How to Make Perfect Espresso Crema? (The 5 Golden Rules!)
If you want to learn how to make crema, this article is a good place to start, and a solid foundation for any aspiring 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 you're 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 a vital element to a great tasting shot. Also, don’t forget once mastered you'll also get those much-deserved barista crema bragging rights - who doesn't want those! I do, I DO!
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? If you don’t have any idea by now, then honestly you won’t even know what you are looking for when trying to make a GOOD crema.
An espresso crema is that golden fatty froth that graces the surface of any well-made shot of espresso. It looks great, plus you’ll also get a better aroma, fuller flavor and overall better mouthfeel from your shot of espresso.
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 subtle 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. A good crema should be an even layer of fine bubbles that is ever-so slightly ''elastic, '' and it should hold.
How to Make Crema: The 5 Golden Espresso Crema Rules!
A good espresso crema is made with the fat content found in the coffee combined with the high pressure of an espresso machine that can produce at least 15-bar of water pressure to help to extract the fatty goodness from your coffee beans.
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.
1. Use Only Fresh Beans (DUH!)
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 shot. Beans roasted 24 hours before you grind are going to be the best bet, but obviously getting your hands on coffee beans as fresh as this is hard for most of you reading this.
If you're struggling with getting fresh whole coffee beans, I recommend that you set up a coffee subscription so you can have FRESH coffee delivered to your door.
Next is to check the labels on the beans you're planning to buy and take note of the roast date, this will give you a good indication of just how fresh the beans are, of course, you'll want a recent roast date.
The Fresher the coffee beans are, the better crema you will get, the older the beans are, the more time they have had to oxidize which in-turn will damage the beans. Take a look at this 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.
2. Make Sure to Use the Best Espresso Machine
Having a good espresso machine is an essential component to nailing a good crema. I recommend investing in a pump driven machine that can achieve temperatures as high as 192F-200F and will consistently deliver water pressure to at least 9bar (about 130psi). Sure you can buy espresso machines for under $200, but from my experience, they often cannot hold a suitable temperature or deliver adequate pressure need for crema.
Once you have a good espresso machine makes sure it's well maintained especially around the brew head and portafilter, a dirty machine will struggle to make a good crema!
3. Don’t Forget to Tamp!
Tamping your coffee is another factor that plays a significant 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 (excellent book by the way) also suggests 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 any CRAZY science involved here or a fancy machine that’s going to tell you how much pressure to use; it 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.
If you are still struggling, you can buy a calibrated tamp with a pressure gauge like this one.
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.
4. 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'll 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 can also 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 too. A conical grinder like the Baratza Encore Conical Burr or the Capresso Infinity Burr Grinder are good entry level grinders which are PERFECT for getting the right grind for home espressos.
5. 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 clean 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, after all, espresso is 97-98%! RIGHT.
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