• Tasting - traditional versus espresso: differences to watch

    Espresso is a brew obtained by percolation of hot, not boiling, water under pressure through a cake of roasted ground coffee. The energy of the water pressure is spent within the cake.* The pressure accentuates taste aspects that are not immediately obvious in cups prepared in the traditional way. Sharp acidity turns into bitterness, freshness or slight fruitiness turns into sourness and fruity turns into fermented because all the flavour components are extracted. And this is not all: espresso is nearly always sugared, and the interaction of sugar and these intense flavours can again alter the final taste palette the taster encounters. Some flavours benefit, others are 'turned' and become negative.

    For example, a pleasant tasting coffee that is slightly winey may be eminently suitable for sale as an exemplary quality in a niche market. But it will probably never make the grade for espresso, because once concentrated, the same winey flavour may turn into something quite unpleasant.

    The other aspect to bear in mind is the foam or crema that is always present in every well made cup of espresso. Briefly, the machine pressure is allowed to drop which permits the cup to be filled. The drop in pressure releases dissolved gases into the cup and this is what produces the foam. The foam must survive at least a few minutes before breaking up and starting to show the dark surface of the liquid itself. A perfect espresso looks as good as it tastes.

    Some coffees produce excellent foam; others do not. Most espresso coffee is therefore a blend of different coffees that together produce the desired combination of both taste and cup appearance.

    Green coffee exporters wanting to supply the important espresso market on a sustained basis must familiarize themselves with the differences between their traditional cupping and the basics of espresso liquoring. Better still, they should practise espresso liquoring alongside their traditional cupping by acquiring the necessary equipment.

    * From Espresso Coffee by Andrea Illy and Rinantonio Viani, Academic Press, London 1995.
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