The Espresso Test – How To Tell a Good Espresso

An espresso can be a truly luxurious, lovely experience. For me, it conjures images of sitting by the beach in Barcelona, without a care in the world. After developing a taste for espresso while on vacation in Spain, I realized that a fine espresso is no different than a lovely glass of wine. Both feature rich and complex flavor profiles which are meant to be savored, not gulped down.

In America, we rarely ever take the time to really appreciate a fine espresso. Typically, we’re just shooting it down in the hopes of getting a quick caffeine jolt to fuel our day. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t need to be that way friends. I truly feel that something has been lost on this side of the Atlantic. The espresso is treated as fast food, and call me crazy, but that mentality comes through in the taste.

I’ve nearly gone mad trying to find an espresso comparable to Europe back home, and after tasting many-a-cup, I’ve developed a little test which will help you identify a good espresso well before you’ve even tasted it. Hopefully I’ll have encouraged a few of you to slow down and savour your coffee, if you’re one of those lucky few who have had a change in outlook, I’ll let you in on my little secret. My foolproof, 4 step method for grading any espresso.

  1. The Crema: Any espresso worth a damn will have a nice luxurious crema, otherwise known as the cream, or foam, sitting at the very top of your coffee. This will be the first indicator of how good your coffee is. The crema should be thick, vibrant, creamy, and cover the entirety of the top of your espresso. If you can already see through the crema to what looks like typical black coffee… it’s a really bad sign… 
  1. The Sugar Test: When you first receive your coffee, gently pour in a packet of sugar. On a good espresso, the sugar will actually float on the top of your coffee for a second or two before breaking the surface and getting sucked under. The longer the sugar floats on top, the better the coffee, usually. If your sugar slips right in as soon as you poured it, and you’re sure you didn’t pour it in too quickly, you’ll likely be disappointed with your espresso.
  1. The Drip Test: Next what you’ll want to do is gently stir the espresso to mix in the sugar. The crema should instantly close in around the spoon, again leaving no visible black. Once you’ve stirred it nicely, remove the spoon from the coffee and let it hover just above the cup until a drop of coffee falls from the spoon into the coffee. When the drop hits your coffee, you will see a small point of black appear but the crema should rush back in almost instantly, leaving you with an undisturbed crema once again. You can repeat this test once or twice.
  1. Taste It!: No matter what, there’s no substitute for taste!

As you can see, much of what you want in a good espresso has to do with the crema. This is not only where all the subtle flavours come from, but also what imparts the trademark velvety texture to an espresso. Now you’re all set to play coffee connoisseur next time you’re in a café!

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