What is an Espresso: Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know

What is an Espresso

Even if you have a passing familiarity with coffee, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of espresso. This immensely popular coffee drink boasts a worldwide reputation for its bold, delicious flavor and jitter-inducing caffeine content.

But have you ever stopped to consider what espresso is, or where it came from? Or maybe you’d even like to make the jump and try your hand at making espresso at home.

Whatever you’d like to know about espresso, rest assured, there’s more to this drink than meets the eye!

What is it?

To put it in simple terms, espresso is a coffee beverage created by forcing pressurized water through finely-ground and tightly compacted coffee. The result is a thick, almost syrupy coffee concentrate that packs a powerful punch.

A single serving of espresso is typically referred to as a “shot” and is around 1 ounce. While it may seem like a relatively small amount of coffee, a single shot of espresso contains nearly the same amount of caffeine as a standard cup of brewed coffee.

For this reason, many coffee drinkers prefer espresso to regular drip coffee. Espresso allows coffee drinkers to get more caffeine (and flavor) from a smaller amount of coffee.

Besides its thick consistency and strong flavor, espresso is also known for the thin layer of tan cream which forms on top of the shot. The proper term for this cream is “crema,” and it’s a crucial aspect of a quality shot of espresso.

The crema is where the aroma of the espresso comes from. This aroma is important for the espresso drinker to get the full effect of the espresso’s flavor.

While espresso has steadily gained in popularity in the U.S. over the years, it remains the second most common coffee preparation in the states, behind traditional drip coffee.

However, in Europe, espresso is by far the most preferred method of coffee consumption. This is particularly true in Italy, where the drink originated.

Espresso: A Brief History

Espresso arrived on the scene sometime around the turn of the 20th century in Venice, Italy. As the story goes, an Italian businessman named Luigi Bezzera was impatient with the process of brewing coffee to get his daily caffeine fix and was desperate for a quicker way.

It just so happened that Bezzera owned a manufacturing company. So, after some tinkering, he discovered that adding steam pressure to a standard coffee machine not only reduced the amount of time it took to brew a cup of coffee but also made the coffee stronger– perfect for that businessman on the go.

Bezzera named his new contraption the “Fast Coffee Machine,” and, soon after, began marketing it to the public. However, Bezzera soon proved to be a better inventor than a marketer.

After an unsuccessful outing with his newfangled coffee maker, he sold part of the rights to the Fast Coffee Machine to Desidero Pavoni in 1905.

With Pavoni’s help, Bezzera worked tirelessly to refine his revolutionary coffee maker. But eventually, the pair of inventors parted ways.

Pavoni rebranded the machine as “Espresso”– or “fast” in Italian –and it soon began to explode in popularity.

It wasn’t until 1938 that the drink known as espresso would come into its own. It was then that inventor Achille Gaggia further refined the espresso machine with the addition of a spring-piston lever that compressed the coffee even more.

The result was a smoother, more concentrated coffee, without the bitter, burnt taste that espresso was known for at the time. This is also where the term “pulling a shot” comes from.

What You’ll Need to Make Espresso at Home

  1. Beans

To make espresso at home, the first thing you’ll need is coffee beans. While there are roasts with “espresso” in the name, you can use any type of coffee bean you like to make your espresso.

Espresso roasts are typically dark roasts, which many espresso drinkers prefer.

  1. Grinder

You can certainly buy coffee beans preground, but be warned, preground coffee has a very short shelf-life and is often lower in quality than whole beans. If it’s freshness you’re after, there’s simply no substitute for grinding your beans at home.

For this, you’ll need a coffee grinder. You can either get a manual or electric grinder. Just remember, you’ll want to grind your beans superfine to get the most out of your espresso.

  1. Scale

A scale is essential for measuring out your coffee. Without knowing how much coffee you’re adding to your espresso maker, you can never be sure what the flavor of your espresso will be.

For a single shot of espresso, you’ll want to use 6–8 grams of ground beans per 1–1.5 fluid ounce.

Espresso Makers

In these modern times, there’s more than one way to make an espresso. The following are 4 common methods you’ll find:

  1. Espresso Machine

The traditional espresso machine remains the most common espresso-making method, by far. As long as you know your desired temperature, an electric espresso machine also makes brewing easy.

Simply measure out and load your coffee, add water, and press start. You’ll have a quality cup of espresso in no time!

The only drawback to espresso machines is their price. Quality machines can cost thousands of dollars, making them inaccessible for many homebrewers.

  1. Aeropress

The Aeropress is the answer to those looking for a relatively inexpensive and easy-to-use way of brewing high-quality espresso. The Aeropress is a manual espresso maker that couldn’t be easier to operate.

You simply place it on top of a sturdy mug, add your coffee grounds, and pour over boiling water from a kettle. Then, press down on the top of the Aeropress until all the coffee has been extracted.

  1. Moka Pot

The Moka pot is, without a doubt, the easiest way to make a decent espresso. Simply load your coffee on the top of the pot, add water, and set it on the burner. When the top of the pot is filled with coffee, it’s ready to serve.

Espresso Calorie and Caffeine Content

Calories: 3 per 1oz

Caffeine: 64mg per 1oz