The velvety crema on top of your espresso has become the symbol of a great coffee. But it is also surrounded by quite a bit of controversy. Some people swear by it while others say it is not that important at all.
Where is the truth?
Can you have a perfect espresso without the perfect crema?
Let’s dive into some of the key questions and factors surrounding this mystical aspect of your coffee.
Espresso Crema 101
First of all, what is espresso crema and how is it created?
Crema is the thick flavorful golden brown froth that comes on top of your espresso. It is created during the process of brewing coffee through a highly pressurized espresso machine.
When the coffee grinds come in contact with the hot liquid, the water emulsifies the oils in coffee which then gets supersaturated with carbon dioxide, forming a frothy layer of tiny bubbles on top. This is also often compared to the “Guinness effect” creating a similar layer of foam as this popular stout beer.
The term was first coined in 1948 when a Milanese brewer Achille Gaggia introduced the first lever-driven machine. Gaggia gave us the concept of the modern espresso machine which was using such high pressure that it was able to create its own crema. This is where the idea that a good espresso must have a good crema too, comes from.
What Is Good Crema?
There are many factors that influence the resulting crema of your shot. A great crema is not too dark and not too light, not too thick and not too thin and doesn’t have any big bubbles on top. A barista usually aims for a crema that forms around 1/10th of your espresso and lingers for around 2 minutes.
What Influences the Crema?
There are a few things that you can focus on when pulling your shot that will help you to find this holy grail of a perfect espresso.
One of the most important things to consider is when was the coffee roasted? If it was over 21 days ago, the coffee starts becoming stale and the crema is much harder to achieve.
Beware though, you don’t want the coffee to be too fresh either! You should let the coffee “sit” for a few days to let the gasses that have been released during the roasting process become more stable.
A bad crema is often a sign or over or under-extraction. If your coffee is ground too fine, it will take longer to brew and taste bitter with crema that is too dark and thick.
On the other hand, if your coffee is ground too coarse, this means that you’ll end up with an under-extracted shot with quickly disappearing crema, big bubbles, and a bland taste. Therefore, aim for a precise grind to reach your desired result.
It is important to monitor the time it takes your machine to brew the shot as well as to measure the ratio of the coffee you’re putting in as well as the yield. You should be using around 18-20g of coffee for your double shot and the brewing should take around 30 seconds.
Ensuring the coffee is tamped with the correct amount of pressure and an even surface means that the hot water will pass through evenly and the resulting crema will be much better.
The temperature of the machine should be at around 195-205F to achieve the optimal crema. If the machine is too cold, your coffee will be under-extracted and if it’s too hot the shot of espresso is likely to be over-extracted.
Crema As The First Impression
Okay, you get it, a lot of things have to be done right in order to get the perfect crema on your coffee. But is it really that important?
The truth is, the crema on coffee is not the whole story of an exceptional espresso, but a good indication of what to expect from your cup.
The look and the color of the resulting espresso crema can tell you a lot about the coffee that has been used. The resulting foam conveys the extraction of the shot as well. Further, using a darker roast will result in less crema since more carbon dioxide has been released during the roasting process.
Beans that went through a natural processing method tend to produce more crema than the coffee processed by the washed method. The use of automatic machines removes the ability to fully control the tamping which is likely to result in less crema.
Further, Robusta coffee bean tends to have more crema than the Arabica. This doesn’t mean that it is better than the Arabica. So where is the truth?
Is It Important?
Some factors that influence the espresso crema are definitely the key components of a perfect espresso as well, but not all of them. So, what’s the deal?
The function of crema is to add body to your espresso and add that lingering factor to the taste. So it holds a lot of flavors and therefore is definitely desired.
But still, a perfect crema doesn’t mean a perfect espresso, there’s much more to it than that. Our suggestion is to look at it the opposite way. It’s hard to get a great tasting espresso without having a good crema.
If you struggle to get crema on top of your coffee, we suggest that you check the following key points and if you resolve these issues, you’re bound to see a difference in the result.
- Make sure your coffee is not stale, but not too fresh.
- Store your coffee in a cool, dry place.
- Ensure your tamp is leveled for water to be channeled optimally.
- Adjust brewing time.
- Check the temperature of your machine.
- Use a manual espresso machine rather than the automatic one.
- Double-check the correct grind of your coffee.
Whatever importance you place on the crema of your espresso, a great one definitely signifies the quality of the pulled shot.
And even if you don’t care about the controversial debate, knowing what different color and texture of this foamy goodness signify, will give you a good insight into some of the factors that influence it.
We regard crema as the first impression of the espresso and also as something that completes the experience of the perfect coffee. And even though the importance placed on it can seem a little bit exaggerated, it is still desired.