Just what the hell is...

Just what the hell is… Crema?

September 22, 2017

What crema is

Crema, or espresso crema, as defined by the foremost encyclopedic oracle of our times (…Google):

Crema is the thin layer of brown foam that sits at the top of freshly made espresso.

More simply, the foamy stuff on your espresso. It’s produced by the fatty oils from the coffee bean combining with the escaping CO2 gas from freshly roasted and ground coffee. This creates little bubbles that sit in a thin layer of liquid until they dissipate. You can think of it as a lot like the head on a pint of Guinness.

Its color is a slightly paler shade of brown than the espresso. And you don’t get crema on top of any other method of making coffee, despite what you may have heard from certain dubious internet experts.

Espresso with Crema Close up of Espresso with Crema
espresso with crema closeup of espresso with crema
Espresso without Crema Brewed Coffee (No Crema)
espresso without crema brewed coffee with no crema

What crema is not

As previously mentioned, crema is a product of CO2 escaping to the surface of your espresso and nothing else. Some things that crema definitely isn’t…

…the foamed milk that is added to a Cappuccino
…found on non-espresso coffee
…related to ‘cream’ in any way

Crema is highly prized by baristas and coffee drinkers alike for reasons I’m about to go into.

A few things you should know

What’s the point?

Crema is a well established espresso tradition, to the extent that it is considered poor form for a barista to not have created any on your drink. Here are a few reasons why it’s so treasured.

1. Mouthfeel
The crema on an espresso adds a foamy quality to the drink which creates a pleasant mouthfeel when you drink it. Mouthfeel is a fancy way of saying the texture of the coffee.

2. Aesthetics
You’ve seen the photos above. Espresso with crema just looks nicer. And it has become so popular that a shot of espresso without the crema looks a little… lacking.

3. Sign of Well Made Espresso
Crema is not easy to produce. The barista needs to make sure things like the pressure, water temperature, tamping, grind size and lots of other stuff is on point. So in a way, it’s a quick barometer of how well made the coffee is. It’s also an indication that a good espresso blend is being used and that the coffee beans are freshly roasted.

Despite all this, it is by no means necessary for a great coffee. It is very possible to make a superb shot of espresso without a hint of crema on it.

Espresso only

Crema cannot be made from any other method other than the notable exception of Turkish coffee which uses a quite unique brewing process.

Brewing your coffee with a french press, pour over, cold brew, aeropress or any of the other great methods of making coffee will not make crema for one reason: the filter. If you watch your Chemex as you’re pouring hot water over the ground coffee you will see the coffee begin to bloom and form a lighter brown over the top of the coffee/water mixture. This is the same process that creates crema but none is going to end up in your cup.

It’s the unique high-pressure combined with the way espresso is forced through the coffee that creates the crema’s microfoam on your resulting shot of espresso.

Downsides?

People generally like crema on their espresso but some don’t. One common criticism is that the crema part of the coffee is bitter. And it is. Luckily crema is jsut created by a collection of gases that are happy to disappear if you can wait a short while.

Another issue is the tendency of some modern (and usually cheap) espresso machines to pressurise the espresso in a way that creates crema somewhat artificially. This loses one of the biggest advantages with crema and that is seeing that you’ve got the conditions for making espresso in the right ballpark. Avoid these cheapo espresso machines at all costs!

How do I get crema?

1. Be able to make good espresso.
The first step to having crema on your espresso is being able to make good espresso. The ability to do that is a skill with so much depth that professional baristas and coffee aficionados spend a lifetime dedicated to mastering the art of espresso. A little out of the scope of this 800 word article.

2. Use a good espresso blend.
You may have noticed when you pop down to your local roasters that some of the bags say ‘Espresso Blend’ on them. So what makes these coffee beans different to the ones you grind up and put in your pour over? Well, one reason is that espresso blends have a small amount of Robusta coffee beans with the Arabica coffee beans that are more popular. These Robusta beans are more bitter, more caffeinated and crucially are better at producing a small layer of crema on your espresso.

3. Use freshly roasted coffee

Buying your coffee beans freshly roasted is just damn good advice full stop, but particularly if you want crema on your coffee. If you wait too long, lots of the CO2 in the bean will have left and your espresso will not have the right conditions to produce crema. Just be careful not to brew your coffee too quickly after the roast, espresso blends in particular need a little more time to degas.

Photos

Here’s some juicy pics of that delicious looking stuff.

crema

more crema

even more crema

crema again


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