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Creative Cappuccino - Espresso Tasting

There are places in the world where you can go into a coffee shop and order an espresso straight up and be fairly-well assured that it will, at the very least, be drinkable. Quite the opposite is true in the United States.

But how would you know if you did get a good shot if you've never had one before? There have been entire books written on the subject, but the ones I have seen are mainly aimed at the professional who needs to test the coffee with a controlled set of parameters. It is very important if you are about to buy a truckload of coffee beans that they be of the quality you expect. But for the individual consumer just looking for a cup of espresso, there are some general guidelines to help in your quest. If nothing else, you will be able to tell the person behind the counter at the coffee shop what the problem was when you spit the tincture of coffee you were just served on the floor.

There are lots of words and phrases that would describe what a really good or great espresso should be. We have heard similar nomenclature when a television sitcom makes fun of wine tasters.  Things like, "It has a rudimentary flatulence that is only overpowered by its inability to masticate its oaky overtones." Ok, so I don't drink wine, but you get the idea. But knowing what to call a taste element is not going to assist you in finding good espresso or knowing one when you do. And, if you think wine is difficult, there are actually more identified taste elements in coffee!

I am not a trained cupper, nor an espresso expert in any form, but I present below some of the methods I use to sample espresso that I have picked up over the years that seem to help.  I offer this guide to help your quest --

  • Visual:
    • Espresso is a delight to behold as it settles into the cup. Unfortunately, few shops specialize in espresso straight so getting a shot in a clear cup so it can be observed is a rare occurrence.
    • The crema should be briefly examined.  It should be dark in color -- more like mahogany and dark oak than maple or pine in color -- and somewhat mottled with very small bubbles showing the gases that have been released during the brew cycle.  It should not have a pair of light-colored spots indicating the pull went too long.  It should be viscous enough to support sugar sprinkled on it and it should last for some time, although you don't want to sit there with a stopwatch because as the crema is lost, so is some of the flaor.
    • But don't get lost in the crema. A shot with thick, gorgeous crema can still taste disgusting.  The lack of crema, light tan or whitish crema, or a very thin layer of crema are indicators of a bad shot, but the presence of crema does not guarantee anything.

Stay tuned every month for tips to determine whether what was served is espresso worth savoring...

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Creative Cappuccino offers coffees, espressos, lattes, ice cream, and more!