Sunday, March 4, 2012

More About Coffee: Espresso

So for the last couple of weeks we've been drinking lattes and cappuccinos, and while there's always a time and a place for a good latte or cappuccino, I think it's time that we take a step back to expand our coffee expertise a bit further.  I wanted to take the next couple of posts to outline some different ways to prepare and drink coffee and what those differences mean to you.  In this first part of a multi-post series, I'm going to focus on the coffee plant and espresso.

First of all, what is coffee and where does it come from?  Coffee is a beverage than can be served both hot and cold that comes, essentially, from mixing coffee beans with water.  Coffee beans are actually the pit of cherries that grow on coffee trees.  Coffee is grown all over the world now, but it only grows naturally in Ethiopia - the so-called birth place of coffee.  Here's the process that most coffee beans will follow before they show up on the shelves for you to purchase:

  1. A farmer will grow and pick the cherries off the tree
  2. He might wash them and let the casings fall off so he's just left with the beans.
  3. The beans will dry and get packed for shipment to a buyer like Starbucks
  4. Starbucks will roast the beans so they develop the dark brown look we're used to seeing and they're ready to go.
  5. You or a coffee shop will  grind the beans depending on the kind of coffee product you want, prepare, and enjoy!


Now that we know how coffee gets to us, let's learn about one of the main ways that coffee is prepared - espresso. Most people don't make espresso at home simply because of the work that it requires, but you can find it at any self-respecting coffee shop.  I personally believe that home espresso, while it can be done, is more trouble than it's worth.  Espresso's such a finicky thing that it's near impossible to get really good espresso at home.  Quality espresso usually comes from commercial machines like this one on the right.  It may sound or look fancy, but espresso's nothing more than really concentrated coffee. Its origins actually date back to Italy where cafes started preparing "shots" of coffee for construction workers to get a quick fix of caffeine before going back to work.  Espresso is really interesting because you can drink it straight or mix with milk or chocolate to get a variety of beverages.  For example, using the same amount of espresso but varying amounts of milk can make the difference between a macchiato (3 oz.), cappuccino (5-6 oz.), and latte (8-12 oz.).  Add a pump or two of chocolate syrup and that latte becomes a mocha. Easy peasy.

Without a doubt, espresso is the most versatile of coffee drinks. That's probably one of the reasons why it's so popular.  Want to dive more into the world of espresso? No worries, we'll look into the proper way to taste and grade espresso in a later post.
How many of you have taken a shot of espresso before?

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