Espresso, an Introduction
Issue No.5, Ethan Cullingworth
A more recent invention in the world of coffee, brought about right at the turn of the 1900’s, espresso is an Italian word meaning ‘to express’ or ‘to press out’. Known for its intense flavour, sharp mouthfeel, and strong kick of caffeine, it’s often mixed with milk to soften these qualities and make it more palatable.
Single Origin vs Blend
What is the difference between a single origin and a blend? A single origin coffee is grown and harvested in one place. A blend consists of coffees from two or more different origins. For example: one of the coffees found in a blend might be from Kenya, and another from Vietnam.
Which option should you get? That depends on your personal preference, or, in some cases, what drink you’re getting. Blends tend to be heavier, more full bodied, and carry (for lack of a better term) those darker flavour notes. They mix well with bigger quantities of milk, having prominent flavour profiles. Single origins, however, are lighter and more floral oftentimes, lending their qualities to the finer side of coffee in servings such as plain espresso, cortados, and traditional cappuccinos (see issue no. 3).
Note I used the term ‘tend to’ above. The tendencies I listed above are a not always a given. Taking the time to read what information is on the bag, or researching the company itself, should be a good indicator of what’s waiting for you inside.
On a slight transgression, what about those gorgeous pour-overs, though? Personally, I almost always go for a single origin. The finer details in flavour are able to emote in ways that are lost in other brewing methods, and the lighter body will aid your palate in picking those flavours out. If I want my cup more full and heavy drip coffee costs less, takes thirty seconds to get my hands on, and is just as satisfying.
Single or Double?
Espresso is served in a variety of ways, usually a single or double shot. Known as ‘un cafe’ in Italian (or simply a single shot of espresso in English speaking countries) these are often served upon request, with the ‘doppio’, or double shot, being the new standard offering in specialty coffee.
Less commonly ordered are the “ristretto’ and ‘lungo’, meaning restrained and long respectfully. This style of espresso is well loved by those who do get it, though the rest of us might wonder why. Ristretto shots are extremely under extracted, sour, and sharp. You might find one in a the Australian version of a flat white, or a specifically crafted specialty drink, but that’s probably it. This espresso shot has been pulled for a large amount of time, meaning the shot is over-extracted and thin in body, verging on a ‘long black’, or short americano.
Dark vs Light
I covered the topic of ‘Dark vs Light’ in the previous issue, and I would point you there for a more satisfactory answer, but I will say that if you prefer the taste of dark roast, go for it. I don’t think you’ll find very intricate or tasty espresso, but that’s just me. The range of flavour possibility opens of a hundredfold when coffee’s are closer to medium and light roasts.
What Then, Should I Expect?
Espresso is a very complex, intricate business. The varieties of blends, combinations and flavor profiles are limitless. Taste is also very subjective. Inside of this, however, are some rather firm rules on extracting espresso.
Under or over extraction is mostly undesirable. Under extracted espresso is sour, and thin bodied. It contorts your facial expression and pulls at the sides of your mouth. Over extracted espresso is bitter, astringent and bland. It sucks the moisture right out of your mouth, and leaves you wondering if what you just drank was the sap from an Aloe plant. Milk and flavorings will hide the worst of these qualities, but compared to the same drink with a well balanced shot the difference is noticeable. If your espresso has these undesirable qualities, let your barista know, chances are they’d be happy to know so they can fix it.
Sweet espresso is oh-so-tasty. Finding sweet notes in coffee is a bit harder than the other sensations. Due to its natural properties, coffee showcases sweetness under only the best conditions. Sadly, it is therefore not often come across. When your espresso is sweet, savour every last drop.
The origin, process and roast will have a huge impact on the coffee. All of these factors will drastically change the taste of your espresso. Knowing what these processes indicate, and the more general intrinsic flavour profiles of origins will give you a good idea of what to expect.
My final piece of advice is to expect what your barista tells you to. Like I said above, espresso is very complex. Finding flavour notes can be tricky business. The baristas on bar should know what it tastes like, have probably tasted it many times, and will be able to offer some parameters with which to look inside.
Oh, and please stir your espresso, don’t swirl it. Ask why in store and your shot is on the house!
Lastly, the seltzer water is a palette cleanser. Sip your espresso, cleans with seltzer, and repeat until done. It’s worth the effort.