Some people believe that our cup of coffee reveals who we are. Well, that is a spurious exaggeration (and a deterministic one at that). But it opens the idea that our preference over coffee sheds some light on our personal character and social background. Your cup is not who you are, but it is a part of you. For instance, we can look at existing cultural stereotypes based on general observations (though we should note that they are not necessarily universal in form). Some would say that Italians like their coffee black or in espresso shots. Or that Americans prefer the nuanced texture of drip coffee and caffè Americano. Or Koreans enjoy their refreshing iced coffee, especially during summer. Etcetera, etcetera.
But what people usually ignore are those practices related to drinking coffee. That will serve as the point of interest in this article. And in the universe of coffee consumption, espresso stands at the apex of coffee preparation. It serves as the base for numerous coffee concoctions. With that in mind, we need to learn the proper way of drinking espresso off its tiny cups.
Etymology and Brief History of Espresso
The origin of the name espresso comes in different forms. Some aficionados and baristas believe that the term is derived from the sense of “expression made for the customer.” Others speculate that the name embodies the English word “express” (fast) – characterized by the delicate speed of its creation and consumption. Historically, its name is derived from the popular Italian term caffè espresso which literally translates to “pressed-out coffee”. Of course, this indicates that the first cup of espresso was served in an Italian bar machine. In Latin, the word exprimere means “to press out”.
All in all, the present name is directly rooted in the method of making espresso – where the coffee extract is brewed by forcing a little amount of pressurized nearly boiling water through grounded coffee beans. Unlike other concoctions that are primarily distinguished by the type of blends, or beans, or roasting method, espresso defines itself in the method of preparation and flavor extraction. Simply put, espresso is the most elementary expression of coffee beans. A good reference on the systematic method of espresso-making was given by Italian coffeemaker Illy.
For purists, coffee is espresso. This is the preferred choice for those who want to get straight to the point. It is plain. It is direct. And it works. The conception of every cup happens at the intersection balanced grind, pressure, and temperature. This explains why the evolution of espresso is tightly knitted to the history of technological development.
How to Drink Espresso
A typical espresso ritual starts with the cleaning of the palate. This is done to fully appreciate the subtle flavor of each measured cup. As you order, baristas commonly ask whether you want to have “single” or “double”. In case you are not familiar, be reminded that these terms simply refer to the volume of serving that you want. A single-shot espresso is usually about 30ml. This is more than enough to give you a jolt and start-up the day. If you are a slow-starter, you may want to order a double-shot (doppio for Italians). Rather than getting a 30ml steamy shot, a doppio gets you a 60ml.
With their history, Italians are understandably serious about their espresso. Business Insider’s interview with an Italian coffee industry veteran Luca Di Pietro offers a local perspective on the practices related to coffee. According to him, espresso needs to be made directly for you, but it also needs to be drunk pronto. Thus, time is of the essence when drinking it.
Interestingly, those unfamiliar with espresso tend to skim the rich crema on top. Technically, what we call crema is an emulsion from the natural bean oil that envelopes the aroma in the cup. Drinking the rich crema on top of the cup gives a burst of aroma and fullness to one’s mouth. This is why many coffee sophists do not drink servings without crema because it may be sitting around too long or it is decaf.
When drinking, you will need to avoid small sips because the serving will just go cold quickly. A cold espresso simply counters the overall philosophy of its fleeting essence. The right thing to do is to take a quick gulp or two (that is why it is served in ‘shots’).
Despite the sense of urgency, we should remember to enjoy the overall tradition surrounding its preparation. After all, the importance of coffee is not just limited to the flavor experience because it also transcends the broader sociality of people. Drinking espresso is not simply a connection between the cup and the drinker. The barista and other people in the coffee house are part of its overall identity.
Currently, espresso serves as the base for various coffee blends. Many prefer to drink it with the addition of hot water (Americano), with steamed milk (cappuccino), a dot of foamed milk (macchiato), chocolate and steamed milk (mocha), vanilla ice cream (affogato), etcetera. These blends are particularly popular in countries where people are still unfamiliar with espresso’s intense flavor. Nevertheless, we should remember that many consider it as part of their mundane activity. Drinking espresso is a way of life (at least from the local perspective). You do not need a special occasion to try a cup. For Di Pietro, “It’s not about the show, it’s a way of life.”
On the other hand, we also have other interesting coffee-related reads, you may check out our articles about Espresso, Americano coffee, the difference between a Machiatto and a Latte, how to pour over coffee, how to make coffee shop drinks, and how to do latte art.
Furthermore, to help you out in making a good cup of coffee, check out our take on the best nespresso machine, best semiautomatic espresso machine, best espresso machine, best coffee grinder, best coffee bean, and best coffeemaker.
Also, it is undeniably relaxing to have something to read while having the best cup of coffee, check out our take on the best coffee table book.