The Crema of the Crop, It makes Espresso, Espresso

The Crema of the Crop

It Makes Espresso, Espresso


(above image used here with permission from

Crema certainly is something special. “True” crema only is created when espresso is made. As seen above, it is a viscous ‘foam’ that floats above the espresso liquid. During the extraction of a two-ounce espresso nearly 100% of the beverage may appear as crema as the extraction ends. After that the crema breaks down and becomes the dark liquid espresso, but a good amount of crema remains floating on top.

The crema is a combination of a number of components. It is mostly a colloid, which by definition is a suspension of insoluble components mixed in with other components. Good crema takes time to settle out into a liquid. The insoluble component of this colloid are microscopic plant fibers from the coffee beans along with oils contained in the ground coffee. We have all seen the oils on the surface of dark roasted beans. All coffee beans possess those oils whether you see them on the surface or not.

Most of us know that coffee beans, once roasted, release carbon dioxide gas (and some other gasses). It is the release of these gasses that causes a bag or fresh roasted coffee to “inflate” or a storage jar’s lid to “pop” or “whoosh” when opened. Take the tiny bubbles of this gas which is released during the extraction process and mix it with the oils, plant fibers, water, and other trace components of the coffee bean and you get crema.

Why Just From Espresso?

There are two major factors that make the creation of espresso different from most all other methods. The first is the pressure used to create the beverage. No other method of coffee making uses 9BAR (about 135 PSI) of water pressure. A home water system normally has no more than between 40 and 60 pounds. Most espresso machines produce two to three times that.

The second factor is that the coffee is ground very fine with particle sizes held in a fairly tight range. The only common form of coffee making that uses a finer grind is Turkish. Now take that finely ground coffee and pack it very tightly into a little metal cup with lots of tiny holes in the bottom (the filter basket). Lock that into the espresso machine and force the high pressure water at about 198 to 202 degrees through it. The force and heat extract all those previously-mentioned components creating the crema and the espresso.

The Category is Beverages, and the answer is, “Crema Means Good Espresso.”

” ‘What is False?’ Alex.”

Crema is just a mechanical result of forcing hot water through coffee prepared as outlined above. We can say that if there is no crema on freshly-made espresso then that is a problem. No crema most likely means one of two things:

1 – Some of the necessary components did not exist in the beans for reasons such as :

  • The beans were old and stale
  • The beans were improperly stored
  • The beans were of low quality to begin with
  • The beans were not properly roasted

2 – The preparation method was lacking in some way, such as:

  • Too low or too high of a brew pressure
  • Coffee ground too coarse
  • Water Temperature far too low
  • Not enough coffee was used
  • Poor water quality

So while crema can be a delicious component of espresso, depending on crema as a definitive indicator of the quality of the espresso is something that you learn is false very early on. I have personally been making espresso for well over a decade and can assuredly tell you that I have made some crema-topped espresso that caused me to feel sorry for the kitchen sink into which I had to expectorate the first sip and into which I then had to pour the rest.

If you find that crema on its own does not taste pleasant to you, try stirring it back into the espresso before sipping it. The combination of the sugars extracted which reside in the liquid below should combine with the crema to create a complex tasting beverage you can enjoy.

Bitter or Sour Espresso? There’s A Reason

Bitter or Sour Espresso? There’s A Reason Espresso is a very complex beverage. There are more identified taste elements in espresso than in wine, and we know how wine connoisseurs can be. Anyone who has spent any time studying espresso, even on a basic level, has read that there are tastes like chocolate, blueberry, citrus, leather, oaky flavors, and so many more in coffee.

SCAA Espresso Flavor Wheel

SCAA Flavor Wheel

You can check the SCAA flavor wheel for the vast variety of language used to describe espresso’s flavor and aromas. But taste is what I am discussing today.
The two described extremes of taste on the taste side of the wheel are “sour” and “bitter.” Sour is fairly easy- lemon juice or citric acid (often sold as sour salt) works as a good household example of that. A good example of bitter might be unsweetened chocolate or, if you have some handy, gentian root extract. The interesting thing about these two flavor extremes is that they both exist in coffee, and even more so in espresso because of the extreme level of extraction that is necessary to create an espresso beverage. So how could we even drink it?
Jim Schulman, a member at, recently created a thread called, “Balance in Espresso is Intense Bitter and Sour Cancelling Each Other Out.”

In this article he discusses an experiment he used to demonstrate to his students the relationship between these two flavors. He showed that when these two flavors are present and relatively well balanced, and particularly when accompanied by an amount of sugar, they cancel each other out. When something is wrong in the process (and the list of ways to get it wrong is tremendous), one or the other flavor dominates and an unpleasant taste is the result.
As an example, a very light-roasted coffee that was meant to be used as a pour-over will have a dominant acidic flavor that might be pleasant, like unsweetened oranges, when mixed with the other coffee flavors. But that same coffee, used to create an espresso, might be overwhelmingly sour and may be unpleasant to drink. That same coffee, roasted just a little darker to mute the sourness of the acid and develop the bitter taste a little further might work well as an espresso. Roast, blend, age of the roasted coffee, brewing temperature, the quality of the water, coffee:water ratio, and more can all affect the flavor balance between bitter and sour. Even culturally, some peoples are brought up to enjoy bitter flavors more than we tend to be in western cultures.
A local acquaintance, when I told him I was making espresso at home, said, “Ewww… That’s really bitter, isn’t it?” It is clear that his earlier (and maybe his only) exposure to espresso was not a good one. Has it happened to you? Don’t forsake espresso for a massive, fat-filled, hot milkshake. Seek out other local coffee shops and try again. Your best bet is a small, independent shop and not a large chain store. The independent shops cannot depend on wide scale advertising, Their existence depends on the quality of their espresso.
On the other hand, I often hear from home baristas statements like, “I can make espresso as good or better then any shop near where I live.” Like any culinary skill, it takes time, practice, and patience to hone your skill and amass the experience needed. But like any other fine skill, it will be time well spent because you will have that ability the rest of your life.
So, if you have been avoiding espresso, or know someone who has because of what they have heard or experienced, there you have the reason why as well as a solution. Get an espresso machine, practice, and invite them over!

Types of Home Espresso Machines

Home Espresso Machines – Operation, Benefits, and Handicaps

Stove Top (Moka Pot)
The stove-top espresso machine, also known as a moka pot, is a two-chamber device that, as the name suggests, sits on a stove burner to operate (there are also some that are self-contained electrical appliances). Water goes in the bottom chamber and coffee is held between the two halves. The steam pressure created by the boiling water in the bottom forces water up through the coffee and into the top chamber.
Benefits – Few moving parts to worry about, easy to use, inexpensive to purchase. Small and easy to transport.
Handicaps – Tends to overheat the coffee, does not make a “true” espresso since the pressure generated by the power of steam is not that great.

Steam Powered
These generally look like a home espresso machine but they have no pump. They can be identified by a large knob-like cover on top that seals the water chamber where steam is trapped. The electrical cord is only for the heating element to boil the water. Steam pressure pushes the water through the coffee.
Benefits – Doesn’t need an external source of heat, just electricity. Have few moving parts to worry about, easy to use, inexpensive to purchase.
Handicaps – Tends to overheat the coffee, does not make a “true” espresso since the pressure generated by the steam is not that great.

Manual Lever
For making “true” espresso these are the most simplest of espresso machines machines. Much like the two entries above, there is no pump. The pressure to force the water through the espresso is created by you! A lever arm is operated and either a heavy spring forces a piston down to force the water through the coffee or you pull on the lever to force the water through. Many consider this to be the truest from of espresso since you are, literally, physically involved in the entire process.

Benefits – Simplest machine design for true espresso. Many are quite visually stunning. No pump to worry about. Great potential for fine espresso production.
Handicaps – Have a steeper learning curve at first, are very sensitive to the grind of the coffee. Temperature control also must be learned with most of them as they tend to overheat when left on and unused for a while. Will be more expensive than the previously mentioned designs.

All the rest of these machines in this list depend on electrical pumps to force the water through the coffee. Most machines have vibratory pumps that work using a strong electromagnetic coils to move a small piston back and forth. More expensive machines have a rotary pump powered by an electric motor that is generally quieter.
Benefits – With electrical power pushing the water there is no overheating as found in steam machines. Greater consistency for most users than the previously mentioned designs. For most home machines prices range from around $250 to well over $3000. Have $10,000 to spend? You will find what you are looking for!
Handicaps – The widest range of prices and hundreds of models from dozens of manufacturers can make selection difficult. Prices start at around $250 or so, and incremental steps into the thousands for a machine can be a real temptation to move up just one more step… again and again.
Pump machines can be divided into separate categories as follows:

Semi Automatic
Most of the home espresso machines on the market today fall into this category. After all the preparatory steps (grind, dose, tamp, etc.) *1, just press a button (or flip a switch as the case may be) and the machine starts pumping water through the coffee. Turn the switch off and the machine stops.

Benefits – Less electronically complicated than the following designs and so are potentially more dependable. Makes “real” espresso.
Handicaps – Require a quality grinder and preparation accuracy is required for the best results. A good amount of “hands-on art” in the preparation.

Automatic (volumetric programmed)
These machines are much like the semi-automatic machines with the addition of a control system that can be set by the user to deliver a certain amount of water to the compacted coffee, and then automatically turn off the brew cycle. These also allow manual control of the brew cycle as well.
Benefits – Helps control consistency by delivering a predetermined amount of water for brewing then automatically turns off the brew cycle.
Handicaps – More expensive than the Semi-automatic machines. Additional electronics and sensors make them more complicated and potentially have higher repair expenses.

Super Automatic
Imagine a machine that allows you to touch a button and have it create the beverage of your choice. That is a super-automatic. These machines have built in grinders that grind on demand when a beverage is chosen. The machine dispenses the ground coffee into the brew group, tamps it, starts the brew cycle and your beverage is dispensed into your cup. Many even have the ability to froth and dispense milk based on your preferences, and some have built in cooling units that keep the milk fresh. They even tell you when it is time to empty the waste tray, when to descale, and when a cleaning cycle should be run, and much more. They do just about everything except drink your beverage.
Benefits – A good choice for those who don’t want to deal with all the preparation steps of other machines (grind, dose the coffee, tamp, etc.). Depending on the model chosen, many take up less counter space than a traditional espresso setup of machine and grinder.
Handicaps – The most complicated of all espresso machines. Can be costly to repair. Their range of adjustments can deliver a good beverage, but they are generally not as capable of delivering great espresso as an experienced user can with the previously mentioned machines.

How do you choose? A few things you can do. You first have to assess you level of commitment to the beverage. Then do some research on the various coffee forums and websites and ask questions. Finally, contact your retailer and share your needs and desires and discuss the various home espresso machine options with them.

*1 – Be aware that there are a number of machines now in this category that can use pods. These are coffee pucks which are pre-packaged, individual servings in a sort of pressed, circular tea bag sort of thing. These eliminate grinding, tamping, and other preparatory steps and do not require the user to have a grinder. While convenient, the biggest problem is that they are quite a bit more expensive per cup than using whole coffee beans.


“Simon says, Hands on Coffee!”

Hands on Coffee

Hands on Coffee

I have been out in my workshop for the last couple of hours. Lately I haven’t had much time for fun projects what with my job, this blog, my wife, and something we refer to as “life in general.” Start with twenty-four hours, subtract sleep and then the rest of what I just mentioned, and that doesn’t leave much for leisure-time projects.

While I was finishing up my latest handicraft project and putting my tools away, I thought to myself, sure, I could go out and buy the piece of furniture I was building, a simple set of display shelves, but modifying an old, small bookshelf that was my grandparents and re-purposing it for placement where I will now see it every day led me to coffee. Not as non sequitur as it sounds.

The rewards of a hands-on woodworking project like that is very much like making coffee at home. Something you make yourself offers rewards that cannot be given a monetary value. A small bookshelf costs $49.95 in town. A latte costs $4.49 at a chain coffee shop. But what is the value of a bookshelf I made with my own hands from wood which is over 50 years old? What value can you put on a food product that you produce at home, from scratch, with your own hands? Would you rather have a fast-food hamburger or one you grill yourself in the backyard? A latte in a paper, take-away cup or one you have made, exactly as you like, in the comfort of your own kitchen?

My workshop is a set of tools I have accumulated over more than fifty years. Sure the table saw was a big investment, but when I bought it I did not know there was a remodeled kitchen in the box! Sure, there is an initial investment in quality coffee-making equipment, but over time there is the value in the satisfaction you get from making yourself a delicious espresso beverage, or even better, handing a friend a cappuccino and saying, “I made this just for you.” There is monetary savings in making coffee at home which we will go into at a later date, but this is not about the bottom line. This is about quality of life and the rewards of not only something you make yourself, but of the value of taking the time to slow down, stop, and reap the intrinsic value of making something special with your own hands. The bonus is being able to also sip a fresh, hot, coffee beverage.

And the shelves? They will be for displaying some of the beautiful coffee cups I have collected over the last decade. Each cup a memory of a place, a person, or an event upon which to meditate as I sip a cup of coffee which I made myself.

Coffee and Johnny Yank Coffee Kept the Union On the March

Gun with Coffee GrinderThe 19th century was a tumultuous time for the United States of America,

and no time was more so than 1861 to 1865 when we were engaged in a

great Civil War. From New York to Texas, and beyond, the The Union Army

marched, and feeding the troops was a difficult task. In a time before

refrigeration was in use, foods had to either be fresh or be preserved.

Cattle “on the hoof” kept fresh and the men surely appreciated food that

transported itself. But this blog is all about coffee, and the same for

this article.


Coffee was a staple cherished by the northern troops. It was fairly

plentiful to the North where the soldiers received regular rations of

staple foods that included coffee. A quick pick-me-up was afforded by a

hot cup of coffee even when time was short. When out of camp and on the

march, when a rest period was called, the men would immediately gather

some twigs and sticks, light small fires, and begin boiling water for



The preparation method was quite simple and readied ahead of time.

Ground coffee was mixed with their sugar ration, and once the water was

hot, a measure of this prepared coffee mixture was scooped into the

water. This practice was so ubiquitous that the Confederate soldiers

often referred to the Union soldiers as “the Coffee Boilers.” There was

a bit of jealousy in that since the South had very little coffee

available to them, particularly once the naval blockade of the South was



But as with all things, necessity gives way to solutions.When there was

a sustained break in the fighting, Union and Confederate soldiers would

communicate across the lines in remote areas. The young men set up

personal cease-fire zones and traded goods across the lines. Two items

regularly crossed the lines. The South, being predominantly agrarian

meant that the Confederate soldiers had regular rations of tobacco and

this was happily traded to the Union soldiers for coffee.


But coffee wasn’t always coffee. There were times when the Union

soldiers received their coffee ration pre-ground and this was not

preferred. There was a lot of underhanded dealing in the supply chain

and pre-ground coffee could be adulterated with filler such as cheaper,

easily-sourced, roasted grains. This increased profits to the suppliers

and lessened the caffeine level in the coffee. Carrying a coffee grinder

was pretty much out of the question to individual soldiers so they

improvised. A rifle butt against a flat rock was often found to work

just fine.


Whenever the subject off coffee and the Civil War comes up, the

Sharps Carbine Model 1859 Coffee Mill is often mentioned. This firearm had a hand mill built into the stock. These came into use late in the war and were not widely distributed.

Likely, less than one hundred of these were made and only about a dozen

are known to still exist. It is said by some that they were for coffee,

and some experts who have tested them with grains and coffee have stated

it seems they were intended for grain. Both are likely correct. The

coarse burrs in these grinders are reminiscent of bulk grinders today.

Many hand grain mills on farms well into the 20th century were used for

grain as well as coffee.


Thankfully, things haven’t changed much in the most important way

concerning coffee (this is a coffee blog, after all). Those who look for

the very best from their coffee would never consider pre-ground as a

substitute for whole bean. Roasted coffee beans, if stored properly,

will keep for as long as two to three weeks. Commercially packaged in

nitrogen under pressure can be good for a bit longer until opened. And

much like those soldiers of over one hundred fifty years ago, you pretty

much know what you are getting. So next time you measure out your

“morning ration” of coffee beans and are running them through your

grinder in preparation for the day’s march to the office, remember the

boys back in the 1860’s who did much the same.

Espresso Roast – The Sasquatch of the Coffee World

I could end this as one of the shortest articles I have ever written by simply saying, “Like Sasquatch, there’s no such thing.” You can call an elephant a dining room table, but that doesn’t make it a good place to set a dinner service for eight (even though there would be room for it).

Espresso Roast

Espresso Roast

We often see the very dark roasts in the grocery store plastic bins, covered in oil, labeled as “espresso roast.” These very-dark roasted coffee beans have a tradition that is said to have come from Italy. During the early part of the last century, during hard economic times when quality coffee was difficult to procure, low quality coffee beans were often used. Unfortunately, their taste matched their price point. To overcome that, the roasters pushed the roasting process darker and darker. Eventually they found a roast that was dark enough to remove or mask the actual taste of the coffee beans and create a taste that was overwhelmingly of the roast itself.

There are two main types of coffee beans, genetically speaking: Arabica and Robusta. A lot of that low-quality coffee mentioned above was cheap Robusta. It’s a good thing that it was dark roasted. While there are some quality Robusta coffee beans out there, the majority of them have an aroma and after taste of burnt bicycle inner tubes. It was that taste that the French roasters were working to destroy. Robusta is still used today, of course. When quality Robusta is used sparingly in a blend it increases the crema in espresso.

While some beans do like a darker roast, in today’s coffee market there are a lot of very high quality beans and roasting them that dark destroys a lot of the flavor that the growers, processors, and roasters work to develop. These beans offer a wide range of flavors. Not like the artificially flavored coffee beans, but subtle sub-flavors; nuances if you will. Roasting these beans to that dark, “espresso roast” level would be like ordering blackened filet mignon.

So what to look for in beans to be used for espresso?

  • Beans that have, at the most, a few drops of oil on them. Avoid those that look like they have been stored in a used oil pan of a ’58 DeSoto.
  • A nice medium to dark oak color. Some beans like to be a bit darker and some lighter, so don’t be afraid to try different roast levels.
  • Even when you find a bean you like, experiment! There is no reason to stick yourself in such a rut, only purchasing one specific bean origin, brand, or espresso roast level.

I am often asked which espresso coffee beans are the best. The simple answer is that no one can answer that for you, and you will never know unless you try them all. That is surely not possible, but variety is certainly the spice of life so don’t get stuck in a rut with just once coffee.

Read more: What is Espresso?

Stale Coffee Mug

Ten Ways to Make a Bad Cup of Coffee

ONE: Use Old Coffee – You find a bag of coffee in the fridge, way in the back. You ask yourself, “How badly do I need a cup of coffee?” If you don’t remember when you bought it, then you must need it really badly! Once coffee is roasted the clock is ticking. From the back of the fridge, behind the old jar of mayonnaise, in a bag that is stuck to the shelf? That’s a very good start to the worst cup of coffee you have ever made!

Two: Buy Your Coffee From the Open Bins in the Supermarket – No old coffee against the back wall of the fridge? Head to the market! Sure, whole bean coffee is great, but when it has been sitting out in the open bins which are hazed-over with old coffee oils so thick that it looks like the beans are in a San Francisco fog, you are well on your way to making a bad cup of coffee.

Three: Buy Pre-Ground Coffee – At the market you could always just pick up a big “jug” of pre-ground coffee and save all the trouble of grinding it yourself. You will get consistency that way. Since oxygen is an enemy of coffee, there is no better way to get coffee to get stale than grinding it and then letting it sit around. By the time you get to the bottom of that jug the coffee will be so stale that you might as well be brewing sawdust.

Four: Spend $10 on a Coffee Grinder – So you read that pre-ground coffee is bad so you went to the store and found an economy grinder, and it is so easy to use! Just put in the beans, press the “ON” button and the little helicopter blade inside grinds the coffee. Fortunately for you, this is a chopper and not a grinder. Even better, since your goal is to make the worst coffee possible, all that coffee dust you are creating is sure to add extra bitterness to the already-bitter coffee you are about to brew.

Five: Buy the Espresso Roast – Since there is no such thing as “espresso roast” (regardless as to what the little tag on the bin says), this is a sure sign that whoever roasted this or whoever is selling it really does not know coffee, and who better to buy your coffee from? If the espresso roast is not available, check for “expresso” roast which doesn’t exist either.

Bad Coffee

Don’t Do It

Six: Get the Oily Beans – A good coat of oil on the coffee beans often signifies that the coffee has been poorly stored in a hot environment and the heat has brought the oils to the surface. The oils are a big part of the taste of the coffee, and so exposing them to air will accelerate the staling process. We are over half-way there to a bad cup of coffee!

Seven: Look for a “Best if Used By” Date – Knowing when coffee was roasted is a good thing. Finding a “Best if Used By” date on the package is a sure way of knowing that the coffee you are buying is already past its prime.

Eight: Made From Coffee Beans – Try to find a coffee that is called something like breakfast blend, morning wake up, or mountain delight. Stay away from specifics like Colombian, Hawaiian, and Ethiopian. Since you are looking for the worst coffee possible, it’s best if you don’t know where your beans actually came from.

Nine: Spend as Little as Possible – The worst beans cost the least amount of money. Find a roasted coffee that is selling for about $2.00 to $3.00 a pound. Since that is well under half the cost of most high-quality, un-roasted coffee, you can be assured that your coffee will be from the lowest-quality coffee beans possible. They might even be adulterated with artificial aroma!

Ten: Use a Cheap Coffee Brewer – The “economy” coffee brewers which sell for $20 (or less) are sure to brew too fast and at too low of a temperature to ever extract the goodness from your coffee. But that’s OK since your coffee came to you wholly lacking in goodness anyway.
by Randy Glass of

Help for making a perfect pot of coffee

Capresso Iced Tea Maker

Iced Tea at the Touch of a Button!

Iced tea brewed fresh at the touch of a button. The Capresso Iced Tea Maker brews directly into the included 80 ounce glass pitcher. Loose tea or tea bags may be used. 18 recipe booklet ncluded, our favorite:

Fresh Peach Iced Tea

• 3 peaches, peeled and sliced

• ¼ cup sugar or sweetener, if desired

• 6 black tea bags

Add sliced peaches and sugar to the pitcher and lightly muddle with a wooden spoon to release the juices. Fill pitcher with ice to the ice level marking and place pitcher with lid onto the machine. Add tea bags to the brew basket and close lid. Turn on machine and let brew. After brewing, pour tea into ice-filled glasses and garnish with peach wedges.


Coffee Doesn’t Talk

Coffee Doesn't Talk

Coffee Doesn’t Talk

No coffee doesn’t talk, but nothing says “coffee” like “espresso.” But if it could describe itself, it might be something like, “You want some real coffee, Paisan? You use instant coffee? Fuhgeddaboudit! I’ll tell ya’ what you do. Take some of my cousins, the Beans. Ya, coffee beans. Don’t be a wise guy. I’m trying to help ya’ out here. Now grind them really fine. Put them in a little basket sort of thing that looks like a colander from a dollhouse. It’s called a portafilter basket. Now attach that to a machine that can heat water and then it can pump the water through that coffee with a lot of pressure. Like 135 pounds per square inch. You bet, that’s a lot of pressure. And if you do all that right you get a cup of pure coffee joy.

Talking coffee can’t really help you out, but we can. Espresso is all that a cup of coffee can be, but it takes special equipment to make it. You need an espresso machine and a grinder, and then add some experience and practice. Not a detail-oriented person? Don’t enjoy the process but you do want to enjoy a good cup of coffee? Then try a super-automatic espresso machine. Just put in beans and water and with the push of a button the machines does all that work for you.

Give us a call and let us help you choose the machine that best fits your needs. And we promise, no talking coffee beans. Just some straight talk to get you on the road to great coffee.

Get a taste of Brazil with Illy Monoarabica Brazil.
Bold and Flavorful from the Cerrado Mineiro region of Brazil. This whole bean coffee offers a full-bodied boldness and smooth, rich taste with subtle hints of decadent chocolate. The tropical climate and rich soil of Cerrado Mineiro give this coffee its intense aromas and full body with an underlying note of dark chocolate, for a uniquely inspiring coffee experience.

illy Brazil Coffee

Illy Brazil Coffee