The popular, Italian espresso is so named for its extra quick preparation. With just about 30 seconds, you’ve already a full body shot of espresso to drink straight or mix with milk.
An espresso machine is used to extract an espresso shot from medium or dark roast beans with proportional water. Manual press machines are also available, but the automatic machines generate the best pressure and heat required to pull the perfect espresso with its tripartite goodness: the heart, the body, and the foamy crema on top that gives it its proper distinction.
Since for most people, a shot of espresso seems to be a raw ingredient that should be mixed with milk or extra coffee, they don’t usually get to experience the pure deliciousness of this one-ounce drink. Back in its hometown, it’s very common to drink it straight and enjoy its rich and powerful flavors; low acidity, more bitter, but with a hint of sweetness. Yes, Italians do drink espresso, at least a shot or two, almost every day because it’s a popular pick-me-up and wake-me-up beverage.
Espresso is noted for its high caffeine content despite being a small drink, but it’s safe to drink daily. Your average cup of joe contains more caffeine than a shot of espresso, and by strong evidence, you can safely consume about 4 cups of coffee or 6 shots of espresso a day. Coffee and espresso have more health benefits than you might think, and most of the effects of their caffeine wear away within 3 to 5 hours.
According to FDA regulations, 400 mg of caffeine is safe to consume each day for an average adult, half of this would be good enough for children, elders, and pregnant women. That much caffeine translates to 6 to 7 ounces of espresso. The average half-life of caffeine is 3 to 5 hours, and usually, within the first 15 to 30 minutes do we feel the effects of the stimulant, according to the Academy of Sleep Education.
What Is Espresso Made Of?
Espresso has very simple ingredients and is the base or foundation of many other coffee variants, but unlike your traditional joe, espresso is built slightly differently.
Arabica is the most commonly used blend for espresso and any other coffee drink, but medium to dark roast beans are preferred. Sometimes, an espresso blend contains Robusta grounds which are generally less acidic than Arabica, but more bitter and produce a fuller, smoother crema. Robusta coffee is raised in low elevations and contains twice the amount of caffeine as Arabica.
However, most cafes don’t tend to use a Robusta blend because it may cause the espresso to taste too bitter and have too thick of a crema, which should only be 10% to 20% of the shot, and also since Robusta has too much caffeine and is usually cheaper than Arabica, using it kind of feels like a cheat.
Espresso grounds are usually powdered fine so that they can be compacted in a portafilter for an even extraction. The standard coffee to water ratio of an espresso shot is 1:1.5 or 2 which means that for every 20 g of espresso grounds inputted, 40 g worth of an espresso drink should be outputted, but this doesn’t always apply for the other variants of espresso.
The average water temperature concluded by the Specialty Coffee Association is 200° F, and the pressure should be around 9 bars or 9 times the atmospheric pressure at sea level. These factors are important to ensure that enough or adequate flavors and roast profiles are extracted from the grounds into the preheated demitasse cups. So, an espresso is generally a hot beverage that contains rich aromas and flavors due to the high heat and high-pressure extraction method.
Supposedly, coffee grounds extracted at shorter periods should taste more acidic than ones that are brewed and extracted for longer, but the case with espresso being less acidic is due to its roast which has lost most of its fruity and tartaric acids and created oils that have slightly bitter and nuttier tastes.
The portafilter used in pulling an espresso shot also allows oils to seep through the blend, unlike a coffee paper filter that holds oils in. This special filter designed for espresso allows the flavor oils to overrun the less acidic compounds which would otherwise introduce tartness in the coffee blend. These oils, along with gaseous compounds created by pressure, produce the desirable crema of an espresso shot.
Parts Of Espresso Shot
What really sets apart espresso is its tripartite finish, especially when it’s freshly extracted. Assuming you’re using or drinking from a clear glass cup, you can see the lighter crema on top, the dark brown body in the middle, and the nearly black composition of the heart at the bottom.
If you can’t see those contents, then you can still distinguish an espresso for its chocolatey flavors, bittersweet balance, and less acidity.
What you commonly see in a shot of espresso is this tan, foamy layer that is composed of emulsified oils and gaseous compounds produced from high pressures. This crema is firm, both in form and taste. It doesn’t disappear as fast as froth produced from shaking or blending coffee because it’s composed of oils emulsified in water, and less gas escapes.
The crema should last around two minutes, and if it doesn’t then that could pose a problem indicating either the extraction period was too short, or your grounds were too light, resulting in a thin and short-lived froth. Darker roasts may not always be the best choice either as they also tend to produce less crema. This is why medium-dark roasts are preferred, otherwise, a branded espresso roast that contains the right amount of oils and freshness to produce the perfect crema.
The espresso’s crema gives it a fuller body, taste, and mouthfeel, and it also introduces the richest flavors and aroma of a shot, making it so desirable that it’s an espresso’s trademark.
The caramel brown part of the espresso holds most of the watery texture of the shot and has balanced flavors between the cocoa sweetness of the crema and the bittersweet notes of the heart.
At the bottom of the shot rests the dark brown heart of the espresso which contains the most concentration of the coffee flavors; bitter, nutty, and sometimes fruity.
It’s totally safe to drink espresso as is, whether you drink it straight or mix it a bit, the well-balanced flavors would still shine through. The taste and aroma of an espresso shot readily wake you up to welcome a new day and backed by its stimulating caffeine content, it’s a great drink to increase your activity in the morning.
Variants Of Espresso
You already know how espresso usually isn’t served by itself, unless requested or you’re outside Italy, and so it’s commonly mixed with steamed or frothed milk, and sometimes an addition of coffee. However, there are more ways than one to serve espresso, even when it’s not blended with anything else yet.
The Italian word for “double,” immediately means a double shot of espresso or two ounces of espresso. This is what you’d commonly get when you ask for espresso in most cafes. A shot could even refer directly to a doppio as it’s that regular.
A doppio contains around 120 mg of caffeine.
The Italian word for “long,” refers to an espresso shot extracted for longer, around 35 to 40 seconds. Consequently, a lungo reveals more of the roast profile of the shot and tastes more defined with caramel and hazelnut notes.
The Italian word for “restricted” or “restrained,” refers to an espresso shot that is extracted shorter than average, around 15 to 20 seconds, and also uses a finer grind size than the usual espresso grounds. Since the shot is cut short, it yields a 1:1 ratio between coffee input and coffee output.
This faster extraction also results in a slightly more acidic and sweeter version of espresso that has a fuller, more concentrated body and a thicker crema ratio.
- Americano – Hot water topped with doppio.
- Cortado – Doppio topped with steamed milk with a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio.
- Latte – Doppio topped with steamed milk with a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio.
- Cappucino – Doppio topped with foamy milk.
- Macchiato – Doppio topped with a splash of steamed milk, almost only a third of the espresso shot.
Health Benefits Of Espresso
When it comes to coffee, its health benefits are usually a double-edged sword or a two-faced coin, this is because although the components of coffee are generally healthy and help boost our energy performance throughout the day, too much coffee is almost equally bad news.
Caffeine in itself has no essential nutrients, but it does benefit our bodies as anti-adenosine receptor stimulants. This simply means that caffeine blocks or postpones the natural pathway of adenosine, a chemical that has multiple functions in our bodies more commonly related to rest, so that we could stay awake and active for prolonged periods. This isn’t entirely bad if you use caffeine correctly.
Basically, caffeine increases mental alertness, improves energy synthesis, enhances the aerobic capacity for strenuous activities, and may also boost immunity and protect our liver and guts. We’ve already tackled an in-depth analysis of the health benefits and effects of caffeine in an espresso shot so I won’t further the details here, but if you want to know more about them, you should look it up after this.
Also note that as I’ve implied earlier, caffeine has positive and negative effects that when you consume too much, would actually rob your body of its natural functions, including proper rest, and that would be more fatal than beneficial.
Acids are natural components in coffee beans that introduce various traits of taste, texture, aroma, and health benefits in a cup of joe. In espresso, there’s not much of them left anymore, but rather the more complex acids are broken down into simpler acids such as chlorogenic acid, the most common type of acid in coffee, breaking down into caffeic and quinic acids.
Again, we’ve already concluded the individual health benefits of every acid most present in coffee right here, so I won’t delve into too much info here either. However, getting it over quickly, acids possess about the same benefits as caffeine, including boosted energy and immunity, but they can also help you absorb nutrients more efficiently as well as offer antioxidant and antibacterial effects for your system. Although these acids may only be found in trace amounts in coffee or espresso, it’s good to hear that they’re pretty good and healthy for you.
Of course, some people may feel sensitive towards acidity in coffee, and that normally happens because our stomachs are already pretty acidic. These compounds along with caffeine do affect your body in discomforting ways (nausea, migraine, acid reflux, stomach cramps, etc.), so I highly suggest that you test your tolerance against these chemicals first before deciding to drink a shot of espresso every day.
Espresso And Cholesterol
Espresso is a type of unfiltered coffee, meaning it doesn’t use a paper filter like drip coffee or pour-over, but it does use a portafilter which allows much of the grounds’ oils to seep through. Two of these oils, cafestol, and kahweol, can raise cholesterol. Whether it’s LDL, HLD, or total, it’s still up for study. However, since we typically don’t consume that much espresso in a day, it will likely not affect us that much.
So I suggest keeping your espresso intake to a minimum, but a daily dose is still beneficial.
Yes, it’s okay to drink espresso every day. Limit your consumption to about 4 to 6 ounces or 2 servings of Americano or 3 servings of cappuccino a day. Espresso is good for you as it does pack quite a punch of caffeine and healthy acids to keep you active and ready to go in the morning.