Making The Perfect Espresso Part II
This is a good time to mention that it is critical to have clean equipment and fresh beans. Make sure your espresso machine is spotless. Any machine that runs water through it picks up deposits and when coffee is in the vicinity oily residues become part of the package. And those oily residues will absolutely ruin your espresso, no matter how carefully you brew it, grind it and serve it. Clean your machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. I have always found that the old standard of running white vinegar through the machine works wonders but if your water is particularly hard you might want to consider using distilled water to prevent build-up problems.
Learn The Lessons For The Perfect Espresso
Unfortunately that lesson can be learned the hard way. My $250 steam driven espresso machine was ruined beyond repair by water that was hard and the deposits were far beyond what vinegar could do. Distilled water would have prevented the loss of a very expensive machine. And don't forget to clean the screen that the espresso runs through with each use. A rancid build up will occur if you do not and the espresso will be very unpleasant. Wipe off the milk steamer wand as well. It only takes a second but leaving the steamed milk residue on the wand is an invitation not only for bad taste but potential food poisoning. Wipe if off with a damp rag or sponge. Regarding the beans, don't save time by buying too far ahead. You are better off buying what you will use in a week. Fresh beans are the key to the best tasting espresso.
The Perfect Espresso Crema
Now for the crema, which is the heart and soul of the espresso. The crema is what forms on the top of the espresso liquid after it is finished brewing. It looks almost like a soft foam, not bubbly or frothy, but gentle and like a cap over the top of the brew. It is varying colors from the outside to the center, going from caramel colored to an offwhite in the center. A perfect crema is the goal of every espresso that you "pull". And here is the key: Do not leave the espresso with the crema exposed to the air while you steam milk, get cups ready or whatever else you may be doing. Oxygen is crema's enemy and will turn the espresso bitter and harsh. Prepare your steamed milk first, have your cups ready so that when you have pulled the espresso, you have done the last step.
The Perfect Espresso Creation
Now that you have the basics of espresso creation, you can begin to experiment and learn on your own. It isn't hard, in fact it is fun. It is a great couple activity with the added benefit of that time to sit together and enjoy your creation. You can show off for company and make a very special beverage to cap off a wonderful evening. Or you can do what I do and when you are alone and want a special treat to allow yourself to just step back from life for a few moments, you can pull yourself an espresso. That moment in time. It is a unique treat that I hope you will try soon.