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All About Espresso: Part 1

Greetings coffee fans!

This week kicks off a set of educational posts about a subject very near and dear to any barista's heart: Espresso! We'll be covering what makes espresso different, why some roasts are better for espresso than others, how to brew it, and a whole lot more in this series. So let's get started!

The Basics

So what is espresso? Espresso is a coffee brewing method that creates concentrated shots instead of a mug of drip or press brew. Espresso is brewed by quickly pushing water through fine ground coffee using specialized equipment like espresso machines and portafilters. This is in contrast to drip brewed coffee, where water simply follows gravity through a filter at its own pace. It differs from press brewed coffee because in that case coffee is extracted through slower immersion in the water.

So why do people love espresso so much? For one, it's got concentrated caffeine that can be consumed quicker and easier than coffee, but that's just a perk. The biggest difference in espresso is flavor. Espresso tends to have dark, chocolatey, sweet notes that are stronger than drip brewed coffee. This also makes espresso the perfect pair for milk based coffee drinks like lattes and cappuccinos. For a lot of coffee drinkers, espresso is the only way to go!

The Roasts With the Most

The first step in brewing espresso, like with any kind of coffee, is picking a roast. While you can brew any coffee as an espresso, the easiest to work with are darker blends. Medium-light blends and single origins can create delicious espresso as well, but because of the brew method, you're going to get a roast's darker, sweeter notes, so more delicate floral roasts may not work as well.

To really get you started easily, many roasters offer blends specifically designed for espresso, such as Intelligentsia's Black Cat or Olympia's Sweetheart.

What's Next?

Once you've selected a roast, you'll need to grind and prepare your espresso for brewing, then the magic happens. We'll get into those topics next week, but we want to give you an idea of what you might need (aside from coffee) to get started with espresso.

For one, you'll need a machine. There are a lot of factors that go into selecting an espresso machine, so be prepared for some homework. We'll talk more about different espresso machines in the future, so stay tuned!

You'll also need a good grinder. It's important to get a grinder that is recommended for espresso, as it requires a much finer grind than drip or press brewing. Check out our feature on grinders here for loads of info on grinders.

Finally, you'll need odds and ends like a tamper, knock box, tamping mat, and portafilter. Some of these items will come with your espresso machine, and some are optional. We'll get into what each piece of gear does as we dive deeper into the brewing process in the coming weeks.

Hopefully you're as excited as we are about diving into more espresso!

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