Isn't espresso just really strong coffee? This is what I thought when I first got into coffee. Now I know otherwise.
Most people have enjoyed espresso, but many may not know it. Espresso is the coffee foundation to many of our favorite drinks: latte (espresso + steamed milk), cappuccino (espresso + milk foam), Americano (espresso + hot water). Espresso is the "coffee" in each of these popular drinks.
So is it just really strong coffee? Nope. To explain the difference, first think about how a normal coffee pot works. Ground coffee is loaded into a filter, then hot water is dribbled over the grounds, the water hangs out there for a while, and then it drips into the carafe (yea we are using fancy coffee words; so grab your scarf and beanie :). In this example, gravity pulls the hot water down through the beans, and the entire process takes about 5-7 minutes for a pot of coffee (60 ounces).
In the case of espresso, there are three things that are different: brew time, grind size & pressure. First, let's talk about the brew time. Remember that a pot of coffee takes about 5-7 minutes. Espresso is done in less than 25-30 seconds. What that means is that the water is only in contact with the coffee for a short amount of time on its way to the cup. This short amount of time is compensated by the second thing that makes espresso different: grind size. To compensate for the short brew time, the coffee is ground extremely fine to expose extra surface area of the coffee to the water. The last way espresso is different is pressure. A normal drip pot is gravity lead. In a drip pot, water is dribbled onto the coffee, and then gravity pulls it through the coffee into the carafe. For espresso, the water is forced through the coffee at 9 bars of pressure. So... what does that mean? Well, normal air pressure is 1 bar (14.5 pounds per square inch) which means espresso is forced out at 9 times normal air pressure (130.5 pounds per square inch); so instead of dribbling down, it is pushed through. The combination of these three differences, makes espresso completely different than a normal "cup of coffee."
So how does it taste different? Think of the process of making espresso as coffee amplification. If the coffee had earth tones, you might feel like your eating dirt. If it had fruity flavors, wa-bam, you got some crazy flavors mixed with your coffee, but if the correct coffee is chosen, the taste can be perfect. It highlights the toffee or chocolate flavors and balances out the bitterness. Yum!
If you interested in dabbling into espresso and you are looking for a couple options of our coffee to try, take a look at DeNovo or Key City Espresso. Both of these coffees do well as espresso, and they are the ones I use in my own personal espresso machine at home.