The Art of Making Espresso
With hundreds of billions of cups consumed every year, coffee has become one of the most popular beverages in the world.
TO SOME aficionados, perfectly brewed espresso is “the ultimate in coffee,” says the journal Scientific American, “because its special preparation amplifies and exhibits the inherent characteristics of the beans.” That preparation involves forcing steam or hot water under pressure through finely ground coffee.
“People enjoy espresso-style drinks at cafés and want to reproduce that quality at home,” one industry expert told Awake! Some domestic espresso machines now make this possible. As a result, the consumption of homemade espresso is rapidly increasing in some lands.
Are you a coffee drinker? Would you like to master the challenging art of brewing espresso? What does it take to produce the perfect cup? Awake! put that question to master coffee roasters John and his father, Gerardo, who live in Sydney, Australia.
Getting the Blend Just Right
Inside John and Gerardo’s coffee-roasting factory, sacks of raw beans from around the world line the walls. “I mix a selection of raw beans according to a carefully blended recipe,” says John. “Each bean variety has its own character and contributes to the final flavor of the blend. To get the flavor you want takes time. In fact, I experimented for six months to get our leading espresso blend just right.” Little wonder that coffee roasters jealously guard their recipes!
Gerardo presides over the roasting process, a craft that requires considerable training, for roasting dramatically alters the chemical characteristics of coffee beans and creates about 500 volatile substances. As the beans tumble in a coffee roaster—a gas-fired drum—they heat up until they emit a crackling sound when water and carbon dioxide boil out and the beans expand. This expansion ruptures the walls of cells within the beans, liberating aromatic oils. These oils, in turn, define both the aroma and the flavor of espresso. The art lies in mastering the roasting process—the rate at which heat is applied and the degree of roasting.
At just the right moment, Gerardo empties the hot, dark-brown beans into a steel basket and blows cool air through them to prevent overroasting. “Coffee flavor peaks between one and two days after roasting,” says John. The flavor-producing oils are then stable and ready to be extracted.
The Art of Brewing
“Espresso extraction is the most efficient—and difficult—of all coffee-brewing methods,” explains John. Making perfect espresso requires a skillful balance of three key processes: grinding the beans (1), compacting the grinds into the filter basket on the coffee machine (2), and pouring the espresso shot (3). “Grinding the beans correctly is crucial,” says John. “If the grind is too coarse, the espresso will be thin and watery. If it’s too fine, the coffee will taste bitter and burned. In both cases, when the espresso comes out of the spout, the crema—the golden froth on the surface of the fresh espresso—will indicate how well the oils have been extracted.”
After grinding some beans, John uses a packing tool called a tamper to compress them firmly into a filter basket, creating a smooth, seemingly polished surface. Next, he locks the filter basket into place and turns on the pump. A stream of hot, brown liquid gushes from the spout. Almost straightaway John’s trained eye tells him that the grind is too coarse. “Getting the perfect pour is often a case of trial and error,” he says. “Let’s try again with a grit just short of powder. Also, we’ll compact the coffee a little more to force a slower extraction.”
John makes the needed adjustments and turns the machine on again. The crema-rich espresso now oozes from the filter spout with the consistency of warm honey. As the mouth-watering aroma once again fills the air, John’s smile bespeaks his approval. “It is very important that we stop the pour when the color begins to clear,” he says. This takes less than 30 seconds. “Further extraction,” he adds, “only produces bitter flavors and extra caffeine.”
“I think we’ve just made the perfect espresso,” says John, observing the thick, velvety, and long-lasting crema. “Anyone for coffee?”
Purists usually enjoy espresso in its classic form, commonly called short black. In other words, they add nothing to the liquid except perhaps a little sugar. Others, however, add hot milk to create cappuccino, latte, or a host of other espresso styles. “Today, milk-based espresso drinks account for more than 90 percent of all espresso beverage sales,” states Fresh Cup Magazine.*
To be sure, relaxed conversation over a good brew—coffee or tea, depending on your taste—is one of life’s simple pleasures. “Tasty beverages bring people together,” says John. “Perhaps that’s the best thing about them!”
If you are concerned about whether a Christian should avoid coffee and tea because they contain the potentially addictive drug caffeine, you might like to read the article “Questions From Readers” in the April 15, 2007, issue of our companion magazine, The Watchtower.
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BUYING AND STORING COFFEE
“Roasted coffees begin to lose flavor after a week, ground coffee an hour after grinding, and brewed coffee in minutes,” says a coffee-buying guide. Hence, if you buy your own beans, it is best to buy them in small amounts and store them in a cool, dark place. But do not refrigerate them, for they may absorb moisture and lose their flavor. And always brew your coffee just after you grind it.
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Photo 3: Images courtesy of Sunbeam Corporation, Australia