What Is So Great about Espresso?

You probably heard that espresso is appreciated by the coffee snobs and specialty coffee people and you are wondering: “What Is So great about Espresso?” A legitimate question, if you tasted it and didn’t like it. If you never tried it, I suggest you do it first and then only read this article. You might not even need to read it. But make sure you buy it in a reputable coffee shop, because if it’s not well prepared, all of the tannins and bitterness are going to be amplified a few times, compared to a drip coffee.

If you think that you need espresso to caffeinate better, please don’t. You’ll only end up jittery and you will not enjoy the experience. You can obtain the same experience with any other type of coffee, just drink more of it. Espresso lovers mostly appreciate the flavors, and caffeine is just an added benefit.

Espresso Pulling

If there was a to drink the stuff without the caffeine, I’d do it anyway, although I do appreciate the kick. Lavazza has some great decaf espresso beans, it’s all in the decaffeination process.

If you want to understand espresso, you will need to drink a few great espressos, and the taste and aroma will convert you. If you haven’t had a god shot, you can’t possibly know what a great shot of espresso is.

I have seen many customers become passionate espresso snobs after a few great espresso experiences. Once you have developed a taste for espresso, you just can’t drink the other stuff.

What Is Espresso

Espresso is a process of coffee-making that was developed during the past century by the Italian culture. So Italy is a culture that you can trust to deliver quality and taste perfection, and that’s what they have also done with their espresso coffee brewing method.

Modern espresso, using hot water under pressure, as pioneered by Gaggia in the 1940s, was originally called crema caffè (in English, “cream coffee”) as seen on old Gaggia machines, due to the crema.

Most notably, in Europe, this favorite coffee drink has made its rounds from country to country.

At its simplest level, the espresso coffee brewing method extracts the best without the worst of coffee’s taste components. It’s the only coffee brewing method that can extract the best of the 800 aromatic compounds found in roasted coffee without extracting the tannins. With almost all other brewing methods, the tannic acids can leach more or less into the coffee brew, adding an astringent bitter characteristic tastes.

We dedicated an article to espresso here: What Is Espresso? I recommend you read that article, for a better understanding of this magical drink.

What Makes Espresso Brewing Special?

  • The only coffee brewing method that uses a high-pressure, high-temperature brewing process. This allows it to extract the best aromatic compounds, some of these can be only found in espresso and not in any other brewing method. Other methods use coarser grinds, no pressure, and sometimes paper filters. This can often leave coffee oils in the grounds, or trapped by the paper filters.
  • Specific Caramelized Aftertaste. It has a high concentration and high viscosity emulsified coffee oil. These oils activate the taste receptors at the back of your tongue and throat. The dissolved aromatic compounds are slowly released for as long as 20 minutes. Paradoxically, the fastest consumed coffee beverage has the longest aftertaste.
  • The shortest brewing time (between 20 and 25 seconds) ensures that the natural tannic acids found in coffee beans in high concentrations in their outer shells does not have an opportunity to leach into the coffee and cause bitterness. This is unlike other coffee-making techniques. Because they require slow filtering hot water through coffee grounds, other methods of brewing can take longer.
  • Espresso has crema. There are several reactions that occur when pressurized water enters the coffee puck. Delicate coffee oils mix with the hot water and emulsify. The resulted emulsion is a layer of foamy coffee on top of the espresso shot called crema.
  • Espresso is the base for many milky drinks. Some of the milk-based espresso drinks include: macchiato cappuccino flat white latte, latte macchiato, which are made primarily with steamed milk with or without foamed milk.
  • Espresso is concentrated yet not overpowered by tannic flavors. If we were to brew a drip coffee, (or French press, or any other coffee), to the espresso concentration, it would taste horrible. That’s because non-pressure brewing methods cannot extract the good flavors fast enough. The longer we expose coffee to hot water, the higher the chances to extract undesirable compounds that will add bitterness to the coffee.

There are a lot of concepts that you need to grasp, if you want to get a good picture of the uniqueness of the espresso beverage. We have two articles about coffee extraction, one about coffee extraction in general, which goes into the details of all coffee variables and how they affect extraction, and one on espresso extraction and grind size since, in espresso, grind size is probably the one brewing variable that could make or break the shot.

What is the Difference between Espresso and Coffee?

Check our longer take on the differences between espresso and coffee. If you are on a rush, this next section is a good start.

If you take a look at a typical 8oz cup of coffee, you will notice that it contains a lot more caffeine than your typical one, or two-ounce espresso shot. Espresso is stronger as a beverage, but it contains less caffeine. So if you are turning your attention to espresso for the caffeine content, it is not the best idea.

A cup of espresso is a small 2oz serving, (this is a double shot), whereas a drip coffee is between 6 and 8oz.

Contrary to popular belief, espresso can be made from any type of coffee bean origin and roast. Because they extract more easily, dark roasts are traditionally used for espresso. However, lighter roasts can be made with great success if the recipe is adjusted. So from this perspective, drip coffee and espresso are the same.

We want to be clear: There is no such thing as espresso beans. However, we discuss this in greater detail here:

Drip coffee is made with a paper filter, which retains oils and other fines. This creates a complex beverage in terms of flavor. While some origin flavors and origin notes can be identified in espresso, they are always muted by oil and sugar flavors. The more intense fruity and floral flavors will almost always be covered by stronger caramel and roast flavors.

When using an espresso machine, the brewing process takes less than 30 seconds. After that, you will get an espresso shot that has all the flavors and textures of coffee.

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Dorian Bodnariuc

My name is Dorian and I am a former barista. I consume coffee in any form, as a beverage, in savory recipes and desserts. My favorite caffeinated beverage is the espresso. I love to share my coffee brewing knowledge and my geeky coffee research. This blog is one of the places I write about coffee. More about Dorian... If you want to learn more about this site and how I started it, check our About Me page, where I explain all about it.