Everything You Need to Know About Espresso (But Were Afraid to Ask)

If you’re here, chances are, you’ve had an espresso more than once in your life. But do you know everything that goes into your favorite drink? The answer is probably “no.” Don’t worry – we’re here to help. 

My espresso-brewing journey began with a lot of enthusiasm but very little expertise. I wanted to make the perfect shot with that strong and creamy texture – yet it seemed like an impossible task!

I had seen experienced baristas pull shots in seconds, so the idea of being able to do the same was exciting. But my first few attempts quickly made me realize I had a long way to go. Everywhere I looked, there was something wrong – either the grind was too coarse or too fine, sometimes clogged in between; then there were times when I put too much pressure on the tamper (or not enough!), which led to over-extraction or even under extraction.

The resulting shots weren’t exactly impressive, and I often found myself chuckling at my lack of skill – who knew making espresso could be so complicated? Over time though, and with plenty of practice, I finally started to get consistent results – making sure to pull those perfect shots (almost) every single time!

In this post, I’ll answer all of your questions about espresso, from what it is to how it’s made. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about this delicious coffee drink!

Everything You Need to Know About Espresso

What is espresso? 

Brewed by forcing hot water under pressure through finely-ground coffee beans, espresso is a wonder to behold. The resulting coffee beverage is thick, strong, and has a rich flavor. Espresso is the base of your favorite coffee drinks, such as cappuccinos and lattes.

Everything You Need to Know About Espresso

Three Parts of an Espresso Shot – Body, Heart, Crema

When making the perfect espresso, there are three things you need to know – the body, heart, and crema. Each part plays a vital role in the final product.

The Crema – The Top Layer

The crema is the thick, creamy foam that sits on top of your espresso shot. It’s made up of coffee oils and dissolved solids extracted from the beans during the brewing process.

The crema is crucial because it adds both flavor and texture to your espresso. If the crema is too thin, it means that the coffee was not properly extracted and will be bitter. If the crema is too thick, the coffee is over-extracted and will be sour. The perfect crema should be light brown and have a velvety texture.

The Body – The Middle Layer

The body is the middle layer of your espresso shot and is made up of the actual coffee liquid. The body should be dark brown and have a syrupy consistency. 

The body is important because it gives your espresso its signature flavor. If the body is too light, the coffee is not correctly brewed and will be watery. If the body is too dark, the coffee is over-brewed and will taste burnt. The perfect body should be rich and full-flavored.

The Heart – The Bottom Layer 

The heart is the bottom layer of your espresso shot and consists of mostly water with a small amount of dissolved solids. The heart should be clear in color and have no distinct flavor. 

The heart is important because it adds balance to your espresso by diluting the intense flavors of the body and crema. If the heart is too dark, there was not enough water used in the brewing process, resulting in an overly strong espresso. If the heart is too light, too much water was used in the brewing process, creating a weak espresso. The perfect heart should be light in color and subtly sweet in flavor. 

Everything You Need to Know About Espresso

How Espresso Machines Work

Espresso machines work by heating water to boiling point and then forcing it through a small bundle of coffee grounds at high pressure. This process takes only a few seconds, resulting in a small amount of highly concentrated coffee.

Espresso machines come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common: they have a chamber in which the water is heated to its boiling point. This chamber is connected to a pump that forces the boiling water through the coffee grounds. The coffee grounds are held in a portafilter basket, which is inserted into the machine. 

When the brewing process is complete, the resulting coffee is served in a small cup called an espresso “shot.” A single shot of espresso contains about 1 ounce (30 milliliters) of coffee. If you order a “double shot,” you’ll get 2 ounces (60 milliliters) of coffee. And if you’re feeling truly adventurous, you can try a “triple shot,” which contains 3 ounces (90 milliliters) of coffee.

Espresso shots might be small, but they pack a big punch!

What are the benefits of drinking espresso? 

Espresso contains more caffeine per ounce than traditional drip coffee, which can give you an energy boost in concentrated quantity if you’re feeling tired. Additionally, many people find that the rich flavor of espresso is more enjoyable than regular coffee. 

Are there any side effects of drinking espresso? 

Because espresso contains more caffeine than regular coffee, it can sometimes cause side effects like jitters or anxiety. It’s also important to remember that too much caffeine can be bad for your health, so it’s important to drink espresso in moderation. 

Everything You Need to Know About Espresso

A Short History of Espresso

Espresso has a long and storied history. This rich, dark beverage has been around for centuries and has undergone many changes since its inception. In this article, we’ll take a brief look at the history of espresso and how this beloved drink came to be.

It started in the 15th century when coffee was first introduced to Europe. At first, coffee was consumed in the traditional Arabic manner – that is, by boiling the beans in water. However, this method didn’t sit well with European palates. They found the resulting beverage to be too weak and watery.

In 16th century Venice, a man named Francesco Laurensi is credited with being the first to brew espresso. He did this by boiling ground coffee beans with water in an iron pot. This method produced a more concentrated drink closer to what we know today as espresso.

It wasn’t until the 19th century, though, that espresso really started to take off. That’s when inventors began developing machines that could brew coffee under pressure, which resulted in a much richer and more flavorful beverage. These early espresso machines were large and unwieldy, but they laid the groundwork for the modern devices we know and love today.

Espresso has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 15th-century Europe. Today, this rich, dark beverage is enjoyed by coffee lovers worldwide. Thanks to the invention of the espresso machine, we can now enjoy this delicious drink any time we want.

Everything You Need to Know About Espresso

Main parts of an espresso machine

If you’ve ever looked at an espresso machine, you might have been struck by the complexity of the design. All those different parts work together to produce a small cup of coffee! It’s no wonder that espresso machines have long been a source of fascination for coffee lovers.

But what do all those parts do? Below are the major components of an espresso machine and a brief explanation of their function:

Espresso Machine Boiler

The boiler is one of the most important parts of an espresso machine. It’s where the water is heated to create steam, which is then used to generate pressure to make espresso. Most home espresso machines have a single boiler that does both jobs, but some higher-end machines have separate boilers for each function. If you’re serious about making espresso, a device with separate boilers is definitely worth the investment. However, a single boiler machine will do just fine if you’re just getting started.

Espresso Machine Pump

The pump is another key component of an espresso machine. It’s responsible for generating the necessary pressure to make espresso. The type of pump used in an espresso machine can vary, but most home machines use either a vibratory or rotary pump.

Vibratory pumps are more common because they’re less expensive but can be noisy. Rotary pumps are more costly but much quieter and tend to last longer. 

Again, a vibratory pump will do just fine if you’re just starting to make espresso. However, if you plan on making a lot of espressos or want to upgrade to a higher-end machine down the road, it’s worth investing in a rotary pump.

Espresso Machine Portafilter

The portafilter is where the finely ground coffee beans are placed before brewing. Choosing a portafilter that fits your machine snugly is vital so that no grounds escape during brewing. Most portafilters are made from stainless steel or aluminum and come in two sizes: 49mm and 58mm. The size you need will depend on your machine, so check before purchasing.

Espresso Machine Group Head

The group head is the part of the machine that actually brews the espresso. It’s usually made from brass or stainless steel and can be either commercial-grade or home-grade. Commercial-grade group heads are designed for heavy use and will last longer, but they’re also more expensive. Home-grade group heads are more affordable, but they won’t withstand constant use as well as the commercial-grade head.

Espresso Machine Tamper

The tamper is used to compress the coffee grounds before brewing. A good tamper will fit snugly in the portafilter and apply even pressure to the grounds. It’s important to choose a tamper that’s the right size for your portafilter so that you don’t have to apply too much or too little pressure.

Espresso Machine Grinder

To make the best espresso possible, you need to start with freshly ground coffee beans. The type of grinder you choose will depend on your budget and how much space you have. Even if you’re just starting, it’s worth investing in a burr grinder. Burr grinders create less heat and produce a more consistent grind, which is essential for making good espresso.

Espresso Machine Pressure Gauge

A pressure gauge is helpful for monitoring the pressure inside the espresso machine. It’s not essential, but it can be beneficial for troubleshooting and ensuring that your device works properly.

Espresso Machine Thermometer

A thermometer is another helpful tool for monitoring the water temperature inside the espresso machine. A few degrees of difference can make or break the flavor when trying to dial in the perfect shot. A thermometer can help ensure the water is at the ideal temperature for brewing espresso.

Espresso Machine Steam Wand

If you’re a fan of lattes and cappuccinos, then you’ll need a steam wand to froth milk. A steam wand works by heating milk using steam, which is then used to foam the milk. Most espresso machines come with a steam wand, but some higher-end models have an automatic milk frother. If you plan on making a lot of lattes and cappuccinos, then an automatic frother is definitely worth the investment. However, a standard steam wand will do fine if you’re just starting.

Espresso Machine Cups

Of course, you’ll need some cups to serve your espresso in. Espresso cups, or demitasse, are small and hold around 2 ounces of coffee. They’re usually made from porcelain or glass and have a handle so that they can be easily held.

Everything You Need to Know About Espresso

Espresso Machine Maintenance

To keep your espresso machine in tip-top shape, it’s essential to clean it regularly. At a minimum, you should be descaling and sanitizing your device every month. Descaling is the process of removing mineral buildup from the water lines, and sanitizing is the process of killing bacteria and other contaminants that can cause illness. If you use your machine daily, you may need to descale and sanitize more often.

Everything You Need to Know About Espresso

Different styles of building pressure

There are three main types of espresso machines: steam-driven, lever-driven, and pump-driven. Each type has its pros and cons.

Steam-driven machines are the cheapest and most commonly found type of espresso machine. They use pressure from boiling water to force hot water through coffee grounds.

The lever-driven machine is more expensive than the steam-driven machine, but it is easier to use and produces a higher quality espresso. Lever-driven espresso machines use a lever (obviously) to build up pressure before releasing it onto the coffee grounds.

Pump-driven machines are the most expensive type of espresso machine but are also the most versatile. Pump-driven machines use an electric pump to build up pressure, which can be adjusted to create different types of espresso shots.

Now, let’s take a deeper dive.

Steam-driven espresso

If you love espresso, you have steam-driven machines to thank for your beloved beverage. These machines were first invented in 1884 by Angelo Moriondo and have been in use ever since. Though they may not be the most popular espresso machines on the market today, they are simple to use, maintain, and affordable.

Steam-driven espresso machines use steam to create pressure that forces water through a reservoir and into the coffee grounds. This is similar to what happens when you use a stove-top Moka pot. 

The machine has an airtight tank that is heated until the water boils and creates steam. This steam produces pressure, which forces the water through the reservoir and into the coffee grounds. 

The downside of steam-driven espresso machines is that they only reach 1–1.5 bars of pressure. The ideal pressure for a shot of espresso from your local cafe is 9 bars. Regardless, these machines can still produce a delicious cup of espresso thanks to their simplicity and affordability. 

A steam-driven machine may be the perfect option if you want an affordable and easy-to-use espresso machine.

Lever-driven espresso

Lever-driven espresso machines require physical strength to pull a shot. There are two kinds: manual and spring-loaded. Let’s take a look at how each type of machine works: 

Manual Machines: A manual machine can be recognized by the horizontal resting position of the lever. When it is raised, an opening in the brewing chamber draws in pre-heated water to saturate the grounds. The barista can control the length of pre-infusion, flow rate, and pressure by when they bring down the lever. 

Spring-Loaded Machines: In spring-loaded machines, the lever points up when the internal spring is relaxed. Pulling the lever down causes the spring to compress and brings the piston up. This creates space in the brewing chamber for water to enter. The lever comes back up as the spring releases its tension. This causes the piston to push the water down and extract the espresso. 

Pump-driven espresso

In the 1960s, a new espresso machine began dominating the market. These pump-driven machines used an electronic pump to force pre-heated water through the brew chamber and into a bed of coffee grounds. This made it possible to achieve consistent high pressure and produce smooth and flavorful espresso. 

Today, there are three main types of pump-driven espresso machines: semi-automatic, automatic, and super-automatic.

Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines: A semi-automatic machine uses an automated system to drive the water through the group head. However, the barista’s responsibility is grinding, tamping, and control of extraction time. Semi-automatic machines are a good compromise between human control and mechanized consistency.

Automatic Espresso Machines: Automatic machines are similar to semi-automatic machines, but they automatically stop the flow of water once the desired amount has been dispensed. This ensures consistent volume in each shot and means you don’t have to stand over each espresso to stop overflow. 

Super Automatic Espresso Machines: Super-automatic espresso machines do it all. The machine grinds the beans and measures, fills, and tamps the grounds into the portafilter. All you have to do is press a button and let the machine work its magic. Super-automatic espresso machines are perfect for those who want a truly hands-off experience. 

Everything You Need to Know About Espresso

Espresso Drinks 101

Do you like your coffee strong and bitter? Or do you prefer it sweet and creamy? If you fall into the latter category, chances are you’re a fan of espresso drinks. But with so many different types out there, it can be hard to know where to start. Lucky for you, we’ve put together a handy guide to all the different espresso drinks, so you can order confidently the next time you’re at your local café.

Whether you like your coffee black or with cream and sugar, there’s an espresso drink for everyone. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most popular types of espresso drinks:

Kaffe Americano: This is simply espresso with hot water added to it. If you find regular espresso too strong, this is a great option.

Café Latte: A café latte is equal parts espresso and steamed milk, with a bit of foam on top. It’s also sometimes referred to as a “flat white,” but that’s actually a bit different. 

Cappuccino: A cappuccino is a double shot of espresso, steamed milk, and foam. The foam on top is usually thick and creamy. 

Macchiato: The word macchiato means “marked,” and that’s exactly what this small coffee drink is – espresso with just a little bit of warm milk to take the edge off, marked on top with a dollop of foam. 

Mocha: A mocha is made with a double shot of espresso, steamed milk, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream on top (yum!). 

Americano: An Americano is a double shot of espresso and added hot water. If you find regular espresso too strong, this is a good option for you. 

Everything You Need to Know About Espresso

Do you need an espresso machine at home?

If you’re an espresso lover, you constantly try to convince yourself that you need an espresso machine at home. But isn’t it easier (and cheaper) to just buy your coffee from a café?

The answer is: it depends. If you’re the type who likes to have complete control over every aspect of your coffee-making experience, then a home espresso machine is a must.

Pulling your own shots will allow you to experiment with different grind sizes, tamping pressure, and extraction times. This means you can find your perfect espresso recipe and replicate it time and again.

Coffee is a science, and espresso is the height of experimentation! If you’re the type of person who loves to tinker and play with your coffee, then a home espresso machine is definitely for you.

Final Thoughts on Everything You Need to Know About Espresso

We hope this blog post has answered all of your questions about espresso! Now that you know what it is and how it’s made, you’re well on your way to becoming an espresso expert.

If you’re considering getting an espresso machine for your home, we recommend researching to find the perfect model for you and your coffee-making needs. There’s nothing quite like enjoying a delicious cup of espresso made with your own two hands.

Picture of About the Author Kris Silvey

About the Author Kris Silvey

As a semi-professional at-home barista and full-time software engineer, my love for coffee borders on obsession. By combining my passion for coffee with an engineering mindset, I strive to perfect my brewing process and share that knowledge with each of you.

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