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Espresso - The Morning Wake Up Call

Jul 31, 2008
What is Espresso?

The word espresso comes from the Italian words caffè espresso which literally means pressed-out coffee. Espresso is brewed by forcing very hot water under high pressure through coffee that has been ground to a consistency between extremely fine and powder. This process extracts a very flavorful concentrated coffee beverage. In Italy, good espresso is defined by the "four Ms" - Miscela, Macinazione, Macchina, Mano. These four words loosely translates to: blend of coffee beans, the grinding process, the machine, and the person making the espresso.

Espresso was developed in Milan, Italy in the early 20th century, but up until the mid-1940s it was a beverage produced solely with steam pressure. A simple espresso machine uses a pot, a filter, ground coffee and a spout. The as water in the pot is heated pressure builds inside the pot, and the
only way for it to escape is up the spout, through the coffee and out of the spout in the top. Since the end of the spout is under water, the pressure forces the hot water up through the spout. Modern day espresso machines have really caught on since the invention of the spring piston lever machine. This machines commercial success changed espresso into the beverage we know today. Starbucks has taken espresso production to a new level and the market continues to grow each year.

How does Espresso Differ from Coffee?

So what makes espresso so much different than regular coffee? For starters it has a thicker consistency than standard drip coffee. It also contains a higher amount of dissolved solids than drip coffee per relative volume. And probably the most noticeable thing when you pay $6 bucks is that the serving is much smaller. Espresso is usually measured in shots, which are between 25 and 30 ml (around 1 fluid ounce) in size. Espresso is also chemically complex and somewhat volatile, with many of its chemical components quickly degrading from oxidation or loss of temperature. Just by looking at it, the most distinguishing characteristic is "crema". Crema is the reddish-brown foam that floats on the surface and is composed of vegetable oils, proteins and sugars. Crema has elements of both emulsion and foam colloid.

Because of the high pressure brewing process, espresso tends to be a very highly concentrated "shot" of coffee. While there can be significant variation, on a per-volume basis, espresso contains approximately three times the caffeine content of regular brewed coffee. In most cases, 1 shot of espresso will have about half the caffeine of a standard large coffee. For this reason, it has become the base ingredient for other drinks, such as lattes, cappuccino, macchiato and mochas.

Which type of coffee beans is used to make espresso?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no specific coffee bean type or roast required to make espresso. Remember, espresso is made from the process, not the bean or blend. Typically, espresso is made from a blend of beans that can be roasted ranging between dark and light. Depending on the consumer, the blend chosen is purely a decision on taste. Commercial espresso makers like Starbucks go with a darker roast of beans to produce their traditional flavor.

What the heck is a Barista?

Barista is the Italian word for bartender. So an expert operator of an espresso machine is considered a barista. Starbucks uses this term to refer to their counter staff and thus the term has gained popularity in the U.S. A "home barista" is one who enjoys making espresso at their home.

A final word on espresso

As more and more Americans pour (no pun intended) into the local Starbucks or the Seattle's Best coffee shops, the popularity of espresso grows. Owning your own espresso maker has become quite popular in recent years and there are many styles of machines to choose from. Some operate with just the touch of a button. I encourage you to do your research before you buy there are many different options and many different price ranges to consider. Good luck on your quest for the perfect cup of espresso be it home brewed or Starbucks original.
About the Author
Dale Martin hosts a site that posts reviews and information on espresso machines. If you would like to learn more or to read reviews of specific espresso machines, please visit us at www.espressomachines-review.com
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