10 espresso myths

Let’s take a look at some commonly held myths about espresso and put some facts out there.

1. What is the crema, and why is it so obsessed over?

Crema is the lighter cascading portion of an espresso shot, that slowly dissipates the longer the shot sits.

Crema is responsible for a ton of the espresso shot’s flavor, and is relied upon by those who make latte art. While striving to pull shots with perfect crema, there are a ton of variables that one should try to account for, such as the roast of the beans, how fresh they are, the kind of beans being used, and also the machine itself.

The beans being used play the largest role in crema, as the crema is a direct indicator of the natural fats and oils found within. The fresher the beans, the more crema will be produced, as the amount of CO2 within them is higher, meaning more will be released while brewing.

2. Is Espresso bad for you?

This is more on a case by case basis. Espresso, being coffee, is shown to help make people more alert, increase cognitive function, as well as prevent diseases, thanks to the plethora of amino acids found inside.

The caffeine and amino acids greatly benefit the drinker, especially if consumed on a regular basis. Though, espresso can also be bad for certain people, especially those sensitive to caffeine, as well as the natural oils found in coffee beans.

Because espresso is brewed through a portafilter, as opposed to a paper filter, just about all of the natural oils and fats end up in the cup, which can be bad for those with cholesterol issues. Despite that, espresso poses no real threat, unless a lot of it is consumed in one sitting.

3. Does an espresso machine that outputs 19 bars of pressure perform better than one that outputs 9?

Not really. First, bars refer to the amount of pressure that water is pushed through the portafilter with.

One bar is equivalent to the natural atmospheric pressure at sea level on Earth, so 9 bars of pressure is 9 times that. With 9 bars being set as the industry standard, any more is not really needed.

Though, a machine that can output such high pressure levels can help someone, especially a beginner, pull better shots, but only if the pressure being outputted is consistent.

4. You should only use arabica coffee beans for every brewing method, especially espresso.

While it is a matter of personal preference, robusta, as well as arabica, beans can be used for espresso, and yield great results.

In the United States, having a blend composed of 100% arabica beans is extremely common, as arabica beans are known to be of higher quality. Though, in some European nations, as well as others, a blend that contains up to 30% robusta beans is oftentimes used.

This is because robusta beans are known to not only add more caffeine to the espresso shots, but also because these beans help provide a very stable crema; adding to the flavor.

5. How much caffeine do espresso shots really have?

A large misconception is that espresso shots have a ton of caffeine, and should be consumed carefully. While the amount of caffeine an a single espresso shot depends on the beans being used, and the amount of coffee grounds in the portafilter, a single shot contains about 75 mg of caffeine, and a doubleshot contains about 150 mg. To put this in perspective, a standard sized chocolate bar contains 70 mg of caffeine.

6. Espresso based drinks have more caffeine than brewed coffee.

This plays more into the size of the cup, and amount of espresso present. When comparing 20 ounces of espresso to 20 ounces of brewed coffee, the espresso will win by a long shot, as it is more concentrated.

But, seeing how most espresso based drinks are made using two 1 ounce shots of espresso, that beverage would only contain 150 mg, compared to a 20 ounce size of brewed coffee containing in the range of 230. Purchasing brewed coffee, depending on the size, is a better way to get more bang for your buck.

7. Thermoblock espresso machines are better than those with a double broiler setup.

This plays more into the company manufacturing the machines than the idea itself. Both a thermoblock and double broiler setup allow the user to steam milk and pull espresso simultaneously, but the thermoblock will be a bit quicker about it. A thermoblock heats water rapidly once it is up to temperature, which can take only a few moments, so the whole process of making a latte can be a bit quicker.

8. An espresso machine is not needed to pull espresso shots.

This is completely false. This idea gets tossed around a lot when people try to make lattes at home without an espresso machine, and will oftentimes just brew really strong coffee and microwave milk in attempts to achieve a similar result. A pump or rotary driven espresso machine are the best, and some of the only ways, to pull espresso shots.

This is because their internals allow the machines to output 9+ bars of atmospheric pressure through the portafilter, which in turn brews the espresso that millions love and adore.

The machines found at supermarkets, especially if rather inexpensive, are not capable of outputting such high amounts of pressure, and generally use steam pressure to push steam through the portafilter, successfully burning the coffee grounds. Not even an AeroPress is able to brew espresso, and the same goes for stove-top machines, like the Moka Pot, as there is nowhere near the proper amount of pressure inside either of the two. An espresso machine is needed to pull proper espresso.

9. Decaf espresso doesn’t have any caffeine.

Despite popular belief, decaffeinated beans used for brewing espresso do have a small amount of caffeine. A single decaf espresso shot will contain around 3-4mg of caffeine, but when compared to the 75 or so milligrams found in a regular espresso shot, the difference is quite noticeable, especially for someone sensitive to caffeine.

10. You need an expensive espresso machine to pull quality espresso shots.

While expensiveness can be subjective, there is no need to take out a loan to buy an espresso machine. For the most part, as long as the machine is able to consistently output 9 bars of pressure, that’s all you really need. Anything else, such as a light up display and many others, are just extras.