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Espresso 101: What It Is?

If you are a beginner in drinking coffee, you might have this experience. You were in a café and you ordered a cappuccino as usual but then here come a “regular” stranger came in and order the first item on the menu called espresso. After about 5 minutes, your cup of cappuccino arrived and his espresso too. You saw the stranger give this strange drink in the world smallest cup a little stir with the world smallest spoon probably, and he then slip in the thick black liquid if you can see it. So, what is that little strange drink?

Common thought might lead you to think it’s a unique bean, a special roast or just a really strong coffee. It’s espresso, just like usual coffee drink made using a different method such as syphon, V60, French press. Espresso is simply just a coffee beverage prepared by its own method using an espresso machine. Same beans, same idea, but new gear and science, new taste.

espresso— Graphic from Prima Coffee

So how does it happen? A shot of espresso is prepared with hot water under high pressure by the machine. The coffee beans are ground and placed in the filter basket then tamp to tighten the ground coffee. The ground bean in the portafilter is then placed into the porta-head and with a click on a button (maybe a pull of a wooden lever), the black fluid flow out like some elixir top with a thick layer of golden brown bubbly liquid (that’s called crema).

The increased pressure and shorter extraction time frame in the coffee making produce a robust yet balanced shot of espresso. This dissolves more coffee solids and emulsifies oil, intensifies its flavor, thicken the body, and adorns the espresso with a distinctive layer of crema.

Unlike your home brew coffee, espresso pack the essentials in one little ounce and it’s necessary to serve in small portions: 1 or 2 ounces and watch out! Espresso is the staple of the most coffeehouse to serve with milk such as cappuccino and latte. Therefore, espresso plays a huge role if you think your cappuccino is great. Of course, you can always have it on its own like the ‘regular’ stranger.

Is espresso been around for long? Yes, it’s older than most of us. Espresso is created when an Italian first invent the espresso machine century ago to serve people coffee fast, one at a time. It’s then patented with numbers of improvement from the original prototype. With technology nowadays, espresso machine achieves very high consistency and stability to cope up with the demand in a café. This expensive endeavor has become a hobby as well with easier access and revolution to bring this machine into home based gadget.


by Dean Yeong

Founder of Common Space Coffee and writer on He’s passionate in community building, entrepreneurship, and of course – coffee!

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