Espresso is an Art

drink - Saigon/HCMC: May 12, 2016

Making espresso has been equated to “seducing flavours of coffee into your cup”, as one described it, so that we may lose ourselves in this unique nectar from heaven.

It’s 6 a.m., and I’m pouring a blend of Ethiopian, Sumatran, Costa Rican, and Peruvian beans beans into the grinder, pulling a few shots and adjusting the grind to get the ultimate espresso shot. Coarser, then finer, the espresso extracted displaying a fine balance of sweetness, caramel, chocolate and berries. We’re ready to go!

We all have some idea what’s in an espresso, but in case you were wondering let’s take a deeper look.

Fundamentally a pressurized nine atmospheres of water heated to 88-95 degrees celsius shot through a firmly tamped pack of finely ground coffee results in a velvety sensation.

Ritual, precision, consistency, seeking the perfect balance of roast, blend, single origin, grind all go into the quest for the perfect shot. Throw in an additional set of known and unknown variables to keep the barista intrigued.

Depending on who’s doing it, the task of making espresso can be a part-time job or an intensely passionate professional using years of knowledge and experience to produce pure sensory pleasure.

If you’re one of the millions of espresso lovers around the world and are lucky enough to live in a place where a skilled barista uses select, finely processed roasted beans to fulfil his/her passion, life is good.

I can remember the moment, that life-changing event when I began working at a boutique coffee roaster/café in Sydney, when I drank my first REAL espresso…it simply changed my life. The moment the barista ground, tamped and extracted this espresso I thought it was just going to be another coffee. As I drank this 30ml shot of dark brown reddish syrup it glazed my palate exploding with flavours I never knew existed, I knew that I would embark on a life-long quest to recreate and explore this surreal world of espresso.

Since I began my espresso quest 10 years ago I have heard people say, “I like the smell of coffee but not the taste.” I was convinced it was simply because those people never had the pleasure of a correctly perfected extraction of finely processed beans. I would offer these non-believers a ristretto or silky macchiato, and instantly they awoke to a new level of sensory pleasure.

Over a century has passed since the first form of an espresso machine was developed by Angelo Moriondo in 1884 from Turin, Italy and perfected through the use of a heat exchanger and increased bar pressure by Faema in 1961.

Generations have passed and we now have a modern skill set for the seasoned barista, starting in the new millennium with the World Barista Championship where participants prepare four espressos, four cappuccinos and four signature drinks in 15 minutes in front of a panel of four sensory judges, two technical judges and a head judge.

So the next time you happen to find yourself waiting for a coffee and wondering why the barista makes your shot, dumps it and makes it again a few times till it’s just dripping like honey, you know you’re in for a treat.

What makes a good espresso?

A good espresso depends on the four M’s: Machine; Macinazione, the proper grinding of beans – a uniform grind between fine and powdery – which is ideally done moments before brewing the drink; Miscela, the coffee blend and the roast, and Mano, the skilled hand of the barista, because even with the finest beans and the most advanced equipment, the shot depends on the touch and style of the barista. When combined properly, these four M’s yield a drink that is at once bold and elegant, with a light, sweet foam crema floating over the coffee.