You know that feeling when you haven’t quite woken up yet but an overpowering whiff of fresh, hot coffee snaps you back into reality? There’s a good chance that the scent you imagined while reading that line is actually espresso.
Espresso is a deeper, fuller, more concentrated type of coffee than what we typically drink in the United States. The color is a brash black. The taste is a powerful phenomenon. The whole experience is eye-opening. Espresso is made by a special brewing process nicknamed “pulling a shot” because of the smaller quantities in which the beverage is normally served. These small, inviting cups look like mere shots compared to the full-sized cups of coffee most Americans have grown accustomed to.
Espresso vs Coffee As We Know It
There are some key differences between the espresso described above and the plain black coffee you might enjoy from your local diner. This may be a little confusing because espresso is actually a type of coffee. What classifies it as espresso is the preparation method. Here we’ll explain exactly what it is that sets the two apart.
The Brewing Process
There are several ways to brew great coffee and they are all designed to suit specific tastes. When it comes to making espresso, however, the rules tend to be a bit more rigid. Espresso makers typically use heavy air pressure to force extremely hot water through ground coffee beans. Rather than simply allowing the water to meander through the beans to extract flavors and aromas slowly, espresso makers work fast. The ground espresso beans are fine ground, essentially into a special espresso powder, then packed in and pressed tightly. The end result is almost like a miniature cake. Once the espresso is in place, pressurized hot (nearly boiling) water is pushed through swiftly and after about 30 seconds, you’ve got a delicious, velvety espresso shot.
This results in a more potent, aromatic brew. It is stronger than regular coffee, will generally be a bit less acidic, and even tends to have a slightly higher caffeine level. It’s important to remember that enjoying coffee is all about finding what you like, so never forget that there’s always room for experimentation. You can prepare delicious espresso drinks for virtually any occasion and all it takes is a little experimentation to figure out what you like the best.
Other than the brewing process, what else makes espresso different from regular coffee?
What Are Espresso Beans?
One common misconception about espresso is that it is made from a particular type of coffee bean. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, though. Espresso can be made from a variety of coffee beans as long as they are ground to an ultra-fine consistency and put through the intense brewing process described above. The very best espressos are actually blends of different coffee beans whose flavors mesh well to create a bright, unique flavor. That’s how we make our specialty KnockBox Espresso Blend, after all.
So do you need a special type of coffee to make espresso? Not at all. There isn’t a particular espresso roast that makes the beverage what it is. It ultimately does come down to the brewing process. Even though this process is what sets espresso apart from other types of coffee, there are several ways to make delicious, potent espresso at home.
Espresso Machines, Tools, and More
When it comes to preparing your own tasty espresso at home, there are several ways to go about it. A quick web search will turn up thousands of different types of espresso machines, so it can get a little confusing. Here we’ve compiled an overview of the three main types of espresso machines that you’re likely to encounter.
1. Steam-Driven, Stovetop Espresso Makers
If you enjoy making your coffee through the aeropress, french press, or chemex, you’ll love using a stovetop espresso maker. Stovetop espresso makers, commonly called moka pots, are steam-driven compartmentalized devices in which water is heated to a boil in the bottom of a pot so that the steam rises through a separate layer of ground beans to brew espresso.
Moka pots are pretty popular because they’re easy, affordable, and versatile. They don’t take up much room and don’t require anything more than your stovetop. However, these stovetop espresso makers do tend produce lower-quality espresso because the boiling water actually exceeds the normal recommended temperature. Most baristas do try to keep their water somewhere between 195°F and 205°F. This is actually about 15 degrees cooler than water’s boiling point but, in all honesty, most casual coffee drinkers will never notice the difference in espressos made with water at different temperatures. We still recommend giving a stovetop espresso maker a chance because, like we always say, drinking coffee is about finding what you like.
2. Lever Espresso Machines
Lever espresso machines are manual, lever-operated devices with an internal piston that forces heated water through tightly packed ground coffee. These aren’t extremely popular, though, because the pressure that drives the piston must be generated by the hands of the human operator in charge of pulling the lever. This is a traditional, “old-world” method and can be a bit difficult to master. However, once you’ve established your technique and gotten a bit of practice, there’s a good chance that you’ll be making some outstanding espresso shots. Many coffee purists swear by their lever espresso machines because they believe that the espresso they create by hand with such a device is better than anything produced by a steam-operated or electrically-pumped competitor.
Lever espresso machines do have an electrical component. The device contains electric boilers so it must be plugged into the wall. Again, these devices are can be a little tricky but when used correctly there is no denying the finished product.
3. Pump-Driven Espresso Machines
The last type of espresso maker you really need to know is the pump-driven espresso machine. These are probably the most common household espresso machines. They require a wall plug and rely on an electrical pump to create the pressure that separates espresso from other types of coffee. These machines also have an electric water boiler that helps ensure that the brewing process will not be hampered by water outside the desired temperature range.
One interesting thing about pump-driven espresso machines is that most of them do actually come with attached steam wands. While the espresso itself is not brewed using boiling water, some of the water is brought to a boil for the sake of using this wand to steam or froth milk. That means that more sophisticated pump-driven espresso machines will actually have two separate water boiling compartments, but this is not always the case.
You may have noticed that many commercial pump-driven espresso machines come with multiple brewing ports, called groupheads. In such machines, the water’s extraction temperatures can often be set to different temperatures within each grouphead to enable some variance in the final brew.
Because pump-driven espresso machines are so popular, they are usually defined as being one of four categories: semi-automatic espresso machines, fully-automatic espresso machines, super-automatic espresso machines, and ultra-automatic espresso machines. Notice a theme? All pump-driven espresso machines are automatic but there are some key differences between them. Let’s take a deeper look at what makes each of these unique.
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines: Semi-automatic espresso machines will either have a switch or level on the front panel of the device to control the espresso extraction process.
Fully-Automatic Espresso Machines: Fully-automatic espresso machines are similar to semi-automatic devices with the exception of a microprocessor that sets the exact volume for a particular drink rather than relying on the operator’s dexterity. This creates a more consistent experience and takes a bit of the guesswork out of espresso brewing.
Super-Automatic Espresso Machines: Super-automatic espresso machines have all the great features you’ll find with a fully-automatic espresso machine, but they also include a built-in coffee grinder. With these machines, drinks can be made to order with freshly-ground beans that are pressed to the exact specifications that a given drink may call for. Additionally, super-automatic espresso machines also regulate air pressure and water temperature.
Ultra-Automatic Espresso Machines: Ultra-automatic espresso machines are like super-automatic espresso machines on steroids. Containing all the same features and functions, ultra-automatic machines are unique because they also have the ability to froth and steam milk automatically. This machine will do essentially anything you ask short of transforming into a human barista.
The downside to pump-driven espresso machines is that you lose the individuality of your drink the more you standardize and automate its creation. However, that may be exactly what you’re looking for and if that’s the case then we recommend investing in one of these premium espresso machines.
Applying What You’ve Learned
Now that you have a better understanding of what espresso is and how it’s made, isn’t it time to start brewing? Check out different types of espresso drinks and play around until you get a grasp on what you like. Once you get comfortable experimenting, try to make up a few of your own! Remember, it’s all about finding what you like.
The biggest suggestion we can make to any coffee drinker, regardless of what they’re making, is to start every cup with a great bean. At DISTRICT Roasters, we work hand-in-hand with elite coffee farmers on several continents to ensure that we’re sourcing only the very finest coffee beans. Our KnockBox Espresso Blend is no different. We combine fresh, premium beans from our partners in Guatemala, Brazil, and Colombia to create a unique and refreshing espresso that boasts a bright, fruity flavor with a touch of semi-sweet chocolate. Like all of our products, our KnockBox Espresso is guaranteed to satisfy and anything you spend helps us to achieve our mission of eradicating economic, physical, and spiritual poverty through. What do you have to lose?