Your Guide to Everything Espresso

Originating in Italy in the late 1800s, espresso is coffee made from steam pressure rather than boiling water.  The term refers to both the brewing process and the final beverage, and both live up to the name “fast” or “express.”  The brewing, which subjects seven grams of grounds to 195-205° Fahrenheit and extreme pressure (about nine bars, or 130 psi), is over in just 20-30 seconds.  And as most people can down the contents of their demitasse in a single swallow, the consumption is even more brief.

In the next few posts, we’ll guide you through everything espresso has to offer.  We’ll start with the different types of shots and continue with explanations of all the common espresso drinks, from purest to milkiest.

Espresso

The most basic espresso drink is simply a single espresso, also called a “short black.”  Normally, an espresso is a one-ounce beverage; however, it could be half an ounce or two ounces due to variations on the amount of water pushed through the coffee grounds.  The first variation is called lungo (“long”) and uses twice the water as normal espresso; the second is ristretto (“restrained”) and uses half the water.  As a result, lungo is a weaker and more bitter espresso, while ristretto is a fuller-bodied, stronger and sweeter one.

Also called a “doppio,” a double espresso is a more concentrated, thicker, and richer espresso.  This is because it contains twice the coffee grounds as a single (14 grams) but only 1.5 times the water (1.5 ounces).

A key element of a basic espresso is the crema.  A result of air bubbles forming in coffee’s dissolved oils, crema is the rusty brown froth that tops the espresso and lends it deeper flavor and a longer aftertaste.   

Cafe Americano

Also known as a “long black,” an Americano is espresso with a splash of hot water.  The ratio of coffee to water can vary based on preference, but it's usually either half espresso, half water or one-third espresso, two-thirds water.  To avoid disrupting the crema, the double shot of espresso is pulled on top of the water.  

Where did the americano get its name?  Legend has it that during World War II, American soldiers stationed in Italy found espresso too strong and added water in an attempt to replicate the drip coffee they drank back at home.

The Cafe Americano stands out among the espresso drinks as being the only one to add water instead of milk.

Stay tuned for more on espresso next week!