Stick around any coffee shop long enough and you'll hear people say things that are 100% wrong about espresso (probably within minutes of each other). Misconceptions are everywhere—but do you know what they are?
Here's the thing… we don't blame anyone for having a wrong idea about coffee. We all hear and read things that are less-than-true (no worries, people).
We just want your espresso experiences to be AH-MAH-ZING like your black coffee experiences—but we have to knock out those myths first or you'll be making decisions based on bad information.
That's why we'll cover things like…
- The two BIG myths we hear all the time
- What is espresso actually and why it's different from black coffee
- How to taste espresso (and another huge myth about its flavor)
This is going to be fun.
Two Espresso Myths We Need To Bust ASAP
There are actually tons of myths about espresso, but we're going to quickly focus on the big two that most people fall for at one point in their life. Once these are out of the way, we'll be ready to meet the real espresso.
Myth: Espresso Is A Kind Of Coffee Bean
Nope. Nope. Nope.
There's nothing inherently different about the beans that are used to make espresso.
They're farmed the exact same way. They go through the same processing methods. There's no secret method to making the beans “espresso”.
Every bag of coffee you've ever bought could have been espresso beans—if you used them in an espresso machine (Related Reading: The Best Espresso Machines For Your Kitchen from our friends at Roasty Coffee.).
The misconception comes because many roasters have a specific “Espresso Blend” that almost makes it seem like there's something different about the beans themselves. We'll share why that's not the case in a moment.
Myth: Espresso Is A Style Of Roasting
This one's also understandable. Those “Espresso Blend” bags of coffee do tend to be darker roasted, which can lead to people thinking that they're espresso because they're darker roasted.
But that's not the case.
Espresso has nothing to do with the roast level. There are tons of dark roast espresso blends, yes, but there are also tons of medium and light roast coffees too.
Remember, espresso has nothing to do with the bean at all.
So, What Is Espresso Then?
It's not a bean. It's not a roasting style.
Espresso is a method of brewing coffee.
More specifically, espresso is the process of shooting hot water through super-fine coffee grounds at a high pressure to create a concentrated ‘shot'.
Lots of people drink ‘espresso shots' straight, but most enjoy it cut with a bit of milk instead. Think cappuccinos and lattes.
How Espresso Is Made
The secret to espresso is… the espresso machine (In the market for a machine?
It's a very intense machine that brews coffee in a way that's impossible with any other coffee maker. Here are some of those differences:
- It creates 7-10 atmospheres of pressure (a lot). There's no way you could create this kind of pressure—even you jumped off a trampoline and onto a pressure measurement device. What the espresso machine does is totally impossible by human muscle alone.
- It brews the coffee at lightning speed. Instead of taking 2-4 minutes to make the coffee, the pressurized coffee (along with the really fine grind size) speed up extraction and enables baristas to pull balanced shots in just 20-40 seconds.
And that's the key: espresso is made with an espresso machine because only an espresso machine can make espresso. Say that 5x fast.
Espresso vs Black Coffee: What's The Difference?
A regular cup of coffee is made using 20 grams of coffee beans—so is espresso, except instead of 8 ounces of liquid, a shot of espresso is only 1.5-2 ounces.
That means espresso is 4-5x stronger than regular black coffee.
This is what makes espresso great for mixing. You can dilute it with milk (latte), water (americano), or other things (dirty chai) and still taste it. Black coffee, however, isn't strong enough to mix with too much. Maybe some cream and sugar, but that's about it.
There's also the issue of caffeine: a regular double shot of espresso has just slightly less caffeine than an 8oz mug of black coffee. This means you can get a super-fast boost by drinking a shot of espresso because you get all that caffeine in just a couple of minutes. With black coffee though, it takes a while to drink, so the boost is spread out a bit more.
But there's a lot more to the caffeine discussion… you can get all the juicy details in this blog.
How To Taste Espresso (And Why You Should Try It Straight)
Most people shudder at the idea of drinking espresso all on its own.
“But it's too strong!”
“Won't it be really bitter?”
“My taste buds can't handle it.”
But I'm of a different mindset… if you don't taste it straight, you'll always have to rely on the word of other people—most of whom haven't read a cool blog on how to taste espresso like a pro—and wouldn't you rather be the one who really knows what espresso tastes like?
(Also, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.)
I'll teach you how.
The Regular Person's Guide To Tasting Espresso
The first step is to order an espresso (or make one at home). And then comes the fun part.
The first step is to take a very careful slurp. Get just a little bit of liquid and slurp it hard to ‘spray' it all over your tongue. This helps cool the shot down and gives all your taste buds access at the same time for a full-flavored experience.
Yes… it's going to be strong. Yes… it'll probably shock your taste buds at first. But after that first sip, you'll be ready for the fun part: tasting.
Here's what you're on the lookout for.
- Acidity — The crisp tang that hits the tip and sides of your tongue. Examples: sharp, bright, mellow, smooth, tangy.
- Sweetness — The smooth sugars along the front of your tongue. Examples: honey, cane sugar, fruity, smooth.
- Bitterness — The darker notes that hit the back of your tongue. Examples: dark chocolate, spice, nutty, grapefruit.
- Aroma — The rich smells that rise up to your nose via the back of your mouth. Examples: berry, floral, citrus, spice, rich.
- Mouthfeel — How the shot actually feels like in your mouth. Examples: heavy, smooth, juicy, light.
You don't have to go crazy with tasting notes (“I'm getting flavor notes of raspberries grown in Switzerland and the sweet milk of longhorn cattle”). Leave that to the snobs.
The best way to taste espresso is to simply ask yourself: what does this remind me of?
Ask that question about the acidity, then the sweetness, bitterness, and so on. Don't worry about being wrong and just go for it—they're your taste buds, after all.
Making Espresso At Home? Here's A Tip
Home espresso can be hard and sometimes frustrating. It's such a concentrated drink that if a small thing goes wrong during brewing, you can really taste it.
That's why it's really important to use specialty-grade coffee beans that are freshly roasted.
They're more forgiving, easier to taste, and have so much more flavor.
And remember: you don't have to stick to “espresso blends”. Technically, any kind of coffee can be espresso as long as you make it in an espresso machine.
But we do love our espresso roast for espresso in particular.