by Prof. Steve Holzinger
What is your favorite aroma? Is it bread baking, honeysuckle on the warm night air, or do you and I both love the aroma of freshly ground and freshly brewed coffee the best? For me, a meal without coffee is a meal not complete. Of all the possible coffees, the one I enjoy the most is the long lingering flavor of Espresso coffee. Espresso coffee has a long finish, a persistence in the mouth of the flavor of the coffee that perhaps is similar to the long finish of great champagne. Of course, the long finish of Espresso coffee is lots more accessible to us than great champagnes, and can be enjoyed with great frequency, and yet it never seems to tire the palate. Where would you and I be without our morning coffee?
There are many ways to brew coffee, and each produces a different effect. The most common is filter or drip coffee, where boiled water is allowed to seep through the grinds and extract what it will to produce a mild, but pleasing coffee that millions of us enjoy each day. Turkish coffee is very strong, but not aromatic. Finely ground coffee and a little sugar are put into a pot of boiling water. This is boiled and stirred and the froth put in a cup. It is then reboiled and poured into the cup, and allowed to settle. This takes a little getting used to.
Napoletana coffee takes a special little pot, where the filter is filled with a medium ground coffee, and covered with a filtering lid. Then the pot with the water and the lid is put on the fire for the water to boil. Then you take it off and turn it upside down, off the fire, to let the water extract the coffee. The coffee is full flavored and well rounded, but lacks the full body of Expresso. It has the virtue of being inexpensive and easily accessible, and has been the method of choice in Europe for a long time.
The Espresso method of preparing coffee, is to my mind, the ultimate in flavor and aroma. The name, Espresso implies that it is made rapidly, and indeed it is coffee made just to order. It is full flavored, fragrant with a velvety body, long lasting and stimulating and yet capable of being enjoyed in a short interval as well, perfect for a coffee break. It has a certain elegance that I enjoy, and yet I've enjoyed it from a small styrofoam cup from a cart at a shopping mall as a 'pick me up' from the hectic pace of shopping. The caffeine in a cup of Espresso, is just about the same as in a cup of regular coffee, about 60 mg for pure Arabica blends like Illy Caffe, and up to 130 mg for Robusta 1, as compared to 50 to 175 mg in a cup of drip or percolator coffee. Tea contains 25 to 100 mg, and cocoa up to 25 mg, by way of comparison 2. When I began doing my research for this article, I naturally turned to Illy Caffe, the company whose coffee I drink. These are the people who literally have written the book on espresso3. There are four rules for making a perfect espresso, according to the experts at Illy.
To be sure of drinking a good espresso you need a blend made up exclusively of Arabica coffees to provide a harmonious, well balanced taste striking happy compromise between bitterness and acidity as well as imparting rich, fragrant aroma and full body. A further important characteristic is consistent quality batch after batch.
Espresso requires ground coffee varying from extremely fine powder to grains of about 1 millimeter in diameter. You can experiment with an adjustable grinder until you find the perfect setting (to allow an extraction time of between 15 and 20 seconds for home brewing). The dose measures that come with some grinders or a small measure are useful for ascertaining the exact dose of coffee (6 to 7 grams per cup).
To prepare an espresso worthy of the name, machines for home use must be able to heat water up to 90 degrees C (194 degrees F) and to exert pressure equal to 9 atmospheres. Daily cleaning of the filter, filter holder, tubes and rubber seals is also important.
Last, but not least, there is the human factor the coffee-maker's skill. Generally speaking, his or her main function is to follow the other three rules and to tamp down the coffee with just the right turn of hand. 4
If you check the footnote, you will find the address to write to for this free booklet from illy caffe. It has beautiful pictures and recipes for making perfect espresso and desserts using Expresso from international famous restaurants like a Tiramisu from Le Cirque (New York.) The booklet even has three different styles of my favorite dessert, a cup of Cappuccino. I top mine with Gazella Mexican Chocolate, for a rich top note.
I have invited award winning pastry chef Amy Handler of Boston's Amycakes to create some recipes especially for us, using espresso coffee. She has created five espresso desserts just for you, but it takes ten recipes to make them.
2. Coe, Sophie D. And Michael D. The True History of Chocolate, p 33, Than1es and Hudson Ltd. London 1996
3. Illy, Andrea Viiani Rinantonio, Espresso Coffee, The Chemistry of Quality, pg 189 1995 Academic Press, London, San Diego 253 pp.
4. Illy, Francesco My Espresso, illy caffe, New York, 108 E. 16th St., NY NY 10003 booklet 77 pp., color illustrations recipes.
© 1996, Steve K. Holzinger. All rights reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.
Modified August 2007
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