With the advent of home coffee machines, it has never been easier to make a top-notch espresso right in the comfort of your own home. This drink used to be confined to Italian cafes, to be knocked back standing at the bar, but thankfully now we can fire up an espresso without leaving our homes.
What makes an espresso?
The biggest difference between espresso and other forms of brewing coffee is the texture of the ground coffee. Espresso is ground to a very fine powder rather than the coarser textures that are used for cafetières and filter coffee machines.
Espresso is what results when hot water is forced through finely-ground coffee at high pressure. The resulting liquid is smooth and velvety, though also retains all the characteristics of the bean it came from.
These shots of coffee can be drunk straight, with a spoonful of sugar, or can be used as the basis for a multitude of drinks: your favourite Americano, a mochaccino, a flat white. What you do with an espresso is part of the beauty of the thing. Adding foamed or steamed milk will soften the bitterness, adding sugar will give it a fudgy edge. It is even possible to experiment with flavourful syrups and create a pumpkin spice latte at home.
It is easy to think that an espresso is a strong option, as it is short and powerful in taste, but a well-made espresso actually has less caffeine content than a cup of filter coffee. This is to do with how the water hits the ground coffee and how it is served: there is more flavour in a shorter drink.
Finally, on a cup of espresso, it is important to look for the crema. This is the slightly beige topping of foamy bubbles and is a sign that the espresso has been made well. This crema is where a good deal of the flavour lies. And it is attractive, to boot!
Fine vs. coarse ground coffee
For longer drinks such as one you may pull from a cafetière or a filter coffee machine, using a coarser grind is preferable. It is very important to source your ground coffee from a reputable source, as the subtle notes that inform the character of each bean start to dissipate not long after it is ground.
Ground coffee ranges from large particles like those of peppercorns to a very fine powder, almost like flour. It is this flour-type texture that is best used for most espressos. It all comes down to how quickly the water is going to come through the ground coffee, and for how long the drink will brew.
Under-extracting results in a weaker flavour, while over-extracting may overwhelm the taste, resulting in a very bitter cup of coffee. Espresso coffee machines are designed to push the exact right amount of water through the ground coffee for the right amount of time, so in some ways, they take a lot of the guesswork out of brewing!
Buying an espresso ground coffee from an online retailer you trust is a great way to ensure you have delicious, freshly roasted and ground coffee delivered to your door as and when you need it. As an added benefit, this also supports small businesses: both the coffee retailer and the producer.
What to look for in espresso ground coffee
Actually, it is possible to use any bean in an espresso. The method of brewing is surprisingly forgiving and draws out the natural beauty of any bean used. However, as with all specialities, there are things experts look out for.
A light roast will allow some acidity to linger. While acidity in a cup of filter coffee may highlight floral or fruity notes, it can make espresso taste sour. So if you don’t like this in your coffee – and some, but not many people do – then a darker roast is the one to go for.
At the end of the day, the best ground coffee for an espresso is the one with the flavour profile you like best. If you have an espresso coffee machine in the house, you have the ability to try lots of different brands and even countries of origin, to work out if you prefer single-origin beans or blends, if you like Kenyan or Peruvian beans, and which brands make you want to sing.
Keeping a logbook of all the espresso you make and drink can be a fun project to find out what you look for when it comes to espresso. Buy any ground coffee marked ‘espresso’ and it should work perfectly in your machine at home.
Having a home espresso coffee machine is an absolute luxury, and that should not be wasted. Instead of buying the same old familiar brand in bulk, take the opportunity to get to know your speciality coffee supplier and give everything on their shelves a whirl. You may surprise yourself by which flavour profiles and tasting notes you favour when it comes to espresso ground coffee.