If you’re a coffee enthusiast or trying to get into the world of coffee, you’ve probably heard of crema once or twice.
But what is coffee crema, exactly?
Well, in technical terms, it’s just carbon dioxide gas that produces a natural foam on top of your espresso after you pull the shot. Coffee enthusiasts usually use this to gauge the freshness of the coffee beans and the quality of the drink.
That said, not a lot of people know what espresso crema actually is and whether or not it matters.
So, in this article, I’ll be talking all about espresso crema. I’ll discuss what it is, how to get it on your espresso, why it’s important, and some of the factors that can affect a drink’s crema.
Read on to learn more.
Table of Contents
What Is Espresso Crema?
If you’ve had an espresso before, you’ve encountered an espresso crema already.
This is the light brown and almost golden foam that sits on top of the coffee when you make it with an espresso machine. This is a result of pressure during the brewing process, which is why you can see espresso crema when making drinks in a Nespresso machine as well.
This foam is actually a collection of a lot of little carbon dioxide bubbles that form on top of the coffee. This happens because coffee beans trap a fair amount of carbon dioxide gas during the roasting process.
Typically pronounced “crem-uh”, many coffee lovers strive to find the perfect crema on their coffee, whether making it at home or ordering it in a cafe.
This is because crema is usually used to gauge the freshness and age of the beans. The longer the beans sit, the more carbon dioxide they release. So, if the coffee is brewed soon after the roasting process, the espresso develops a fuller and more noticeable crema.
Most of the time, baristas aim for around ¼’’ thick crema that disappears after a couple of minutes. It’s important for baristas to find the right balance with their crema as you don’t want the crema to disappear after a few seconds or contain large bubbles.
How Do I Get Crema On My Espresso?
If you’re looking to get a good crema on your espresso, you don’t need much. In fact, all you need is fresh high-quality coffee beans and an espresso machine.
The fresher the beans, the better. Remember, coffee beans lose their carbon dioxide the farther away they are from the roasting data. So, when buying a bag of beans, check the roasting date to ensure that it’s still fresh.
Ideally, you need coffee beans between 1-2 weeks from roasting for the best crema. Anything older than that won’t produce what you’re looking for. And if the bag doesn’t have a roasting date on it, they are likely old beans that you’re better off without.
Additionally, freshly ground coffee produces a rich crema. If you have pre-ground beans, they may have already released their carbon dioxide gas which means they won’t produce a crema.
Lastly, you need a good espresso machine.
A high-quality machine will be able to heat the water to just the right temperature and apply enough pressure to get a nice layer of crema on your espresso. If you find that you aren’t getting a good crema when using your espresso machine, it may not be applying enough pressure on the beans.
What Is the Perfect Crema?
The perfect crema is supposed to balance out the espresso.
This is why you should aim for a crema that’s around ¼’’ thick. Anything thicker or thinner than that won’t be ideal.
Another good sign of the perfect crema is its beautiful golden brown color. It can be hard to achieve this as you need the right combination of beans and a good machine, but you’ll eventually get the hang of it with some practice.
If you did the espresso right, the crema should stay for a couple of minutes and contain many microbubbles on the surface of the coffee. If the crema disappears after a few seconds or there are large bubbles in the crema, you may have done something wrong or your beans may not have been that good.
Factors That Affect Crema
An espresso is a relatively simple drink, so there aren’t too many external factors that can affect the crema.
That said, there are two major things that may affect the crema of your drink which you will need to pay attention to if you want to make the best espresso possible.
The first thing that can impact your espresso’s crema is the beans. As mentioned earlier, the fresher the beans, the better. So, if you can find beans in your local store that are 1-2 weeks away from the roasting date, these are the ones that could get you the best crema.
That said, the specific type of beans you get also determines the amount of crema.
Remember how espresso crema is just carbon dioxide gas that’s been trapped inside the beans?
Well, this gas gets trapped during the roasting process. And the longer the coffee is roasted, the more carbon dioxide in the beans, which means a better crema.
So generally, dark roasts will produce a better crema than light roasts. This doesn’t mean that dark roasts are better, but they’d be one of your best options if you’re looking to develop the best crema on your espresso.
To be safe, you might be better off getting espresso beans. These are beans that were roasted specifically for espressos, so they’ve been roasted just right to get a great crema without compromising flavor.
Additionally, if you want to get the best crema, then you need to grind your own beans. Pre-ground coffee beans lose a lot of carbon dioxide, so for the best crema, it’s best to buy whole beans that you grind as needed.
Baristas looking for full control over their crema need to use manual espresso machines. That way, they can dial in the specific pressure and temperature they need when pulling the shot to get the best crema.
While automatic espresso machines are great, they don’t produce crema consistently. This is because the temperature and pressure on these machines usually stay at the same level, meaning you won’t be able to make adjustments to extract better crema.
What Does the Espresso Crema Taste Like?
Generally, espresso crema is very bitter. In fact, it’s often a bit more bitter than the actual espresso in the cup. It also produces a very smooth and unique mouth feel that contrasts really well with the thick texture of the espresso shot.
Do You Drink Crema on an Espresso?
Most coffee drinkers drink the crema on their espresso. Ideally, the crema should be the first thing to touch your tongue, followed by the espresso. Because of this, it’s best not to mix the espresso and instead drink it as it arrives on your table. That way, you get to taste and feel the crema, immediately followed by the bold flavor of the espresso shot.
Why Is Crema Important in an Espresso
Crema is important because it can indicate the bean quality, the barista’s skill, and whether the barista pulled the shot properly. When baristas use the perfect combination of the right beans, and the right settings on the machine, and make sure everything is in order, they can produce a bold espresso shot with a thin layer of crema on top.
Crema shows that the barista paid close attention to detail when pulling the shot. It adds a new texture and a bit of flavor to the coffee as well. So, crema is a great quality indicator when drinking an espresso shot as something to look out for the next time you’re at a cafe!
How to Make Espresso Crema At Home
Getting a nice crema on your espresso at home is similar to getting proper crema at a cafe. It requires the right beans, good equipment, and close attention to detail.
Sometimes, using espresso beans, ensuring that they’re fresh, and grinding them only as needed before putting them in an automatic espresso machine will be enough to give you a nice crema.
However, there may be times when your machine’s settings aren’t quite right to get the most out of the beans.
This is why it’s great for coffee enthusiasts to invest in a manual or semi-automatic espresso machine. These machines offer more control over your coffee and allow you to make small adjustments to get a decent crema whenever you pull a shot!
When drinking an espresso, there are many things to pay attention to. This includes the different notes when you sip it, the aroma, and the texture. But on top of that, it’s also important to take a look if the espresso has a good crema.
The crema is the thin layer of foam on top of the coffee that offers a nice mouth feel and a certain bitterness that brings the entire drink together. These are made of tiny carbon dioxide bubbles that collect on top of the coffee.
A good espresso shot needs a good crema. Crema indicates that you brewed the coffee with good beans, used the right settings on the machine, and did everything right when pulling a shot.
So, the next time you’re at a cafe or turn on your espresso machine, try and check if your espresso has a good crema. And if it does, that’s a good sign you’re drinking a high-quality espresso!