You've probably seen headlines such as The Importance of Coffee Crema for the Perfect Espresso or heard that espresso crema is the key to a good cup of espresso. But what exactly is crema, and is it so important? Unfortunately, there's a bit of misinformation out there about crema. Let's clear things up.
What is Coffee Crema?
You might have been wondering what was the name of that espresso foam. Well, that thin layer on top of the espresso is called crema. Crema is emulsified coffee oils with CO2 gas.
It happens when the hot water interacts with the coffee puck and emulsifies the oils. As the coffee leaves the portafilter basket, the change in pressure allows the CO2 to expand and creates tiny bubbles of espresso foam.
Is Crema That Important?
While many coffee enthusiasts swear by the importance of crema in making a great espresso, it's not the only factor at play. Other elements, such as using high-quality coffee beans, getting the grind right, using the right water, and nailing the brewing method, all contribute to the overall quality and taste of the coffee.
Factors That Affect Crema
As it turns out, crema is not nearly as important as people make it out to be. Several other factors contribute to a good cup of espresso like the quality of the beans, the grind, the water, and the brewing method all play a role in making a great cup of espresso.
The other factor is the gas present in the coffee while brewing. When the coffee beans are in the roaster, it forms carbon dioxide gas as it bakes. The more the coffee is baked, the more gas will be present in the beans. The coffee will naturally degas over time and produce less crema so freshly roasted coffees produce more crema.
Having crema is not an indication of good coffee - it's just that the beans are fresh or more roasted. If there's no crema, that doesn't mean your coffee is bad - it just means that it's a lighter roast or a bit older.
What Is the Perfect Crema?
In some way, I would argue that the perfect crema is none. Some coffee experts even go as far as removing it from their espresso. Crema is usually bitter and can overpower other flavors. You can try it on your own, either by mixing it into your espresso or by simply removing it. Just skim the top off that espresso!
What is a Good Espresso?
If crema isn't the deciding factor, how can you tell if your shot of espresso is good? A good espresso is a highly personal thing and the same coffee can taste quite different with different recipes. I have made a guide to espresso if you want to try different ways of making it. If you are feeling adventurous and want to try out new coffees, check out our coffee subsciption!
In conclusion, don't judge an espresso by its crema—crema is more of a myth than anything else. To ensure you're getting a good cup of espresso, pay attention to the aroma, and flavor of the coffee. If all those factors are in line, you're in for a treat!