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How To Make Great Espresso Crema at Home
The dream for all espresso lovers is to achieve that crown of good crema. It also looks good when serving and you get a different flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel. Many people pull espresso out of machines and wonder why they're not having any crema on their shots.
Contrary to popular belief, the machine is not always to blame. Here are important factors that play a huge role in producing the perfect crema.
Why do you want crema?
It is not all for visual effect. If you are an espresso lover, you want your shot to taste good. Taste may vary depending on how you like your espresso, the beans you use, and the flavors that you might add to it.
When serving espresso and macchiatos, not only does it look good to have crema, but it also offers another layer of flavor besides the coffee itself and the milk.
Picking The Right Beans
You really can't make great espresso without quality beans. Most supermarkets or cafes advertise their beans to be "espresso roast," there might be some truth to that but the question is, are they able to produce good crema? Since crema is made out of the "fat" from the beans, you should use beans that are high in fatty contents such as robusta beans.
A whole new discussion could be made on the capabilities of either robusta or arabica beans to produce crema. You just have to find the beans that contain a good amount of Carbon Dioxide, oils, and fats.
If you have access to freshly roasted beans (3-5 days old), those beans should be able to produce good crema. Try to visit farmers markets, co-ops, and organic stores to find good beans. Starbucks beans aren't the best option but is good enough to make average lattes at home.
Do you care about crema?
Grind the beans just right!
Carbon Dioxide or CO2 is a huge factor in producing great crema. CO2 is in the roasted beans and is gradually released as time goes on. Using very old beans might not give you crema at all.
You should pull your shot right after you grind your beans. Do not use pre-ground beans as it already lost most of its CO2. Crema is foam composed of CO2 held together by brewed coffee therefore, you must retain as much CO2 as possible to help make that perfect foam.
You do not want the water to pass through the ground beans too quickly. You should be able to make a double shot within 20-30 seconds. If you grind the beans too finely, you might not be able to make the shots within 20-30 seconds.
It is also good to have a grinder with many settings to help you find the right setting for the perfect grind.
Before you should tamp, make sure that you have a good tamper fits well in the portafilter. The ideal tamp pressure is 30 lbs. To measure this, take a weighing scale, place it on a table, and try to "tamp" on it until you reach 30 lbs.
If the ground coffee beans are too fine, you might want to tamp lightly or if it's too course, you might want to tamp a little harder.
Did you know that Starbucks baristas do not use tampers, and might not even know how to tamp?
A Good Espresso Machine
The exciting part is always finding a great espresso machine. What is the criteria for an espresso machine that makes great shots and great crema? There are tons of discussions online on which machine to get but the main factors to consider are:
A machine that has a pressure rating of 15 bars or more. Some cheap ones rate from 6 to 9 bars. These cheap machines do not make good espresso as they usually lack brewing pressure.
Semi-commercial machines are good enough to have your own little cafe at home. For beginners there are some cheap ones that might be able to help you pull good shots with average crema. If you're looking for good crema as we all are, you have to find a machine that brews at a 200ºF and brews at a pressure of 150 psi.
The ideal double shot should be pulled in 20-30 seconds. Do not be too excited if you pull a shot of just crema. Wait for it to settle and evaluate how much crema there really is. There are also times when the crema disappears almost immediately.
Beware of making artificial crema for the sake of visual effects. The crema might be visible but you might be sacrificing the quality of your espresso.
Practice Makes Perfect
You have to repeat the process as often as possible. Try different settings, beans, grinds, and even tampers. Try tamping lightly or harder. It is all up to you. Making great espresso crema can be very difficult but it is not impossible.
If you've tried everything other than replacing your machine, maybe you should upgrade to a better one. The ideal machine has a pressure rating of at least 15 bars and can brew at 200ºF.
Do not however conclude that the machine is the problem. Remember that it could also be your beans, your grind, and your tamping.
The tips mentioned are for making good espresso and not lattes. Milk and flavoring mask the quality of espresso and you might be able to get away with average espresso.
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