• Tasting - traditional versus espresso

    Following the introduction of soluble coffee in the 1950s, the next major change at the consumer level was the introduction of the home coffee maker, the drip machine. This tended to split the market into roast and ground for those preferring convenience, and whole bean roasted for those who prefer to grind their own coffee at home. The next major change has probably been the huge inroads made by espresso in importing countries during the 1990s. Most coffee bars and cafés in the United States, Europe and Asia today have extended their product menu to include different types of espresso coffee.

    Traditionally, coffee tasting has been done on the premise that the coffee would be used as soluble, roast and ground or whole bean. This permitted more or less the same methodology and terminology to be used to evaluate the quality. But there are significant differences between the brewing processes of traditional coffee and espresso, so much so that traditional liquoring alone cannot provide a correct evaluation of a coffee's suitability for use as espresso.

    The steps before tasting the liquid coffee are always the same (examining the green and the roast, smelling the ground coffee and so on). For traditional tasting, about 10 g of ground coffee is brewed in cups containing about 230 g of boiling water. This is not a scientific process: the water temperature may vary, the weight is not always exactly 10 g and the water measure may not always be exactly right either. The temperature of the water changes as the cups are poured and so on. But experienced cup testers know all this and so will taste more than a single cup per sample. They may also taste the sample various times. In the end it is the cup tester's personal assessment of all the different factors and sensations that determines what they will do with the sample in question. In real life consumers do not use a scientific process to prepare or evaluate their coffee either. They like it or they do not, and it is the cup tester's job to make sure they do.

    But this method does not work for espresso. The espresso cup is a concentrated beverage, which can be said to exaggerate all the aromas, and fragrances found in the coffee bean.

    Unlike the traditional coffee served in many bars and hotels, espresso must always be fresh. It can only be made on demand: the customer has to wait for the coffee, not the other way around. It was the desire to supply many cups of fresh coffee quickly and efficiently that led to a major innovation for traditional brewing systems: Italian inventors introduced the use of water pressure to speed up the extraction process.

    Today making espresso is a mixture of art and science. Italy is home to a large and fast-growing manufacturing and export business not only of espresso machines and all the accompanying accessories, but also of espresso coffee roasted and packed in Italy. Names such as Illy and Lavazza are but two of many found all over the world; they are even found in producing countries. The introduction of the espresso pod (pre-packed dosages of coffee ready for use 'as is' in the espresso machine), the growth of specialty coffee chains such as Starbucks, and increasingly efficient mini espresso machines for home use have all contributed to Italy's spectacular growth as a coffee processing and exporting centre.
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