Despite the mechanics of the machine used to make espresso, many coffee lovers will tell you that making the perfect espresso is as much an art as it is a science.
There are four factors to consider when it comes to making a great shot of traditional, Italian espresso: macinazione (or, the proper grinding of the beans), miscela (the coffee blend), macchina (the machine), and finally mano, literally "hand," meaning the person actually manning the machine. If we’re talking true Italian espresso, these four M’s are an absolute must. Let’s break it down.
Beans for an espresso should be ground to order. It is rare that an Italian barista will serve espresso made from beans that have gone through a pre-grinding process. The grind should be uniform and fine. And, of course, should come be based on good, dark-roasted beans. The blend is up to you.
Almost every Italian household will have a stovetop percolator called a moka that works by passing boiling water pressurized by steam up through a funnel, over the coffee beans, and into a waiting pot. A very different kind of machine is the much more elaborate steam-, piston- or pump-driven appliance found in bars and restaurants.
Finally, the person actually in charge of making the coffee must know what he or she is doing. The right amount of coffee must be added to any machine and the perfect temperatures of every element from water to the inside of the cup must be achieved. Even the barometric pressure can affect the espresso-making process — and while that's outside human control, serious baristas in Italy will adjust their machines according to the barometer.
Who knew there was so much to learn? Here are 10 more things you didn’t know about espresso.
Just like wine, there are different elements that come together to develop the taste of a cup of espresso. Different regions' beans, the amount of water, the pressure used, and the crema (the thin layer of foam formed by the pressurized coffee going into the cup) are all factors in how an espresso will taste. The term espresso refers to just the style of preparation.
During Italy’s Industrial Revolution, factory bosses wanted to shorten coffee breaks for workers they felt were dilly-dallying over too big a cup. Eager to answer solve the problem, Luigi Bezzerra built a machine that could make a concentrated cup of coffee in as little as 30 seconds. The pour was shorter but the taste and power were much stronger. That is when the first single-serve espresso machine was created.
This is because it is considered an essential part of the country’s daily lifestyle. It’s as simple as that. In order to regulate it, the government simply oversees its consumption and prices. Standing at the bar? Good, because the cost of espresso is a lot more expensive if you ask to sit at a table.
And, to serve a perfect espresso, your porcelain cup should be warmed to between 160 and 165 degrees. Careful, it’s hot!