I think I see more misconceptions about “Crema” than anything else in coffee. Like… can you get Crema with instant coffee? Errr… NO.
So what I’d like to do in the space of a few hundred words is to clear things up a bit. You’re about to find out exactly what Crema is, and why it’s important (and why everyone always gets it wrong!)
What is Crema in Coffee?
Crema is the thin layer of brown foam that sits at the top of freshly-made espresso. Basically, it’s the foamy stuff on your espresso.
It’s created when fatty oils from the coffee beans combine with the carbon dioxide gas that’s escaping from the ground coffee. Together, they make tiny bubbles on the surface of an espresso. Leave it a short while and these bubbles will dissipate.
It’s important to remember that you only get Crema with espresso. Latte? Nope, the milk will wash away any crema from the espresso you use. Brewed coffee? Nah, you won’t get it there (despite what the marketing materials might tell you).
|Espresso with Crema||Close up of Espresso with Crema|
|Espresso without Crema||Brewed Coffee (No Crema)|
Why is Crema important?
It’s considered poor form — and/or a lack of skill — for a barista to make an espresso with no Crema on it. Here’s three reasons why.
1. Mouthfeel. You can taste the Crema when you sip your espresso, it’s kinda foamy. We call this “mouthfeel” which is basically texture. Mouthfeel is one of the four ways to describe coffee. Good mouthfeel = good espresso.
2. Aesthetics. You’ve seen the photos above. Espresso with Crema just… looks nicer.
3. Sign of Well Made Espresso. Espresso is not easy to get right. Crema neither. 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, a creamy, golden-brown Crema on the surface of your espresso shot is a quick barometer of how well made the coffee is.
What does Crema taste like? (Bitter? Sweet?)
The Crema itself has quite a bitter taste. Compared to the rest of the espresso, at least.
You might like it, or you might not. But the reason it’s so prized by baristas is not for the taste, but for the mouthfeel. It adds a thick, bubbly texture to your espresso as you take each sip.
Should you remove the crema?
Ask a barista who knows what they’re doing whether you should remove the crema and they’ll tell you no. It’s an important part of the taste of espresso.
On the other hand, can you remove it? Well, you’ll lose a little of that mouthfeel, but it’s not the end of the world.
And Crema is just a collection of gases, so it’s easy to get rid of. Wait a few seconds and they’ll disappear, leaving you a still, crema-free espresso to enjoy.
How to make Crema without an espresso machine
Crema can only be produced with an espresso machine. No other method of making coffee simulates the condition of espresso, where hot water is forced through finely ground coffee at high pressure.
So what’s the next best thing?
Well, some argue that Turkish coffee makes a “kind of” Crema. The reason is its unique brewing process which brews the finely ground coffee in a copper goblet. No filter is used, so all the bubbles (=Crema) end up in the coffee that’s served.
Turkish coffee is a bit of a weird one though. Outside of a handful of countries, anyway. Other ways to brew coffee you might know more like a french press, pour over or an Aeropress do something similar. It’s called a “bloom” when you do it in pour over.
But each of these methods filter the coffee in some way. That filter traps all the gases that make a Crema.
What type of coffee beans for Crema
The art of making great Crema starts with the coffee bean. Here are a few important rules to follow if you want some silky bubbles on the next shot you pull:
1. Use an espresso blend. Espresso blends typically have a small amount, maybe 25%, of its beans from the Robusta species. These beans “fizz” a little more than the standard (and better tasting) Arabica. That means more Crema.
2. Freshly roasted coffee. The gas that creates the Crema is mostly carbon dioxide, which is in the beans from the roasting process. So the closer to the roast you brew — within 15-30 days is often considered ideal — the more gas will be in the bean to form Crema.
3. Lighter roasts. Darker roasts bring a lot of the natural coffee oils to the surface, which is why the dark brown roasts often look so shiny. But all this fat rubs off on packaging or whatnot, leaving less fatty oils in the grounds to form Crema.
4. Naturally processed beans. Coffee beans that are processed naturally — dried out in the sun rather than with machinery — retain more sugar and fat in the bean. This can lead to some funky flavors, and also to more Crema when it’s time to brew.
Crema in instant coffee
If you see any type of instant coffee with “Crema” somewhere on the label, understand that it’s just a marketing trick. There’s no Crema with instant coffee. The word is meaningless.
Drink instant if you want. I do, on occasion. It’s convenient, right? But someone’s pulling the wool over your eyes if you think that writing a fancy word on the label is anything more than some gimmick made by someone in an advertising agency.
Now you’re armed to the teeth with what makes good crema, go and try some! It does mean ordering espresso next time you’re out, rather than a latte or whatever. But you’ll have a big smile as you see those golden-brown bubbles on your drink. I guarantee it!
If you like learning about espresso-related lingo and the like, perhaps you’d like to read about a god shot? If that doesn’t take your fancy, have you ever heard of a naked portafilter? Or even any number of espresso vocab (warning: there’s a lot!)