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Espresso is the backbone of any coffee shop. Whether or not you actually order a straight espresso shot, espresso is the base for lattes, cappuccinos, cortados, macchiatos, and so on. Indeed, a primary purpose of a coffee shop is to serve espresso, a drink that is famously complicated to make and requires large, expensive machines that produce high levels of pressure. Although a few home espresso machines are available on the market, they are relatively expensive, require thorough knowledge of how espresso is made, and rarely manage to brew espresso at the same quality as the industrial machines found in coffee shops.

At its core, espresso is a concentrated version of coffee usually served in “shots” from an espresso machine. Espresso shots are topped with “crema,” a beautiful wood-colored foam that forms at the top when coffee solubles extracted during the brewing process combine with air bubbles. The crema gives espresso a foamy texture and adds to its rich aftertaste. Espresso beans are grown and processed the same way as other coffee varieties until the roasting and brewing process. Espresso roasts are usually darker and the beans are ground into a very fine consistency. Espresso is popular among certain coffee drinkers due to its very strong flavor profile that amplifies the roast notes.

To brew espresso, almost boiling water is forced through very finely ground coffee at approximately nine-bars of pressure. This high pressure extraction makes the signature espresso drink and when done properly can fully extract a diverse flavor profile. The first part of the espresso extraction is very fast, when the most intense acids and flavors are drawn out releasing a dark brown thin stream. This extraction rate begins to slow and eventually smoother, milder flavors are extracted in a gold-colored stream. The final stage of extraction releases the nutty chocolate flavors to balance out the espresso taste and the stream becomes blonde. For correctly ground beans, the brewing process should take between 25-30 seconds, although you’ll have to wait a bit longer for a milk drink.

Espresso shots are usually served in demitasse cups, specifically made for enjoying espresso. The typical serving of espresso is a quick one-ounce shot, although many coffee shops including Coffee Lab serve double shots, or doppio, to help ensure consistency and quality. Espresso is best enjoyed with a glass of sparkling water as this helps cleanse your palate to fully enjoy the beverage. To fully appreciate a quality espresso, drink it right away as the oils produced through the brewing process break down very quickly. Before sipping, it’s best to stir the crema first. While visually appealing, the crema doesn’t contribute much to flavor and can distort the full espresso taste. Stirring your espresso helps the thicker parts of the coffee that have sunk to the bottom mix in fully with the beverage.

Coffee Lab’s espresso roast is a rich Genesis dark roast blend with notes of chocolate and brown sugar. If you don’t want to enjoy a straight espresso shot, try our oat milk cappuccino, which balances the nutty oat milk flavor with the citrus, chocolate acidity of our espresso.

Leo Sainati

Student at Northwestern University

Specialty Coffee Barista at Coffee Lab Evanston

Assistant Curriculum Developer at the CL Academy

Writing Intern at Ignitus Digital Evanston

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