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LA Foodbitch: All you need to know about a really good espresso

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One of the sad stories in the L.A. culinary world is the espresso. Better: the absence of a really good espresso. It just seems to be inexistent in this town. And unfortunately, since there is no real understanding of what an outstanding espresso is all about, no one really notices. Or complains. But that’s what I am here for…

Espresso is more than just coffee. First of all, you have to understand the important distinction between ‘brewing’ coffee and ‘extracting espresso’. An espresso is just a couple of sips of deep-brown extracted liquid (actually an emulsion since it contains oil from the beans) served in a very tiny cup, not bitter-tasting, but rich, complex and lingering on your tastebuds for a couple of minutes. How many bitter or burnt-tasting espresso (espressi in italian) did my palate have to endure? I am better not counting…

So, what makes a good espresso?

1. There is no way you can make a good espresso unless you start with good coffee beans correctly roasted and packed. The best coffee for espresso is made from Arabica beans, and I stress Arabica ONLY! Forget about the stuff from Starbuck’s, Peet’s or any other supermarket brand, go for a specialty brand like Illy.

2. Perfectly roasted coffee beans, and that doesn’t mean super dark-roasted! A very dark roast only destroys the subtle flavors. Medium-roasted coffee beans, stored at room temperature in a dark, airtight container, are the secret. Humidity, light and oxygen are BIG enemies of coffee.

3. What many people ignore is the importance of grinding. A good, fine grinding is crucial for a good espresso. An inexpensive non-professional grinder will burn and therefore ruin the coffee beans. Unfortunately many professionals use a cheap, bean-burning grinder. The whole grinding stuff is tricky: if the ground is too fine the water can’t get through, but if it’s too coarse, the water will flow through too quickly. It needs to be just right.

4. You can’t make good coffee without the right water. It has to be low in calcium, magnesium or other minerals that not only inhibit the pressure of the pipes in the espresso machine after a while, but will affect the taste too.

5. To make the perfect espresso, only little (max 7 gr) of coffee should be used, and it needs to be tamped using up to 15 kg of pressure.

6. A perfect espresso should take 20-25 seconds to extract under 8.8 atmospheres of pressure. Don’t call me a nerd – the pressure is very important and should be checked constantly. A thick, creamy hazelnut brown top, the so called crema, should cover the espresso protecting a perfectly balanced taste of sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami and display aromas of chocolate, butter, puff pastry and more.

Now that you know what a good espresso is all about, go out there and DEMAND it.


The L.A. FOODBITCH checks out the L.A. culinary world and comments with her strictly subjective approach.

Written by lafoodbitch

January 29, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Posted in LA+Living

Tagged with ,

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