How to Make Perfect Espresso Crema?
If you want to learn how to make crema this article will be a good place to start and foundation for any aspiring would be home barista. A good crema is the holy grail of any espresso coffee giving your shot of espresso that craved for ‘Guinness effect’. Let’s be honest, without that creamy tawny colored liquid on top of your espresso your left with nothing more than a black coffee in a small cup and definitely nothing worthy enough to be called an espresso, right?
So we can all agree that for any coffee lover getting the best espresso crema is vital to a great tasting cup and also don’t forget once mastered you’ll also get those much deserved home barista crema bragging rights. Want to learn how to make crema and become the envy of your friends and colleagues? Keep on reading.
What is Espresso Crema?
Before we get ahead of ourselves, what exactly is a crema? Lets be honest, if you don’t have any idea then you won’t even know what you are looking for when trying to make a crema. An espresso crema is that golden fatty froth that graces the surface of any well-made shot of espresso. It looks great and along with a good crema you’ll also get a better aroma, fuller flavor and overall better mouthfeel.
Many new home baristas invest a small fortune on the best espresso machine and then scratch their heads and wonder why they are not getting the perfect crema on each pull. Contrary to popular belief the machine is not always to blame, you can have the best machine in the world but if a few other important factors aren’t set in place before you start you’ll struggle to get any crema at all (more on those factors below).
How to Tell a Good Crema From a Bad Crema?
The best espresso crema consists of tiny carbon dioxide bubbles inside of a film of sugars, oils and fats.
The crema should have dark-brown to hazel-brown foam with tawny reflexes throughout combined with a very fine texture. To tell a good espresso crema from the bad is pretty simple, tilt your espresso cup to roughly a 45 degrees’ angle.
The crema on top should stretch to cover the surface and then re-form as an even layer when the cup is set right. Basically a good crema should be an even layer of fine bubbles that is ever-so slightly ”elastic” and should hold.
How to Make Crema: The Golden Espresso Crema Rules
A good espresso crema is made with the fatty content found in the coffee combined with the high pressure of an espresso machine that is able to produce at least 15-bar of water pressure to help with extracting the fatty goodness from your coffee beans.
Also a mix of Arabica and Robusta coffee beans are going to be the best coffee beans for espresso crema and will give you a far better crema than just using 100% Arabica beans. A few other factors can also affect how to make crema, let’s take a closer look.
✓ Use Only Fresh Beans
Using the freshest coffee beans you can get your hands on is probably one of the number one factors in achieving a good crema on your espresso. Beans roasted 24 hours before you grind them are going to be the best, but obviously getting your hands on coffee beans as fresh as this is difficult for most of you reading this.
The next best thing is to check the labels on the beans your planning to buy and check the roast date, this will give you a good indication on just how fresh the beans are and obviously you want a recent roast date. The Fresher the coffee beans are the better crema you will get the older they are the more time they have had to oxidize which in-turn will damage the beans. Check out my article on tips for buying better coffee beans.
Also only buy whole coffee beans and keep them whole until a few seconds before you are going to use them, don’t pre-grind only grind before you pull your espresso shot.
✓ Make Sure to Use the Best Espresso Machine
Having a good espresso machine is a key component to nailing a good crema, I recommend investing in a pump driven machine that can achieve temperatures as high as 192F-200F and consistently deliver water pressure at least 9bar (about 130psi). Sure you can buy espresso machines for under $200 but from my experience they often cannot hold a good temperature or deliver adequate pressure.
Once you have a good espresso machine it should be well maintained especially around the brew head and portafilter, a dirty machine is going to struggle to make a good crema.
✓ Don’t Forget to Tamp
Tamping your coffee is another factor that plays an important role in achieving the perfect crema. Many coffee geeks (and myself) recommend a 30 lb. tamp on your coffee, the book Espresso Coffee, The Science of Quality (great book by the way) also recommends a heavy tamping of your coffee for the best cup and overall drinking experience.
So how the hell do you know what 30 lbs. of pressure is? There isn’t really any rocket science involved here or a fancy machine that’s going to tell you how much pressure to use, it really boils down to a good old “guesstimate”. Simply take your tamper and portafilter to the bathroom and by using your regular weighing scales push down with your tamp and try and get a good feeling of what 30 lbs. of pressure actually feels like.
Ok great but why 30 lbs., why not 20 lbs. or less? As I’ve mentioned many experts agree this is the best tamp but there are a few other reasons why 30 lbs. is a good starting point. For example, if you use only 20 lbs. or less of pressure the water will find the “path of least resistance” around your coffee grinds instead of fully saturating your grinds, which in-turn will produce a weaker brew due to less extraction. By the way, here is the tamp I use.
✓ Get Your Grind on
The grind of your coffee and the above tamp go-hand-in-hand, get one of these two wrong and your crema could suffer as a result. Getting your grind correct is key to making the best crema, ideally you’ll want to have your grind fine enough that when tamped (remember 30 lbs. pressure) you will deliver roughly a 25 second shot.
If you are struggling with getting this part nailed as a rule of thumb grind your coffee finer if your shots are coming out quicker than the recommended 25 seconds and grind your coffee coarser if they are taking longer than 25 seconds, make sense? This is something you’ll need to experiment with as different variables such as espresso machines and coffee brands play a role.
If you find that you are struggling to get your coffee fine enough with the coffee grinder you have, it means that unfortunately you will have to invest in something with a bit more power and probably more expensive. A conical grinder like the Baratza Encore Conical Burror the Capresso Infinity Burr Grinder are good entry level grinders perfect for getting the right grind for home espressos.
✓ Fresh Water Only
And lastly the water, this might be quite obvious to some but I feel I should still illiterate the need for good fresh filtered water. Please don’t use tap water, if you do all of the above will just be a waste and the chances of getting a good crema will be dramatically reduced. How to make crema relies on all of the above steps and using the freshest cleanest water plays a big role in achieving that, …espresso is 97-98% water after all, right?