What Is Espresso Crema? The Magic Behind the Frothy Goodness

What is espresso crema, you ask? The short and sweet answer is that the crema is that distinctive tan-colored foam that is seen to be resting on top of your freshly pulled shot of espresso. Crema is considered to be a secondary aspect of a great cup of joe. But there is a little more to it!

Oddly enough, the espresso crema itself actually comes with its own set of controversies and competitions. It is either a sign of perfect espresso or an overrated foamy top on your coffee. No big deal if you don’t want to go deep but it’s great if you can distinguish with your very own eyes.

What Is Espresso Crema?

When ground coffee and hot water come into contact with each other, microbubbles of carbon dioxide (CO2) are released. This happens whether your brewing method is a pour-over or an espresso method.

With the espresso method, the espresso machine’s pressurized hot water is forced through the finely-ground coffee. It creates both crema and liquid extraction. The espresso crema is made of microbubbles of CO2 gas that are suspended in hot water. The CO2 bubbles attach to the natural oils and fats in coffee. It helps them to rise to the top of the coffee – creating that pleasing and distinctive “Guinness” effect.

According to many Barista Champions, the espresso crema helps to give the espresso a fuller flavor and longer aftertaste than regular drip coffee.

Key Factors For Espresso Crema…

Crema is caused by a number of factors, but the most important one is the grind size of the coffee beans. If the beans are ground too coarsely, the water will flow right through them and you’ll end up with weak espresso. On the other hand, if the beans are ground too finely, they’ll block the flow of water and you’ll get no espresso at all. The perfect grind size for making espresso is somewhere in between these two extremes.

Another important factor in the formation of crema is the pressure with which the water is extracted from the coffee beans. Espresso machines use steam or pump-driven pistons to force hot water through the coffee grounds at high pressure. This pressure extracts more flavorful oils and compounds from the beans, resulting in a richer-tasting espresso.

The final factor that contributes to crema is the temperature of the water used to extract the espresso. If the water is too cold, it won’t be able to extract all of those delicious oils and compounds from the beans. On the other hand, if the water is too hot, it will burn those oils and compounds, giving the espresso a bitter taste. The ideal water temperature for making espresso is between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit.

Learn To Identify Perfect Crema

Identifying the perfect cream is an art in itself. Here are some aspects that will help you to define a perfect crema:

  • Over-extraction, under-extraction, and the beans’ coarseness are all going to affect your espresso crema
  • Having too much crema in the cup means you’ll have less espresso. A perfect layer of crema is about one-tenth of the entire espresso shot
  • If the crema starts to go away before 1 minute, then it means that either the espresso shot was extracted way faster or the grinds were made out of lighter roasted beans
  • Espresso extraction shouldn’t go beyond 30 seconds regardless of machine type
  • A pre-heated and clean espresso machine always generates perfect shots of espresso with the perfect layer of crema

Final Thoughts

Crema is the first thing we see before drinking our espresso. Its beautiful texture and rich swirling colors of light gold and deep caramel entice us to take a sip of that fresh espresso – just like the saying goes, “We eat with our eyes”.

But “pretty” doesn’t necessarily mean “delicious”. Coffee connoisseurs judge the quality of the espresso on its sweetness, acidity, bitterness, weight, texture, and finish. Crema is just a starting note.

Now that you know all about espresso crema, go out and get yourself a cup! Keep in mind that different roasts of coffee will result in slightly different flavors of espresso crema. So experiment with different roasts until you find one that you really like. And don’t be afraid to add a little milk or sugar to your espresso if that’s how you like it. Happy brewing!

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