How to Serve Espresso

Espresso is not just coffee. Technically, the term espresso refers to the drink and the way that it is made. A good espresso is strong and black but should not be bitter. Many coffee drinkers are still searching for the perfect espresso – maybe the one that you serve is the one that will rocket to the top of the coffee connoisseur’s list if you just know how to make and serve this quintessentially Italian drink.

With a coffee as distinctive as espresso, the making of the coffee is just as much apart of the serving process as the actual presentation. It does not matter how correctly you serve your espresso if the coffee is undrinkable. Let’s take a look at the whole process, from beans to cup and saucer. Just to make sure that you get it right.

What you will need

1. Coffee beans

2. Espresso grinder

3. Espresso machine

4. Soda water or spring water

5. Espresso cup / demitasse

Step 1: The coffee beans

One of the key components to your perfect espresso is the quality of the coffee beans that you use. Do not even think about serving an espresso if you have not used the highest quality and freshest espresso coffee beans you can find. The roast can be either medium or dark, depending on your preference.

The freshness of the beans is also important. The beans that you use in your espresso should not be more than three weeks past the roast date. How the coffee beans are ground makes a difference. Do not use a cheap electric grinder. They can burn the coffee. You should rather use a proper espresso grinder. The beans should be finely (about the same coarseness of sugar) and uniformly ground to ensure the proper release of flavour.

Step 2: Packing the coffee

A single shot of espresso should be made using about seven grams of coffee. Naturally, you should only ever serve single espressos. Serving doubles or triples is just not the Italian way of doing things.

The coffee should be packed using a tamper. The tamper should put about thirty pounds of pressure on the coffee. If it is packed too tightly the water takes too long to flow through the coffee grounds and you will serve up a bitter espresso. Too lightly packed and your espresso will lack punch and flavour.

Step 3: Brewing the coffee

You need to push the water through the coffee grounds at just the right pressure. This is difficult to get right if you do not use the correct machine. Do not try to make espresso with a regular filter coffee machine, it simply cannot get enough pressure behind the water. A proper espresso machine is already primed to pass the water through the grounds at the right pressure.

Why a particular pressure? If your pressure is too low then the water will take too long to filter through and the coffee will end up being bitter. If the pressure is too high the coffee will be weak. The right pressure will also make sure that your espresso has a good amount of crema on the top. This hazelnut coloured cream is often seen as a marker of a good cup of espresso.

Step 4: Pouring and the cup

The water that you use when you are making the espresso should be pure and filtered so that it does not add any flavour to the coffee. Many people make the mistake of using boiling water. You should actually use water that is about 90 degrees Celsius – just shy of boiling. A good espresso machine will take care of this for you though.

You should serve espresso in the correct cup. This is not the typical coffee cup that will take about 300ml of coffee and milk. The correct name for the cup used in serving espresso is a demitasse.

The demitasse is made of ceramic or porcelain and should come with a matching saucer. It can only take between 60ml and 90ml making it the ideal size of a single shot of espresso. If you are going to be serving espresso make sure that you have enough of these little cups and their saucers. There is nothing tackier than trying to serve a shot of espresso in a regular coffee mug.

Step 5: Serving the espresso

You should serve your espresso with a glass of water. You get extra points if you serve the coffee with sparkling water. The water is used to cleanse the pallet before drinking the coffee. If you are going to be drinking a good espresso you want to get the full flavour and dynamic of the coffee without any distractions from what you have drunk or eaten beforehand.

If you go to Italy, the only thing that you will be served with your espresso is a glass of water. This means that this is the only truly acceptable side. However, there are a few other things that can be served with espresso and a few things that should not.

A disc of dark chocolate can definitely enhance the flavour of the coffee. It is important that the coco content of the chocolate is high so that it is not sweet and does not make the coffee taste bitter. Some cafe’s will serve a sliver of lemon peel with their espresso. This can be treated as a garnish or rubbed on the rim of the demitasse, ostensibly to enahcne the taste of the coffee.

You should not serve any sugar, milk or sweet cookies with your espresso. The whole point of a good espresso is that it is not sweet or bitter but that it conveys a strong but smooth taste of coffee. True, some people like a little sugar or milk with their espresso, but unless someone actually asks for sugar or milk, do not even think about offering them.

Serving the perfect espresso is simple. The right cup, the right temperature, a glass of water. But all that is no good at all if you have not made a good espresso to start off with. Serving an espresso starts with making the perfect cup and presenting it in the right way. If you liked this tutorial and it helped you make and serve the perfect espresso, please share the experience with us in the comments section and share the tutorial on your social media.


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