It takes 55 perfectly roasted coffee beans to make a great cup of espresso, but there's much more to the process than the beans. Dr. Ernesto Illy, of the premium-coffee company Illycaffe, explains how espresso is made and dispels some misconceptions about the increasingly popular little cup of coffee.
Espresso is different from traditional American coffee in that it is brewed under pressure for a very short time (25 to 30 seconds) and at a lower temperature (below boiling), yielding a sweeter, less bitter beverage.
The ideal brew comes from a combination of elements: seven grams of high-quality coffee blend -- only fresh, properly roasted arabica beans; a perfect grind (fine); a clean and efficient machine; proper tamping of the ground coffee; the correct extraction time; and the right volume in the cup. The serving size, one to one-and-a-half ounces, is so small in order to create the proper proportion of flavor and aroma.
The tiny cup is also designed to hold the crema, or foam, which essentially traps the aroma. The result is a rich and flavorful coffee with no unpleasant bitterness that has a "tiger-striped" crema -- with light and dark, reddish-brown stripes -- across the entire surface. If you prefer milk in your coffee, the recipe for a great cappuccino is one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third froth. Use very cold milk for the best froth.
In response to some common misconceptions about espresso, Dr. Illy assures that espresso does not, in fact, have more caffeine than regular coffee; indeed espresso is not a roast or a bean but rather a method of preparing coffee. He also reveals that the freezer is not the best place to store your coffee. If you're concerned about your beans getting stale, buy them in smaller quantities and from unopened bins, and don't grind the beans until you're ready to use them.