The History and Science of Espresso
Italy’s communist government originally embraced espresso as an attempt to shorten the world-renowned Italian coffee break. Giovanni Achille Gaggia actually invented espresso. In his Milan coffee shop, Gaggia patented a piston, which he attached to existing coffee brewing machines to try to reduce the coffee’s bitterness. In 1947, after eight years, he succeeded. In many ways, it was the most significant coffee-brewing development of the modern age. In the 1960s, espresso took off around the world, as American tourists tasted the drink in Italy and brought it home, and films started showing movie stars drinking it.
For home aficionados, espresso is complex and anything but efficient. But to its fans, it is the holy grail of coffee preparation, a coffee obsessive’s dream hobby. It has all the maddening, glorifying manic-depressive experience of a great love affair. Espresso mastery demonstrates the hobbyist’s expertise (and madness) to friends and relatives. Part of espresso’s allure is, no doubt, its preparation. With practice and skill, you’ll get better at making espresso. One day, your espresso machine may even become your first choice.
Most coffee-making methods depend on gravity or steeping, but espresso is a high-pressure extraction method, which means you can produce a strong-tasting beverage quickly. Small variations in grind fineness, timing, or water pressure result in significant flavor differences. Serious espresso hobbyists thoroughly research their process. They want to know the pressure (measured in bars—the higher the number, the greater the pressure) and water temperature. If a drip machine takes thirty seconds to reach ideal brew temperature, it won’t ruin then cup; thirty seconds is the total brewing time for an espresso.
The great invention:
The espresso was invented for its brevity, but has stayed due to its powerful taste and versatility.
ESPRESSO is a highly concentrated coffee drink, the basis of a litany of beverages found in cafés all around the world. Some people mispronounce it “expresso”—an almost intuitive mistake considering the quick process to make the drink.
Making espresso requires a dedicated espresso machine, most of which consist of a chassis with a boiler. Once the water gets hot enough, a pump allows it to flow into a metal device called a head or group, which contains packed grounds.
The pressure from the machine then forces the water through the grounds, extracting the precious coffee oils in seconds. The liquid coffee excretes through a bottom spout in the head.
Normally, espresso is served in one- or two-ounce (30 or 60 ml) amounts depending on the machine’s head or group size. The industry refers to espresso in one-ounce (30 ml) form as a shot. So when a customer requests a triple-shot espresso, assume the order calls for three ounces (90 ml) of espresso.
Although some consider espresso the strongest-tasting coffee, paradoxically, it has the lowest caffeine content by serving (though not volume). People who claim to be “high” on espresso after drinking a shot or two may be experiencing what’s known as the placebo effect—they think the espresso’s caffeine will affect them, so it does.
Perhaps the fact that it’s easy to drink a high volume of espresso, especially when it’s buried in mounds of froth and made from higher caffeine Robusta coffee beans, might offer an explanation.