi", you think "Moore", you may be in this category. But don't let that get you down – we've got a quick fix.
This beginner's guide to making espresso is for you. You're already into coffee and you're intrigued by espresso, but you don't yet know the full scoop. Read on and we'll take you from sea-level to the summit of geekdom. Welcome, adventurer, to the exciting, ever-caffeinated world of espresso.
More than any other means of coffee-making, espresso is sorely misunderstood. Common vernacular might lead you to think that it's a special bean, a unique roast, or just really, really strong coffee. But it's not so mystical. Espresso is simply a coffee beverage that's prepared by its own method, just like poured-over and french-pressed coffee are different because of the means by which they're made. Same beans and same idea, but new gear and terrific, new taste.
So how does it happen? A "shot" of espresso, as its called, is the result of finely ground coffee meeting hot water under high pressure. The increased pressure shortens extraction time (compared to brewed coffee), dissolves more coffee solids, and emulsifies oils. This intensifies the flavor, thickens the body, and adorns the espresso with a distinctive layer of "crema". A good shot will be robust yet balanced, and never too bitter.
Like your favorite spirits, espresso packs a punch and is, necessarily, served in small portions: 1-2 ounces at a time or watch out! It's often enjoyed with steamed milk – and sometimes flavored syrups – in drinks like cappuccinos and lattes. Espresso service is the staple of coffeehouses, as it has been for decades.
It's been around for that long? Sissignore! The first espresso machine was manufactured at the beginning of the twentieth century, when an Italian inventor wanted a way to prepare coffee "expressly" for customers, one at a time. Over a century later, his patented prototype has taken new forms, gone global, and birthed an entire industry.
Espresso is prepared a little differently, nowadays; advancements in technology have made this expensive culinary endeavor approachable as a hobby. Doing it yourself isn't rocket science or second-rate. With a little know-how, real, tasty espresso can be made right at home.