What is espresso? – A Complete Guide to One of the Most Popular Beverages in the World

What is espresso? Is it a kind of coffee bean? How to prepare it at home? In this article, I will answer these questions and show you more about one of the most popular beverages in the world.

Espresso is not a kind of coffee bean like many think. It is a brewing method used for many years in Italy and then all over the world.

Espresso is one of the first kind of coffee that I tried when I was in Italy and I immediately fell in love with it. The aroma and the strong taste keep accompanying at the beginning of every day.

In this guide, I will answer the question “What is espresso”, explaining more about origins, anatomy, and benefits ot it.

Origin of espresso

Espresso originated in Italy in 1884. The inventor, Angelo Moriondo, created a machine that could make coffee with a steam-driven mechanism.

This was the first machine that controlled the supply of steam and water separately through the coffee.

In 1901, Luigi Bezzera patented several improvements to the original coffee machine. Desiderio Pavoni then bought these patents. After this, he founded a company called La Pavoni and started the industrial production of coffee machines.

In few years, the popularity of espresso grew in Italy. People started to associate this drink with urbanization, and bars that could make espresso were seen as a place to socialize.

Soon, variations of espresso in combination with milk became popular in the USA, the UK, and many other countries around the world.

The problem with the first coffee machines was that they forced the steam through the coffee giving a burnt flavor.

In 1938, the technician Cremonesi made a piston that forced the hot water and not steams through the coffee, giving a more natural taste to the coffee.

Espresso machines are still developing and the technology is helping coffee lovers to enjoy a cup of espresso at home like the one that you drink at the bar.

Brewing methods 

The brewing method for the espresso is what sets it apart from other methods. The brewing method for espresso is quicker than others that rely on the slow filtering of hot water through the coffee grounds.

Espresso machines use high pressure to force near-boiling water through ground coffee beans.

In just thirty seconds, you can make a nuanced, aromatic, and caffeine-rich shot of espresso with this approach.

Using an espresso machine is the best method to make this kind of coffee because it is made exactly for this purpose. Of course, you don’t need an expensive or fancy machine to make espresso, but the methods that I describe below require extra work for you.

The first alternative method to prepare an espresso is to use a Moka pot.

I have to be honest, this is the method that I have always seen used in Italy. My mom, my grandmother, friends, all used the Moka pot to make espresso at home.

It is a very popular method to make espresso, and it still gives pleasure to millions of Italians every morning.

The magic happens in the Moka Pot thanks to two key factors: pressure and heat. The base, top chamber, inner funnel, and filter are the four key components that make this possible.

The Moka Pot makes espresso-like coffee by forcing water through a sieve using steam pressure. The bottom chamber of the Moka Pot is filled with water, and finely ground coffee is placed in a strainer immediately over the water. Steam is formed when the pot is turned on, driving water through the strainer and producing a strong shot of coffee.

The second alternative method is to use an AeroPress.

The AeroPress is a manual coffeemaker. It resembles a syringe in that it has a cylindrical chamber and a plunger with an airtight silicone seal.

Ground coffee beans and water are steeped inside the chamber before being forced through a filter by pushing the plunger through the chamber.

While the texture of an AeroPress “espresso” may differ from that of a fancy machine, the flavor, and caffeine content closely match that of a machine.

The third alternative that is possible to use to make espresso is the french press.

A French press resembles a plunger that has collided with a strainer. It allows you to brew ground coffee in a container by combining the steps of brewing, pressing, and filtering.

After the coffee is brewed, you use pressure to press the ground coffee beans to the bottom of the container, resulting in a strong cup of coffee.

I suggest using this method as a last resort to make espresso at home because it is not effective as the other two methods. Your coffee shot will be slightly oilier, and this method adds a few extra steps between you and your caffeine.

How to make espresso at home

You’ll need an espresso machine to brew authentic Italian espresso at home that rivals what you’d get in a coffee shop. 

Manual machines, automatic, and capsule machines are all available to make coffee at home.

As I explained before, there are three alternative methods that you can use to make espresso at home without an automatic coffee machine.

Below, I will show how to make an espresso with an automatic machine.

Some machines have it, but others don’t, so in this case, you will need a manual or automatic grinder for your coffee beans.

Step 1 – Grind your beans
To make one or two espresso shots, crush enough beans. The amount of coffee grounds needed for a single espresso shot is usually between 6 and 8 grams, however, this can vary. Use about 15 grams for a double shot. Use the finest setting on your grinder because your grounds should be powdered and fine.

Step 2 – Distribute and tamp down the shot
Once you’ve reached the desired number of grounds in the portafilter, distribute the grounds with a finger, lay the portafilter on a tabletop or other flat surface, and tamp down on the grounds with the tamper. In the portafilter, you’ll have a compact disk of coffee grounds.

Step 3 – Pull the espresso shot

Before you begin, run the machine without the portafilter in place for a few minutes to empty the ground head. After that, secure the portafilter in the machine, place your espresso cup beneath it, and begin your shot. After 25 to 30 seconds, the espresso should be ready. The final product should have a layer of crema on top. 

Step 4 – Enjoy your espresso!

Anatomy of espresso


Before analyzing each part of an espresso shot, I want to briefly explain how coffee machines work.

First of all, water is required for the operation of every espresso machine. Water enters a home espresso machine from one of two places: a reservoir built into the machine or a piped connection to a reliable water supply.

Machines require pressure to drive water through a densely packed bed of finely ground coffee: 9 bars of pressure, or 130 psi, to be exact. This pressure is given by the pump.

To turn coffee into a spectacular espresso, water must be both pressured and heated. The boiler is where heat is added by a machine. A boiler’s main job is to heat and store the pressure water that comes from the pump. Woodfire was used in the first espresso machines. To heat the water in modern machines, electric heating elements are used.

When water passes through an espresso machine, it comes to a halt at the group head. The four elements of a group head are a portafilter, a spot for the portafilter to lock in, a mechanism to operate the pump, and a passage for the water to go from the boiler to the portafilter.

This is the last stop for the coffee. After this, you will be able to drink your cup of espresso.

The three parts of an espresso

But what are the elements of an espresso?

The elements are three: heart, body, crema

The heart is the first element to go into the espresso. The heart should be a dark, rich brown tone. The bitter components of the espresso shot are found in the center of the shot, which balances out the sweetness of the crema and the aroma of the espresso.

The body of the espresso shot lies beneath the crema and above the heart of the espresso shot. This is the middle layer, which should have a caramel brown tint to it.

This layer contains the majority of the rich and wonderful flavors and fragrances associated with espresso, and it will bring out the shot’s sweetness in particular.

The drink’s body is made up of three components:

  • Our soluble coffee solids are the first. These contribute to the drink’s flavor and overall strength.
  • The soluble gases come in second. The scent of the coffee is made up of these ingredients.
  • Finally, there are substances that are insoluble. These contribute to the drink’s body and texture.

The last part that goes into the espresso and the most iconic element of the espresso is the crema that sits on top of the other layers.

 Crema is primarily made up of carbon dioxide and oil derived from coffee beans.

Oils are especially important here, and they’re more prominent on dark roast coffee beans than on light roasts, which is why espresso is generally made using dark or medium-dark roasts.

Because of its oil-heavy nature, this layer can be extremely bitter.

Benefits of espresso

Espresso is a popular beverage that boosts energy levels. The beverage, which contains the chemical caffeine, has a variety of effects on the body.

In this section, I want to show you 5 benefits of the espresso that you probably don’t know.

  1. Boosts memory – It has been discovered that drinking the correct amount of espresso improves long-term memory. Caffeine is a cognitive enhancer, which means it can improve the way your brain functions. You’re more likely to focus on a task and remember it better.
  2. Helps to lose weight – The caffeine in espresso causes a jump in adrenaline and norepinephrine, two chemicals that tell your cells it’s time to break down fat for energy, according to health experts at Healthline.com. They also say that even low levels of caffeine, such as those found in a shot of espresso, can speed up your metabolism and keep it raised long after you’ve finished your drink.
  3. Reduces risk of disease – Coffee has been demonstrated to reduce the risk of developing a variety of diseases. Coffee drinkers have a lower risk of liver disease, some cancers, and dementia. Espressos, in particular, are high in antioxidants, which help to strengthen the immune system.
  4. Boosts physical activity – Drinking an espresso before starting a physical activity can help you perform better. Whether you’re participating in a sporting event or just working out on a regular basis, espresso can be a valuable ally.
  5. Improves mood –  Coffee contains caffeine, which is a known stimulant that prevents the activity of one of your brain hormones, adenosine, each time you consume a cup of coffee.

Types of espresso shot

During the years, baristas created alternatives, typically more caffeinated ways of serving brewed espresso.

The most popular are:

  • Doppio: same preparation as the espresso but it is essentially a double shot, comprises 60 milliliters of espresso.
  • Lungo: with this kind of espresso, you use a single shot, and add more water to it (twice as much). While the normal shot takes from 18 to 30 seconds to pull, a lungo may take up to a minute to pull.
  • Ristretto: opposite of lungo, the ristretto has a more highly concentrated coffee. It is made with the same amount of ground coffee, but uses half water.

Espresso based drinks

Espresso is the cornerstone of the espresso-based drink family. It’s a little but mighty cup of rich, creamy coffee that’s more than just a drink. While most of us can tell the difference between a cappuccino and a latte, there is a slew of other interesting espresso-based beverages.

Below, I want to briefly introduce the most important ones:

  • Cappuccino – It’s created with equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk, and is named for its color resemblance to the Capuchin Frairs’ garb.
  • Latte – This uses the same ingredients as a cappuccino, but in different amounts, resulting in a lighter, creamier beverage with a more delicate coffee flavor.
  • Macchiato – this is served in the same cup as the espresso, and a stain of milk foam is added at the top. Check the article about macchiato vs latte for more information about this type of espresso.
  • Flat white – In this beverage, two shots of espresso are topped with a thick layer of micro-foamed milk. This is the newest addition to the espresso-based drinks menu.
  • Espresso con panna – This means espresso with cream in Italian. A single espresso is topped with a dollop of whipped cream.
  • Cafe Mocha – This coffee is made with espresso, cocoa, milk, milk foam. The taste is sweet and has more chocolate flavor.

Final thoughts

Espresso is a brewing method that became popular all over the world. Understanding the anatomy, benefits, and how to make it at home can help you to enjoy even more this amazing beverage.

Explore more of our articles to understand what are kind of coffee and method of preparation.

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