What is Espresso?
Espresso is very easy to love. Even if you rarely enjoy espresso on its own, chances are that you’ve tasted and enjoyed a cortado, cappuccino, latte, or mocha at some point. Espresso is a crucial ingredient for baristas because it adds intensity and complexity of flavor, without watering down a beverage. It can be a bit more challenging to perfect than other brew methods, but in the right hands it’s transcendent.
What is Espresso?
The first thing to know is that espresso is a brew method, not a type of coffee. Any coffee can be brewed as an espresso, just as any coffee can be brewed as a french press. Our two espresso blends Owl’s Howl and Organic Crown Point, are roasted to perform particularly well in an espresso machine, but would also make a delicious pour over or cold brew, for anyone looking for a balanced coffee with a little more richness and body to it.
Ok, but what does an espresso machine do?
An espresso machine uses pressure (driven by a spring loaded lever or electric pump) to force hot water through finely ground coffee and extract liquid through a fine metal filter. The resulting beverage is a small and concentrated coffee beverage with roughly the same caffeine content as a standard cup of drip coffee.
What's it supposed to taste like?
To us the perfect shot of espresso has a balance of acidity, sweetness, a creamy body and complexity of flavor. We chase this perfection by specifically sourcing incredible coffees and by intentionally roasting to express these characteristics. The barista’s talents and effort takes the coffee across the finish line but thoughtful sourcing and roasting are what makes it a true Sightglass espresso.
The Right Espresso Bean for You
At Sightglass we don't believe in a one size fits all approach to coffee. From our darkest blend Banner Dark to our most delicate and nuanced Single-Origin coffee Ethiopia, Yukro, Agaro, there’s an ideal coffee for everyone, somewhere along this spectrum. The same is true for espresso.
Our Owl’s Howl Blend, which is the house espresso served at all Sightglass Cafes, is an expressive blend that offers a sparkling acidity, tons of juicy fruit notes and enough creamy body to keep it grounded. For those looking for something a little more traditional, our Organic Crown Point Blend is roasted to express chocolate and butterscotch sweetness with a rich velvety body. It’s a great espresso on its own that also pairs beautifully with milk and just about anything else you add to it.
Dose: 18-20g of freshly ground coffee, extra fine.
Yield: 28-32g of brewed espresso
Time: 28-32 second of extraction
Age: 7-14 days from coffee roast date
Temperature: 200-205F water used for brewing.
An easy way to start is to use 19g of coffee and brew 30.5g of espresso in 30 seconds. From here you can adjust up or down to suit your tastes. The formula that we use for this is 1 part espresso to 1.6 parts water. We’ve found that this 1:1.6 brewing ratio gives me great results, but have fun, explore and see what tastes the best to you. That’s half the fun.
Over vs. Under Extraction
Similar to tea, coffee can be over or under extracted. Leave a tea bag in a mug for too little time and it barely tastes of tea at all. Leave the tea bag in the mug for far too long and you can definitely taste the tea, and a few other unpleasant flavors as well.
When we run water through espresso the same thing happens. When too little water passes through the ground espresso, we only get oils, acids and some subtle fruit notes, it’s under extracted. When too much water passes through the ground espresso, we get the full range of oils, acids, fruit expression and sweetness but also bitterness and an unpleasant metallic taste, which is over extraction.
The goal with espresso is to extract the pleasant flavors and to stop extraction before any bitterness or unpleasant notes are pulled from the coffee. Adjusting the espresso grinder is the best way to control extraction in coffee.
In a perfect world espresso would be a slam dunk every single time. Unfortunately, a perfectly balanced shot requires a little work. Presuming that your espresso falls in the recipe above, here are some tips to taking it across the finish line:
"My espresso is too sour"
The coffee is under extracted.
First, try fining the grind slightly (to increase extraction), then try raising the dose (to provide more coffee to pull from). Both are effective.
"My espresso is bitter/burnt/too strong"
The coffee is over extracted.
First, try coarsening the grind slightly (to decrease extraction), then try lowering the dose (to reduce the amount of coffee to pull from). The choice is yours.
Whether or not straight espresso is your goal, we hope that this guide helped smooth the path for you and led to some tastier macchiatos, cappuccino, lattes and mochas in your life. If you love great espresso, one easy way to make sure that you have a steady supply of fresh coffee in your grinder is to sign up for an Owl’s Howl Subscription. Whether you go through a bag a week, one a month or something in between, we’ll make sure you never run out of coffee again.
Grant MacHamer has been in the specialty coffee industry for 11 years, currently serving as Director of Education for Sightglass Coffee. As a barista, educator and storyteller he seeks to improve our daily coffee rituals while sharing the stories of the countless people that make our morning cup of coffee possible.