What is an espresso?

Read on to find out about the origins of an espresso

The go-to for sleepless students with a deadline, exhausted parents, busy workers and coffee aficionados: the words ‘a double shot of espresso please’ in a coffee shop is usually accompanied by a weary face, or the excitement of someone who knows the joy of straight up, strong coffee. But what exactly comprises an ‘espresso’, is it different, or the same as ‘coffee’, and how can you make it in the comfort of your own space? Read on to find out!

So, what is an espresso?

First off, let’s make sure we’re saying it right. Modern espresso is, unsurprisingly, Italian in origin. The Italian language doesn’t contain the letter ‘x’ and uses the letter ‘s’ in its’ place, meaning Espresso should be pronounced ‘ess-spresso’. So, if you ever overhear anyone ordering an ‘ex-spresso’, feel free to enjoy that smug moment to yourself knowing they may not have done their research like you, whispering ‘per’chè o per’chè’  (why oh why)’ under your breath. You’ll fit in in any Italian espresso bar, providing you’re willing to drink it like a local – sipped quickly, and while standing up!

You may well have seen baking recipes for coffee cake calling for espresso, or even heard of getting a double shot espresso in your cappuccino. So, what is this dark, nostril flaring, delectable shot comprised of? Espresso is a short, concentrated form of coffee created via espresso machines, or an alternative brewing method, formed by forcing hot water at a high pressure through fine ground espresso coffee beans. A good espresso is marked by its reddish-brown ‘crema’, formed as a result of air bubbles created in the high pressured water combining with the oils of your fine ground beans rising to the surface of the cup. It can be drank on its own, as we are to describe, or is often used as the base for other coffee drinks before variations of steamed milk and hot water are added, such as a flat white, cappuccino, or latte. You can even add it to your favourite cake, or even in our ideas below as a dessert. No need to run to your local coffee shop, though, to get your hands on one of these. We are here to show you how you can enjoy your very own espresso from the comfort of your own kitchen.

How do I make home espresso?

First question: do you have an espresso machine? We’re not talking pod machines here – but a machine in which you can put fresh ground coffee (or beans if you a true speciality coffee drinker) in order to pull a shot. Have one of those? Then it’s simply a case of filling, pressing a button, and you’re ready to go. Now skip to ‘how is it best served?’.  

No espresso machine? No problem! There is something rather satisfying to our alternative method. While there are a few different brewing methods around, the most affordable, and straightforward method, utilises a french press (otherwise known as a cafetière). You’ll need pre-ground coffee, a kettle, a french press and some espresso cups (or mugs!).

  1. Get your ground coffee ready. For every cup of espresso you’re going to make, you’ll need 2 tablespoons of ground coffee per person.
  2. Fill your kettle with half a mug of water per espresso. Bring to the boil, then set aside for 30 seconds.
  3. Add your coffee grounds to your french press. Add a few splashes of water to the coffee to allow the flavours to amalgamate, and the key oils to release (remember the cream we talked about? You don’t want to miss out on that!). Leave for a few minutes.
  4. Add the rest of your hot water. Do not stir it! This could disturb the oils and flavours that are slowly working together to make your deletable cup of coffee.
  5. Close that lid and let sit for at least 4 minutes. For a darker brewed coffee you might like to leave this for a minute or so more, but no longer- it will overheat the beans and lead to a dry cup.
  6. It’s time to take the plunge – but read on. Plunge half way into your mixture steadily, raise back up, then plunge the whole way down.
  7. Pour straight into your espresso cups and enjoy!

How is it best served?

First and foremost, we would always recommend at least trying your single espresso straight, as above. It’s a coffee experience like no other and a beverage in its own right. If you’re feeling particularly in need of caffeine you might like to make yourself a doppio – simply Italian for ‘double’, doubling up the above recipe. Whichever route you go down, make sure to give it a good stir (unless the crema mustache is a look you go for) and sip. This is not one to shot like you might an alcohol shot – not only because of the heat of the drink, but also to ensure you savour it. Feeling traditional? Drink it like the Romans do: stood up in an espresso bar!

Want to use your newfound espresso skills in an alternative drink? Take a look at our flat white and cappuccino how-to’s. Alternatively try out the below alternative espresso drinks:

  • Drip coffee: 50ml espresso mixed with 75ml of hot water. 
  • Latte: 50ml espresso and 250ml steamed milk
  • Mocha: 60ml espresso, 30ml steamed milk and 50ml of melted chocolate

Or even some desserts!:

  • Con panna: 50ml espresso and 75ml whipped cream
  • Affogato (a luxury!): 50ml espresso mixed with 75g of vanilla ice cream

So get sipping, however you like it!

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