Many people take their coffee on the go and don’t even stop to enjoy the flavor.
However, when it comes to espresso, it’s really worth slowing down for it. And, of course, it requires you to know the right way to enjoy this beverage.
So, whether you’ve picked a top-rated espresso machine for your home or often visit local coffee houses, you should probably learn how to drink espresso like Italians, the masters of this beverage. Let’s take a closer look at delicious Espressos and learn to appreciate them more.
What Is Espresso and How Do You Recognize a Good One?
Drinking espressos is a special, unique tradition that can also offer a lot of benefits, like getting an energy boost or a whole lot of antioxidants (1). And since the tradition is quite old, it wouldn’t hurt to understand what exactly an espresso is and how to distinguish a quality beverage.
So, an espresso is a type of coffee that has a rich, concentrated flavor. Typically served in shots, it is made by forcing hot water through the coffee grounds using pressure (2), which you can even achieve at home if you get yourself a good Italian espresso machine.
Probably the most characteristic feature of espresso is the rich crema – that tan-colored thin layer of foam on top of the coffee. It enhances the flavor and leaves a rich aftertaste when you drink espressos. Another unique feature of this beverage is the coffee to water ratio. Espressos are usually brewed using 1 part coffee and 2 parts water, which results in a full-bodied, rich, bold beverage. Of course, some baristas may choose a slightly different ratio, but overall, espresso should be quite concentrated and not diluted with water.
Now, it’s also important to be able to identify a good shot of espresso. After all, the beverage is supposed to be enjoyed, and you probably agree that it’s hard to enjoy poorly-brewed coffee.
One of the main signs that your espresso is good is, of course, the crema. There should be a visible layer of fairly thick (covering the espresso completely) foam. It should be tan or golden-brown. The crema should remain on top for a few minutes (around 3-5, if you don’t finish your espresso by then).
Also, keep in mind that espresso should be served hot. If it’s simply lukewarm, chances are the machine did not reach the optimal brewing temperature, which means the coffee was not extracted properly.
A good espresso should be slightly bitter (but not overpowering) and not acidic. It might also have some sour notes, but they should be very subtle and need to balance out the bitterness of the beverage nicely. It must also have a rich flavor and a full body (so that you can see the remains of the beverage on the sides of the cup).
How to Drink Espresso Properly
As I’ve mentioned before, drinking espresso is a unique tradition, a ritual, if you will.
Naturally, there is a proper way to enjoy this beverage and a set of specific steps involved in the process.
Here’s what you need to do to drink espressos the right way:
- Warm your espresso cup. If you are ordering from a coffee house, don’t be shy to ask the barista to do that for you. It’s better to drink espressos from a warm cup because this way the beverage will take longer to cool down. Naturally, it will be likelier to preserve its flavor longer. Moreover, that flavor might seem richer if you drink from a warm cup rather than from a cold one.
- Take a sip of water (sparkling is okay as well). The purpose of water is probably clear – to clean your taste buds before you proceed to drink your espresso. You see, the proteins in our saliva are able to delay the release of aromas in the coffee. By “rinsing” your mouth with water before drinking coffee, you prepare the taste buds and allow them to catch all the flavor nuances
- Remove the crema. Yes, a rich crema is a good sign of the espresso’s quality. But the truth is, crema is simply the result of the CO2 release, and it doesn’t taste that good. In fact, it is typically the bitterest part of the beverage, that’s why many coffee enthusiasts prefer getting rid of it and drinking “clean” espressos. However, this step is completely optional.
- Stir your espresso. This beverage is thicker than your regular coffee, and the richest part might sink to the bottom of the cup. That’s why it’s better to stir the beverage gently before drinking. This way, you will get to enjoy a richer taste and a full flavor spectrum.
- Drink your espresso. Now, here’s when opinions often tend to differ. Some say that the right way to drink Espresso is to do it fast, while the crema is still on top (3) (that is if you have chosen not to remove it). Others argue with this method and note that espressos need to be enjoyed, so you should sip yours slowly (but not too slowly so that it gets cold) (4). In my opinion, it all comes down to your preferences. I personally enjoy sipping my espressos slowly so that I could feel the subtle flavor notes and enjoy the taste to the fullest.
How to Make a Good Espresso at Home
If you are a fan of espresso (like me), you probably want to drink it often.
And to do that, you can try and make it at home. That is if you know how to use an espresso machine and have one sitting in your kitchen.
The first step of brewing a great espresso is choosing quality beans. Arabica is more preferable than Robusta due to its flavor peculiarities. Keep in mind that it’s better to use freshly roasted beans (you should brew them no later than 3 weeks after the roasting date).
Another important aspect is the coarseness. For espressos, you need really fine grounds (roughly sand-like texture). To achieve a uniform coarseness, you might want to invest in an adjustable burr grinder (or consider some of the best espresso machines with grinders, which typically use burrs and allow for precise coarseness settings).
Once you’re done grinding, you need to transfer your coffee into the portafilter and start tamping. Make sure you place the tamper straight (and not at an angle). Push down with some force but don’t strain yourself. Brush the remaining grounds off the sides of the portafilter, insert it into the machine, and pull a shot. Viola, now you can enjoy your freshly brewed espresso.
There are also different methods of making espresso at home without a machine. You can use a French press, a Moka pot, an AeroPress, or even a manual lever machine. Whichever you choose, make sure that you use the proper coffee to water ratio (1 to 2, as recommended). In this case, it’s better to use kitchen scales to achieve precise results. And let me be honest with you: the mentioned tools can brew a great shot, but it won’t be authentic, “proper” espresso. You see, for this beverage, you need enough pressure for proper extraction, which only espresso machines can maintain.
How much should I spend on an espresso machine?
This is a matter of your preferences and budget. There are many great espresso machines under $200 that can be a good option for first-time home baristas and offer the bare necessities for a good shot. If you want something more serious, a good espresso machine under $1,000 would be more than enough. Such brewers can maintain the needed bar pressure for proper extraction and often allow users to make adjustments in order to achieve the best flavor.
Why do some coffee connoisseurs recommend removing crema before drinking espresso?
Because crema usually tastes bitter and can alter (sometimes ruin) the flavor of your espresso. Removing the crema is an optional step, as you can simply stir the beverage and incorporate the crema with the rest of it. You can try drinking espresso both ways (with crema and without it) to understand in which scenario you enjoy the beverage the most.
Do I need to drink espresso like a shot?
No. Actually, it is recommended to drink espresso slowly rather than in a single gulp. This way, you will be able to taste all the flavor notes and enjoy the richness of this beverage.
Why do you get a glass of water with espresso?
You are supposed to drink water before tasting espresso to cleanse your palate (and, consequently, to enjoy your beverage more).
Can I put sugar in an espresso?
Yes, there’s nothing wrong with liking your coffee sweet, even if we’re talking about the classic espressos.
Now when you know how to drink espressos properly, you won’t ever feel lost at a coffee house (even if you get to visit an authentic Italian café that serves the best espressos). Plus, since you know the main espresso-drinking secrets, you will also be able to enjoy the most subtle flavor notes and nuances of this rich beverage.
So, are you ready to start drinking espressos like a pro? Will you brew it yourself, or are you going to order it at your local coffee house? Let us know in the comments!
- Lauren Barth (March 30, 2020). When You Drink Espresso Every Day, This Is What Happens To Your Body. Retrieved from https://www.thelist.com/197590/when-you-drink-espresso-every-day-this-is-what-happens-to-your-body/
- Lindsey Goodwin (March 04, 2020). What Is Espresso? Benefits, Uses, & Recipes. Retrieved from https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-espresso-765702
- Sophie-Claire Hoeller (June 12, 2015). How to drink espresso like an Italian. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-drink-espresso-like-an-italian-2015-6
- Sarah L. Stewart (August 28, 2015). How to Drink Espresso Like an Italian. Retrieved from https://www.travelandleisure.com/food-drink/how-to-drink-espresso-like-an-italian
My name is Yurii Brown. I am a passionate coffee geek and, concurrently, a certified coffee specialist.
I’ve been learning about coffee for a long time, testing various devices and practicing in home coffee brewing. I like to share my experience and insights with fellow coffee lovers so that my readers could enjoy the real taste of quality-brewed beverages.