What is coffee crema and why does it matter?

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There are a lot of things to know about coffee. How it is grown, where the beans come from, what brewing method you use, and more. But there isn’t nearly enough information out there on crema.

When you go to a café and order an espresso, the first thing you notice is the crema. That foamy layer on top of your coffee that’s darker than the rest of the drink. It’s often referred to as “coffee foam,” “coffee cream,” or “coffee froth.” But what is coffee crema and why should you care?


What is coffee crema

What is coffee crema and why does it matter

Crema is the delicious, amber-colored foam that sits atop a freshly brewed cup of coffee. It’s made up of coffee oils, CO2, and water, and coffee lovers prize it for its intense flavor and velvety texture. While crema may seem like a frivolous coffee accessory, it actually plays a vital role in the quality of your cup of joe. The oils in crema add complexity and depth of flavor, while the CO2 provides a pleasing effervescence. And because crema is less dense than coffee, it helps to keep the bitter flavors from overwhelming your palate. In short, good crema is an essential ingredient in any great cup of coffee.

Parts of coffee crema:

  • Coffee oils: These are the flavorful oils that give coffee its characteristic taste and aroma. They also create an insoluble layer on the surface of the coffee, which helps to trap the CO2 and prevent it from escaping.
  • CO2: This gas is responsible for crema’s bubbly, effervescent quality.
  • Water: This is the same water used to brew coffee.

What are the benefits of coffee crema?

In addition to being a beautiful layer for your coffee, crema has an essential function. The thick, velvety layer of foam often tops your cup. But what exactly is the benefit of this foamy goodness?

For starters, crema helps release the coffee’s volatile oils, which are responsible for its flavor and aroma. These oils are released when crema is broken, which allows them to be enjoyed by your nose and taste buds.

In addition, crema provides a pleasing effervescence that can help to balance out the coffee’s bitter flavors. And because crema is lighter than coffee, it also helps to keep the drink from feeling too heavy or oily on your palate.


The difference between the layers of an espresso

There are three main layers to an espresso: the crema, the body, and the heart.

Espresso Shot Layers

The Espresso Crema

The crema is the thin layer of amber-colored foam that sits atop the espresso. It’s made up of coffee oils, CO2, and water, and it has a velvety texture and intense flavor.

The Body of the espresso

The body is the middle layer of the espresso, and it’s composed of coffee that has been extracted from the finely ground coffee. This is where most of the coffee’s flavor and caffeine reside.

The Heart of the espresso

The heart of the espresso is located at the bottom of the shot, beneath the body. The color of the heart should be a deep, rich brown. Within the heart of the espresso shot are its bitter elements, which balance out the sweetness of the crema and coffee’s aroma.


How to achieve a good layer of coffee crema

To achieve a good layer of coffee crema, it is essential to use the right grind size, tamping pressure, brewing method, and extraction time.

Espresso grind size

The grind size should be fine, but not too fine. If the grind is too coarse, the coffee will be under-extracted and lack flavor. If the grind is too fine, the coffee will be over-extracted and taste bitter.

Espresso tamping pressure

The tamping pressure should be firm but not too hard. Tamping too lightly will result in an uneven extraction and create channels for the water to flow through, bypassing the coffee entirely. This will produce a weak and watery espresso. Tamping too hard will compress the grounds too much, preventing the water from flowing through evenly and extracting fully. This will produce an espresso that is too strong and bitter.

Espresso brewing method

The brewing method should allow for a slow, steady flow of water. This will ensure that the coffee is extracted evenly and not over-or under-extracted.

Espresso extraction time

Also known as the brew time or pull time, the extraction time should be between 20-30 seconds on average. This is the amount of time it takes for the water to flow through the coffee and extract its flavors. For a lungo or doppio, the extraction time will be a bit longer.


What is coffee crema

How does coffee roast effect espresso crema?

Coffee roast does not have a significant effect on espresso crema. However, it can affect the coffee’s flavor and body. Dark roasted coffee beans will produce an espresso with a fuller body, while light roast coffee beans will produce an espresso with a more delicate body and sweeter flavors. The coffee’s flavor will also be affected by the roast, with darker roasts typically having more intense flavors. Espresso machines will need to be tuned to account for the different roast profiles to create the most bubbly crema.


What is the ideal espresso crema?

The ideal espresso crema should be thick, rich, and creamy. It should have a golden brown color with a slight reddish hue. The texture should be velvety and smooth, with a consistent layer throughout the cup. Also, the flavor should be intense and well-balanced, with no bitterness or astringency. Finally, the espresso should have a pleasing effervescence that enhances its flavor.


What is coffee crema

How to make an espresso with more crema

If you want to make an espresso with more crema, there are a few things you can do. You can use a finer grind size. This will make it harder for the water to flow through the coffee and extract its flavors. Tamping will also play a role in the extraction process. If your modern espresso machine allows you to increase the pressure, this might help but will require some experimentation. Finally, you can try a longer extraction time. This will give the water more time to interact with the coffee and extract its oils and flavors.


The science behind coffee crema

Now, this is exciting! The science behind coffee crema is fascinating. The crema is created during the extraction process when the hot water comes into contact with the coffee grounds. This interaction release CO2 and coffee bean oils from the coffee, which rises to the surface and creates the characteristic foam.

The bubbles form because the CO2 is insoluble in water. When the CO2 comes into contact with the hot water, it expands and forms bubbles. The oils released from the coffee help to stabilize the bubbles and create a creamy texture.

When making espresso, it’s important to use freshly ground beans. This is because the CO2 that is released during grinding starts to dissipate after about 30 minutes. So, if you grind your beans too far ahead of time, you won’t get as much crema.

The type of coffee you use will also affect the crema. Arabica beans tend to create crema more easily than Robusta coffee beans. This is because Arabica coffee beans have a higher oil content. The oils are what help to stabilize the tiny bubbles and create a creamy texture.


What is coffee crema

Why does the color of your coffee’s crema matter?

The color of the crema can be an indication of the quality of the espresso. A lighter-colored crema is often indicative of an under-extracted coffee. This means that the water didn’t have enough time to interact with the coffee grounds and extract all of the flavors. A darker-colored crema can be indicative of an over-extracted coffee. This means that the water had too much time to interact with the coffee grounds and extract all of the flavors. The ideal color is a golden brown with a slight reddish hue.


What does espresso crema taste like?

Espresso crema should have a rich, intense flavor that is well-balanced and not bitter or astringent. The texture should be velvety and smooth, with a consistent layer throughout the cup. The flavor should be intense and well-balanced, with no bitterness or astringent. Finally, the espresso should have a pleasing effervescence that enhances its flavor.


What is coffee crema

Variations on espresso drinks with crema

There are many variations of espresso drinks that include crema. Some of the most popular are:

Cappuccino: A cappuccino is an espresso drink that includes steamed milk and foam. The foam is created by adding air to the milk, which allows it to float on top of the coffee.

Latte: A latte is an espresso drink that includes steamed milk. The milk is added after the espresso has been brewed, creating a layer of foam on top.

Macchiato: A macchiato is an espresso drink that includes a small amount of milk. The milk is added after the espresso has been brewed and creates a thin layer of foam on top.

Flat white: A flat white is an espresso drink that includes steamed milk. The milk is added after the espresso has been brewed and is evenly distributed throughout the coffee.

As you can see, there are many variations of espresso drinks that include crema. The type of drink you choose will depend on your personal preference. If you like a stronger coffee flavor, you might prefer a macchiato or flat white. If you prefer a sweeter drink, you might prefer a cappuccino or latte.


Final Thoughts

So, there you have it! Now you know all about coffee crema and how to make an espresso with more crema. Remember, the key is to use freshly ground beans, the right grind size, tamping pressure, brewing method, and extraction time. With a bit of practice, you’ll be making perfect espresso in no time! Happy brewing!

Kris Silvey

I've been drinking coffee my entire life, from a little boy stealing coffee off the counter to an adult (who still steals his wife's coffee occasionally). I'm passionate about exploring the world of coffee and finding another great roast to experience.

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