By definition, espresso is relatively simple: 1 ounce of coffee beverage made from 7 grams of ground beans, brewed at 9 bar of pressure (130 psi) at roughly 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Plus or minus. To give you some context, the highest-pressure showerheads top out around 100 psi — not quite enough pound force to make it rain crema. Espresso is both brewing process and beverage invented by the Italians (c. 1884), its name implying speed and singularity of purpose. You drink it quickly, unless you’re a noob.
But if there’s anything we’ve learned about coffee during this Fortnight, it’s that the rabbit hole of nuance in coffee brewing is as deep and ambiguous as a peyote trip. The combination of variables that go into a single shot of espresso — bean, roast, grind, dosage, coffee pack, pressure, temperature and time — can yield as many outcomes as a chess match. What hits the demitasse (espresso cup) is always strong, caffeinated and complex; the actual flavors range from lemons to cocoa. Baristas chase the “god cup”, or the perfect shot of espresso. The really dedicated ones might save a little crema in their handlebar mustache.
We’re not religious about it, but we sure do like to drink the stuff — not to mention all the variations made with steamed milk and foam. Our friends at La Colombe Torrefaction were kind enough to meet us one morning during the Fortnight to make the battery of espresso beverages. They were as good as they look. And none of us slept that night.
Editor’s Note: The descriptions of these beverages were provided by La Colombe and are used to help train their baristas. We hope they help you navigate the menu of your local coffee shop.
One shot of espresso prepared with 7 grams of ground coffee in a single portafilter. The shot should be 1 ounce of liquid. You have two choices with espresso: ristretto, a very short or “restrained” shot, brewed at less than 2/3 of a demitasse, or luongo, a long pull of espresso brewed so the liquid should be more than 2/3 of a demitasse.
Two shots of espresso prepared with 14 grams of ground coffee in a double portafilter. The double espresso shot should be about 1.5 ounces. A double espresso is a more concentrated shot with a thick, rich crema. It can still be made ristretto or luongo.
Single espresso with a touch of foam. Macchiato means spotted or stained; the espresso is “stained” with foam. This can be made as a single or a double.
Made in thirds — 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, 1/3 foam. This is a very traditional way of making cappuccino. The milk should appear glassy, smooth, shiny and with no visible bubbles. The milk and foam should be blended or mixed to create a thick, creamy texture. La Colombe pulls double ristretto shots.
Same as cappuccino, except there’s more foam to steamed milk in this ratio. Even though it is a foam-heavy drink, you are still looking to obtain the same creamy, glassy texture as a traditional cappuccino. La Colombe pulls double ristretto shots.
1/3 espresso, 2/3 hot milk, thin layer of foam. A cafe latte should have the same glossy finish as the cappuccino. This is pulled with a double ristretto.
1/2 espresso, 1/2 foam-infused milk. The perfect afternoon drink, or for that coffee drinker who wants something strong, but needs a little milk to soften the espresso as it goes down. This drink is in between a macchiato and a cafe latte. Pull a double ristretto into a gibraltar glass. The milk should have the consistency of a cafe latte and result in the same glassy, smooth, creamy texture as a cafe latte and cappuccino.
A touch of hot fresh water and a double shot pulled long. This creates a nice bold, strong coffee taste. The espresso shot is pulled atop the hot water to ensure the consistency of the crema.
1/3 espresso, 1/6 cocoa, 1/3 milk, 1/6 foam. Cocoa is the first layer, and then you pull the double espresso shot. Then steam the milk to the consistency of a cafe latte. La Colombe cafe mocha is unique because they use an unsweetened chocolate. Again, this drink is pulled with a double ristretto.
1/3 espresso, 2/3 steamed milk, super thin layer of micro-foam. This is what some call an “Australian latte”. Generally, it’s served in a 6- to 8-ounce cup and is meant to be enjoyed with the thinnest layer of foam possible. It is important to keep the ratio of milk to espresso appropriate so as not to overpower the espresso.
A 16-ounce cup of ice with hot-drip coffee poured over it. A double shot of espresso tops it off.
THE WOMAN BEHIND THE ESPRESSO
Annalisa Derr, who made all our espresso drinks, helped open La Colombe’s Soho cafe and remained as a lead barista there until 2012. She now works in their wholesale department, demoing La Colombe coffee and training baristas. Recognize her? Annalisa is also an actress, most well-known for her role as Katherine Valentine on the hit indie soap, Empire. You can check her out at empiretheseries.com.