In honor of our featured cup this month, Hair Bender Espresso Blend, we thought we might address what espresso actually is!
Is it a bean? A blend? A roast? A grind? Nope, nope, nope and nope. Espresso is a method of brewing coffee. More specifically, espresso is a method of extracting flavor under pressure (131 pounds per square inch to be precise!) in a matter of 20-30 seconds.
Espresso is chemically and visually different from coffee. Most coffee is just a homogeneous solution of water with dissolved coffee solids. The espresso brewing method produces a more complex extract, with a richer and more intense flavor profile. And, unlike with drip coffee, it is easy to distinguish three distinct layers when looking at a freshly pulled shot of espresso:
1) A top layer of crema (slightly foamy, caramel color)
2) A middle layer of strong coffee (like drip coffee, but a much higher percentage of dissolved coffee solids)
3) A bottom layer of rich, heavy oils
Part of the magic of espresso and what makes it so delicious, lies in the crema. As you sip espresso, your lips pop tiny bubbles in the crema, releasing aroma right under your nose. These bubbles start escaping within seconds of a shot being poured and that’s why it’s so important to get drinking as soon as your drink is ready! Delicious flavor is dissipating into thin air!
The gas that creates crema bubbles is trapped in the roasted bean during the roasting process. It slowly escapes over time, taking flavor with it. It’s worth noting that the gas escapes exponentially faster once the beans have been ground. This is a particularly important point with espresso, because the espresso grind is much finer than with other brewing methods, and it stales within minutes. At thump, we grind a precise amount for each shot and use those grounds within seconds of being ground. Yes, it really does make a difference. To preserve the flavor of your coffee at home, no matter what brewing method you select, buy and use coffee beans within 10 days of the roast date, and only grind what you will use for each brewing cycle.
So back to the Hair Bender Espresso Blend: This blend of coffee beans could also be brewed as drip coffee, French press or any brewing method of one’s choosing. But the folks at Stumptown go to great lengths to select beans from different growing regions around the world that compliment each other when brewed as espresso. Because coffee comes into full ripeness at different times of the year around the world, Stumptown is continually challenged to source new fresh crop beans that support a consistent flavor profile for their Hair Bender Espresso Blend. The blend of beans changes throughout the year, so Hair Bender’s flavor is dynamic and is also changing ever so slightly to reflect the 5–8 different and changing coffees that make up the blend.
Next time you are in thump, watch the espresso shots as they pour and notice the caramel-colored crema top layer. If larger drinks are your routine, consider just once for the fun of it, a smaller drink such as a traditional cappuccino, a macchiato, or a doppio. Dip the little spoon into the crema and taste it! Feel the syrupy heaviness of the espresso in your mouth. Taste the complex, dynamic and rich flavors on your tongue! After this sensory adventure, you just might not go back to that bigger drink!