Understanding what espresso tastes like can be intimidating especially if you’ve never had it before. Unfortunately, most people don’t like drinking espresso and the chances are because they have encountered bad espresso. But, should espresso taste bitter and unpleasant? The answer is no. A perfect cup of espresso should be delicious. Many espressos aren’t made well and thus their bitter and unpleasant taste. This article will discuss everything you need to know regarding espresso tastes, factors that contribute to the bitter and unpleasant taste, and the difference between espresso and regular coffee. Let’s begin.
What Does Espresso Taste Like?
Espresso is a full-flavored and highly concentrated beverage that is made from the same beans as regular coffee but is stronger, higher in caffeine, and thicker. Espresso has all flavors that are in regular coffee but amplified. A perfect shot of espresso should have a sweet and smooth taste, without any unpleasant bitter, sour, or ashy flavors. Also, a correctly pulled espresso should have a perfect balance between sweetness, acidity, sourness, and bitterness.
When it comes to espresso texture, the beverage has a thicker and creamier texture. Espresso is topped with a crema, which is a brown foam that results from air bubbles combined with soluble oils of espresso coffee. The crema layer forms because of the high pressure of water that is forced through the coffee grounds. The texture of espresso tends to change as the shot sits. The crema in espresso evaporates and the beverage becomes entirely liquid. And that’s why it’s recommended that you drink espresso as soon as it’s made.
Additionally, the perfect color of an espresso shot is dark brown, almost black with a golden-brown micro-foam layer of crema on the top. And as mentioned earlier, the crema evaporates on itself and the beverage becomes entirely liquid. However, the espresso color doesn’t change. If your espresso turns out light brown, it’s likely due to under-extraction, something we’ll discuss.
The perfect espresso flavor is a result of correctly measured variables such as water to coffee ratio, grind size, water temperature, extraction pressure, and extraction time. The full-body, intense aroma and firm crema are essential for a good espresso shot. Additionally, these espresso characteristics are a result of the perfect balance between the four measured variables. Let’s dig in!
Coffee to Water Ratio
The coffee to water ratio of an espresso shot determines its intensity. For example, regular coffee is made at a ratio of 1:16, meaning one gram of coffee grounds for 16 grams of water. For a highly concentrated beverage such as espresso, the coffee to water ratio used is 1:2, meaning one gram of coffee for 2 grams of water. And this is the reason why an espresso shot is so concentrated, unlike regular coffee.
Getting the right espresso grind size is crucial because it determines the taste of your espresso and its quality. Grinding your coffee beans may be tricky, but it’s infinitely better than buying pre-ground coffee. Some pre-ground coffee lacks the quality and freshness you get with grinding the beans by yourself. Additionally, getting the right grind size will help avoid the chances of over-extraction and under-extraction.
Also, the high temperatures and pressure used to brew espresso call for the right grind size, since the wrong one will ruin your results. For espresso, you need a fine grind size. You can achieve this grind size using a burr grinder rather than a blade grinder. A burr grinder gives you consistent and uniform grinds, while a blade grinder lacks consistency. Blade grinders also cause heat and friction, thus heating the coffee beans and resulting in stale coffee.
Before we discuss the espresso water temperature, it’s important to use good quality water while making your espresso. Water makes up 99% of your drink, and thus it will affect the quality and taste of your coffee. The best water to use for a high-quality shot of espresso is filtered or bottled water other than tap water.
The brewing temperature of the espresso is the temperature of the water when it comes into contact with ground coffee. Water temperature is essential since it is a determinant of the yield percentage, which is the percentage of elements that are extracted from coffee. The optimal extraction temperature for espresso is between 190 and 195 degrees Fahrenheit. Hotter water will result in over-extraction, while cold water will result in under-extraction. Ideally, the temperature shouldn’t be more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Espresso machines come with multiple water pressure settings. When extracting coffee using an espresso machine, high-temperature water is forced through the coffee grounds, which leads to a concentrated espresso shot. To make good espresso, you’ll need your machine set to 9 bars of pressure. Your espresso machine comes pre-set to the 9 bars level but it’s always good to check if it’s your first extraction. Low pressure will take long to extract, which will lead to over-extracted espresso, while higher pressure will damage your espresso shot and mess up your kitchen.
Although time is the least variable in an espresso recipe, it can still make or break your espresso shot. You need the correct extraction time to extract flavor and bring out the complexity and sweetness of the coffee. Additionally, the grind size determines the coffee extraction speed.
For a well-extracted espresso shot, the recommended extraction time is between 25 to 30 seconds. In case you run too long or too short, check your grind size, coffee grounds dose, and tamp. A too fine grind will lead to a slow, over-extracted shot, while a coarse grind will lead to a fast, under-extracted espresso shot.
The dose refers to the coffee amount that you fill your portafilter with. The dose for a double-shot is 14 to 18 grams depending on your espresso machine. Tamping ensures that the extraction is uniform. Fine espresso grounds require less tamping.
Components of a Perfect Espresso Shot
- Well mixed flavors
- Full-bodied, firm, velvety, smooth flavor
- No ashy, sour, or bitter flavor
- Astringency isn’t noticed
- Dark brown crema with reddish nuances
- Thick crema with fine texture
- The coffee underneath isn’t visible
- Thick texture
- The aroma is intense, strong, and full-bodied
- The aroma lasts for seconds or minutes
- The espresso has some fruit, chocolate, flowers, and toasted fragrances
- Espresso has a full-bodied, vivid, sweet, and fragrant aftertaste
- The aftertaste is long-lasting and consistent in the mouth
- You’ll sense floral and spicy notes
Factors that Contribute to A Bitter and Sour Espresso Shot
Coffee extraction involves passing hot water through coffee grounds, causing compounds such as caffeine, lipids, acids, carbohydrates, and melanoidins to be extracted from the grounds. Extraction is a three-way street. You’ll either under-extract coffee, perfectly extract coffee or over-extract coffee. Let’s get into details.
Over-extraction of espresso occurs when too many flavors from the coffee beans are dissolved into the coffee. Over-extracted espresso tastes bitter and astringent, which results in a bad espresso shot. Additionally, over-extracted espresso has an empty taste and dry mouthfeel with a similar sensation to drinking unsweetened, black iced tea.
Over-extraction occurs as a result of too fine grind size, too long extraction time, too high coffee dose, too much extraction pressure, or too hot water. When your grind is too fine, water will flow slowly through the coffee grounds, leading to over-extracted espresso.
When you extract espresso for more than the desired time, the flavors extracted are more, which results in bitter espresso. When your coffee dose is too high, there’s an imbalance between the water-to coffee ratio, and therefore a slow flow of water. Too much extraction pressure will extract more flavors from the coffee beans than desired. Also, too hot water will burn your espresso, making it taste bitter.
Under-extraction of espresso occurs when too little of the flavors in the coffee beans are dissolved into the coffee. Under-extracted espresso tastes sour and even salty. The sourness in under-extracted espresso is a result of the acidity in coffee without sweetness to balance it. Some of the causes of under-extracted espresso are too coarse grind size, cold water temperature, too low coffee dose, and too low extraction pressure.
When the coffee grounds are coarse, the water will quickly flow through the coffee grounds, which means that the coffee bean’s contents aren’t fully exploited.
Too low pressure won’t allow the oils and other components of the coffee beans to be exploited for the creation of the espresso crema, which leads to sour espresso. Additionally, when the water temperature is cold, the coffee beans components are under-extracted, leading to sour and salty espresso. Under-extracted espresso has a rapid-finish flavor that disappears as soon as you swallow your espresso.
Perfect extracted espresso is neither underdone nor overdone. As mentioned earlier, a perfectly brewed espresso shot has a perfect balance of sweetness, acidity, and bitterness. The perfect balance is what gives the espresso taste clarity. Bitterness, sweetness, and acidity in an espresso shot are extremely intense but blend into a perfect balance.
Difference Between Regular Coffee Taste and Espresso Taste
Espresso has a unique flavor when compared to regular coffee since it is roasted, brewed, and ground differently from regular coffee. Also, espresso has a bolder, full-bodied finish, well-rounded, and less acidic taste. When compared to regular coffee, espresso is stronger and heavier, but in a good way.
The taste of espresso may be intense but it’s a good experience. A perfect extracted shot of espresso has achieved a balance between sweetness, acidity, and bitterness, which leaves a beautiful aftertaste. Once you taste a properly extracted espresso shot, you’ll up your coffee game from regular coffee.
Additionally, there is a variety of methods that you can use to make your espresso coffee such as a Moka pot, French press, and Aero Press. However, an espresso machine is the best to make espresso coffee since it applies the intense pressure required to extract espresso. Other methods will make your espresso but they can’t substitute the pressure in an espresso machine. Therefore, your coffee won’t taste the same as that of an espresso machine. Ideally, the water pressure, fine grind size, and tamping pressure are factors that contribute to a perfect espresso shot and the beautiful layer of crema on top.
Also Read: Can You Make Espresso the Night Before?