what espresso is.

My original intention for this blog was to walk my readers through my own re-education as a barista. Instead I’ve written a bunch of tirades about things that get on my nerves. The truth of that model is that I will run out of material really soon. That’s because my job is awesome. People suck sometimes, but that’s not why I started this blog. I wanted to talk about what I love about coffee, not what I hate about my job. Next week I’ll write about why I’m not an electrician, but I’d like to use my last blog post for my social media class to serve my initial purpose- I’m going to teach you something about coffee.

I spent a lot of this week developing a training manual for our coffee program. It was really fun to review the basics that have become muscle memory for me. I had forgotten how truly complicated it is to pull a great shot of espresso. Baristas are scientists, artists, and magicians and they often don’t even know it.

At the end of my first week at Frothy, I served a woman the double shot of espresso that she had ordered. When she looked in the cup and saw they little pool of caramel liquid at the bottom, she furrowed her eyebrows and looked at me like I had dropped a turd in the bottom of her cup. What the hell is this? She said, assuming a hands on hips stance of consternation. Two shots of espresso. I answered, unsure what it was that I had done to offend her. Was there a message in the crema? Did she want it for here? As it turned out, she was upset that “two shots” equal two ounces- this information was conveyed to her as professionally and calmly as I could manage. I searched for ways to make her stop standing like she was getting ready to enter a cage match but ended up having to give her her money back.

The definition of a single espresso, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, is as follows:

“Espresso is a 25-35 ml beverage prepared from 7-9 grams of coffee through which clean water of 195-205 degrees has been forced at 8-10 atmospheres of pressure, and where the grind of the coffee is such that the brewing ‘flow’ time is approximately 20-30 seconds. While brewing, the flow of espresso will appear to have the viscosity of warm honey and the resulting beverage will exhibit a thick, dark golden cream foam (crema). Depending on the freshness and type of coffee, the quantity and color of the crema may vary somewhat. Espresso should be prepared specifically for, and immediately served to its intended customer.”

While that definition is a mouthful, it’s the most succinct way to explain what all goes in to the process of espresso. The flavor of espresso, as with any coffee, is a combination of several qualities: Aroma and fragrance (how it smells), body (how it feels in your mouth), acidity (the little bite you feel on the sides of your tongue), sweetness (sugary sweetness you’ll feel on the tip of your tongue), flavor (what you actually taste- chocolate, caramel, nutty, etc), and finish (did it stick the landing or did it fall and lose the olympics? If it’s sour or makes you want to scrape your tongue with an icepick, then something probably went wrong).

This is also a great time to hang around and talk to your barista about what you’re tasting. If it’s not good, you are completely within your rights to have your shot re-pulled. The barista will also be less likely to give you a dirty look if you can describe what it was that wasn’t right about one of the six sensory qualities I explained. For example, if you say the body is grainy and the finish is weak, I would know that the shot was under-extracted. I could adjust the grind and have a better shot for you in under two minutes. Easy.

Maybe you checked out halfway through the definition, but I hope you learned something. And I hope somewhere out there, that horrible woman who made me very scared reads this and understands. So next time you find yourself in a conversation with someone who calls it expresso, just know that not only can you correctly pronounce the word, you can tell them what espresso is.


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