Inside a beautiful cup of espresso are entire worlds of pleasure, just waiting for your every sense to discover. (Why should taste have all the fun?) Espresso ideally realized is a five-sensation proposition, each sense interacting with another to create a whole greater than the parts, triggering the intellect, the imagination and more.
The gateway to taste. A first wave of aromas are released when the coffee reaches about 80°C (176°F) and is stirred, with pleasantly light notes of flowers and fruit, marked by jasmine and almond. A second aromatic wave comes after tasting, with hints of freshly baked bread and chocolate. If this kind of language invokes taste, well, that is precisely the idea.
At around 65°C (149°F), the ideal temperature for tasting, an ideal espresso sports a deft, delicate balance of sweet, bitter and acidic. Take a tiny sip, and fullness takes center stage. Please hold the sugar, at least to start; let your palate experience espresso in pure form.
We literally feel food and drink on the tongue, making touch an important part of the culinary journey. We feel espresso’s body in its crema, the natural, lighter-brown layer on top that caresses the tongue: soft, velvety, creamy. You’ll know a good crema when you see it; more on this in just a bit.
The grinder’s whir, the tamper’s soft turn. The espresso machine’s exhale. The chime of cup on saucer, the spoon’s sweet, metallic ping. You can hear great espresso, or any great coffee. In fact, our ears may be first to enjoy the experience.
You’ll know a good espresso at first glance.
For the eyes, it’s all in the crema on top. Look for subtle texture in shades of brown, crossed by light reddish streaks – like the stripes of a tiger.
If crema is too dark brown, has a white button or a black hole at the center, send it back. These are markers for overly long extraction time, too fine of a grind, or excessive temperature and pressure. Crema that is light and flimsy has mirror-image issues. For espresso, expect and accept nothing less than what is right. Your senses will thank you.