I’ve been trying really hard to drink “spro” a couple of mornings a week I’ll forego my second milk based coffee* for a short black – an unadorned shot of espresso**. This morning, we had no milk, so to stave off coffee deprivation headaches, Robyn and I both had to drink a straight shot.

If you haven’t tried it – a shot of coffee by itself can taste exceptionally bitter – it’s a taste that requires acquiring. Like beer. Or wine. Or cheese. Essentially like anything good. Coffee flavours can be just as nuanced as the aforementioned delicacies.

A good shot of espresso contains “crema”- best defined as a layer of reddish brown coffee oils that sits on top of the shot.

This crema is vital to a characteristic known as “body”- the viscosity of the shot. Coffee tastes best when it has body.

Crema tastes terrible. On it’s own it is completely bitter. But without it the coffee flavour disappears in milk.

I’ve been reading a couple of blogs offering solutions to this problem. This guy, Kiril, tried filtering the Crema with the following findings:

The conclusion that I have established indicated that the main characters of espresso (with crema) will carry out through filtration. In this instant the distinct chocolate note was very much present although the overall espresso lacked body. I personally prefer the espresso for what it is today a smooth, creamy, well balanced drink and all those aspects are tied in by ONE essential ingredient, crema. I also found that filtered espresso is good for picking out the main flavours and raw (bold) character out of the bean to more accurately describe its main taste.

He also reported on a separate experiment conducted by the “coffee collective” where the crema was removed,

A nice reddish brown crema on the espresso of course signals correct preperation but… have you ever tasted the crema itself?!? To us it seems to be kind of dry and bitter!

Try to take some crema with a spoon from the top of a good espressoshot and taste it!

After having tried this we sometimes skim the crema of the espresso right before drinking the espresso using two small spoons. This seemes to give a more clean and less bitter cup which is finishing of extremly soft. On the down side the cup also looses some body. But it is definitely a good way to drink coffee if you wan’t it to be soft and intense!

Kiril tried his own experiment pulling the shot onto a broader area.

Today I have been extracting into a shallow plate, the results are staggering. I encourage you to try this. As the coffee falls onto a shallow surface the espresso evenly mixes and slowly spreads out on a plate. As a result you get a well-balanced, clean “plate” of coffee.

This was his finding:

The way the coffee falls and mixes (especially in early stages of extraction) is absolutely vital, I will dedicate some time into exploring different surfaces for coffee to fall into and document my results.

A meet the press pot interview with barista Andy Schecter suggested stirring the shot as a solution to the bitter crema problem.

Speaking of espresso, a colleague of mine has said recently that she has a theory: “Crema is disgusting.” I wanted to hear what you think of that theory. How do you feel about crema?

“…You know, crema is part of what makes espresso espresso. It helps deliver some of the fragrance to your nasal passages, and so much of what we know of as flavor is delivered through our sense of smell. Espresso without crema is not really espresso. I am baffled as to exactly what is disgusting about it.

Well, I think she’s exaggerating to prove a point, that crema is overpowering and strong, and can be quite different from the rest of the drink’s body, that maybe it detracts from what would otherwise be a more balanced taste experience. I mean, there are people who refuse to so much as jostle their cup, let alone stir a shot, but it’s true that that first crema-full sip can be quite pungent.
I started stirring my espresso sometime last year because there was a post by Pete Licata where he talked about blending it all together. I always stir now. I find that it does bring more of a balance. But I know some people like to do one layer at a time, they like the taste to evolve in that way. Mostly I like to stir it up and get the total taste, “What is this espresso like?”

* not a “cuppocino” – cappuccino doesn’t even mean “cup of cino” it is derived from the Italian word for hood because the coffee is essentially hooded with froth. “muggacino” is equally flaed and stupid.
** definitely not “expresso”


Andrew says:

I thought Cappacino (which I think literally means “little hood”) was a reference to the hoods of the monks who “invented” it?

I don’t have a problem with crema on a shot of espresso.. if it’s good coffee it will be slightly sweet anyway. (sugar is for lightweights!)

Nathan says:

According to wikipedia

“The popular name of their order originates from this feature of their religious habit, and after this the Capuchin monkey and the cappuccino coffee are also named by visual analogy.”

Nathan says:

Also – crema is the sign of a good shot. A good shot will be sweet. But a good shot may be less bitter without the crema – or at least with the crema stirred in.