Espresso brewing

Espresso brewing

Espresso is a concentrated beverage brewed by forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water under pressure through finely ground coffee beans. Espresso often has a thicker consistency than coffee brewed by other methods, a higher concentration of suspended and dissolved solids, and crema (foam). As a result of the pressurized brewing process the flavours and chemicals in a typical cup of coffee are very concentrated. Espresso is the base for other drinks, such as a latte, cappuccino, macchiato, mocha, or americano. Espresso has more caffeine per unit volume than most beverages, but the usual serving size is smaller—a typical 60 ml double shot of espresso has 80 to 150 mg of caffeine, rather less than the 95 to 200  mg of a standard 240 ml cup of drip-brewed coffee.

Espresso brewing process

Espresso is made by forcing very hot water under high pressure through finely ground, compacted coffee. Tamping down the coffee promotes the water’s even penetration of the grounds. This process produces an almost syrupy beverage by extracting both solid and dissolved components. It also produces the definitive crema, by emulsifying the oils in the ground coffee into a colloid, which does not occur in other brewing methods. There is no universal standard defining the process of extracting espresso, but there are several published definitions which attempt to place constraints on the amount and type of ground coffee used, the temperature and pressure of the water, and the rate of extraction. Generally, one uses an espresso machine to make espresso. The act of producing a shot of espresso is often termed pulling a shot, originating from lever espresso machines, which require pulling down a handle attached to a spring-loaded piston, forcing hot water through the coffee at high pressure. Today, however, it is more common for the pressure to be generated by an electric pump.

Espresso roast

Espresso is both a coffee beverage and a brewing method. It is not a specific bean, bean blend, or roast level. Any bean or roasting level can be used to produce authentic espresso. For example, in southern Italy, a darker roast is generally preferred; but farther north, the trend moves toward slightly lighter roasts. Outside of Italy a wide range of roasts are popular.

A modern espresso machine

A modern espresso machine

Popularity of Espresso

Espresso has risen in popularity worldwide since the 1980s. Cafés serve many variations by adding syrup, whipped cream, flavour extracts, soy milk, and spices to their drinks.

History of Espresso

A manual espresso machine

A manual espresso machine

Angelo Moriondo’s Italian patent, which was registered in Turin in 1884 (No. 33/256), is notable. Ian Bersten, whose history of coffee brewers is cited below, claims to have been the first to discover Moriondo’s patent. Bersten describes the device as “… almost certainly the first Italian bar machine that controlled the supply of steam and water separately through the coffee” and Moriondo as “… certainly one of the earliest discoverers of the expresso machine, if not the earliest.” Unlike true espresso machines, it was a bulk brewer, and did not brew coffee “expressly” for the individual customer.

Seventeen years later, in 1901, Milanese Luigi Bezzera came up with a number of improvements to the espresso machine. He patented a number of these, the first of which was applied for on the 19th of December 1901. It was titled “Innovations in the machinery to prepare and immediately serve coffee beverage” (Patent No. 153/94, 61707, granted on the 5th of June 1902).

In 1905, the patent was bought by Desiderio Pavoni, who founded the “La Pavoni” company and began to produce the machine industrially (one a day) in a small workshop in Via Parini in Milan.

The popularity of espresso developed in various ways.

In Italy, the rise of espresso consumption was associated with urbanisation, espresso bars providing a place for socialisation. Further, coffee prices were controlled by local authorities, provided the coffee was consumed standing up, encouraging the stand at a bar culture.

In the English-speaking world, espresso became popular, particularly in the form of cappuccino, due to the tradition of drinking coffee with milk and the exotic appeal of the foam; in the United States, this was more often in the form of lattes, particularly with flavoured syrups added. The latte is claimed to have been invented in the 1950s by Italian American Lino Meiorin of Caffe Mediterraneum in Berkeley, California, as a long cappuccino, and was then popularised in Seattle, and then nationally and internationally by Seattle-based Starbucks in the late 1980s and 1990s.

In the United Kingdom, espresso grew in popularity among youth in the 1950s, who felt more welcome in the coffee shops than in public houses (pubs).

Espresso was initially popular, particularly within the Italian diaspora, growing in popularity with tourism to Italy exposing others to espresso, as developed by Eiscafès established by Italians in Germany.

Initially, expatriate Italian espresso bars were downmarket venues, serving the working class Italian diaspora – and thus providing appeal to the alternative subculture / counterculture; this can still be seen in the United States in Italian American neighbourhoods, such as Boston’s North End, New York’s Little Italy, and San Francisco’s North Beach. As specialty coffee developed in the 1980s (following earlier developments in the 1970s and even 1960s), an indigenous artisan coffee culture developed, with espresso instead positioned as an upmarket drink.

Today, coffee culture commentators distinguish large chain, mid-market coffee as Second Wave Coffee, and upmarket, artisan coffee as Third Wave Coffee.

In Northern Europe (particularly Scandinavia) and, to a greater extent, in most of Central Europe, espresso is associated with the new European identity, after the Iron Curtain was demolished. By contrast, in Hungary, espresso is associated with pre-Communist cafe culture.

In the Middle East, espresso is quite popular and becoming more widely available with the openings of Western coffee shop chains. However, the most common type of coffee remains what is popularly called in English Turkish coffee(although it is variously known as Arabian coffee or Greek coffee in various parts of the world) which is also served short like espresso. Turkish coffee is almost the same measure of ground coffee as an espresso, added to water and brought to a boil. It is quite common that ground cardamom is added to the blend of coffee for added flavour.

Café vs. Home Preparation

A distinctive feature of espresso, as opposed to brewed coffee, is espresso’s association with cafés, due both to the specialised equipment and skill required, thus making the enjoyment of espresso a social experience.

Home espresso machines have increased in popularity with the general rise of interest in espresso. Today, a wide range of home espresso equipment can be found in kitchen and appliance stores, online vendors, and department stores. Initially, espresso machines were not available for home use; development of domestic machines began in the 1970s, and remained expensive and bulky, and required skill to operate. In recent years, the invention of convenient counter-top home espresso makers based on coffee pods (like the E.S.E standard) has increased the quantity of espresso consumed at home.

The popularity of home espresso making parallels the increase of home coffee roasting. Some amateurs pursue both home roasting coffee and making espresso.

Etymology and usage of the term

The origin of the term espresso is the subject of considerable debate. Although some Anglo-American dictionaries simply refer to pressed-out, espresso, much like the English word express, conveys the senses of just for you and quickly, which can be related to the method of espresso preparation.

The words express, expres and espresso each have several meanings in English, French and Italian. The first meaning is to do with the idea of “expressing” or squeezing the flavour from the coffee using the pressure of the steam. The second meaning is to do with speed, as in a train. Finally there is the notion of doing something “expressly” for a person … The first Bezzera and Pavoni espresso machines in 1906 took 45 seconds to make a cup of coffee, one at a time, expressly for you.

The spelling espresso is widely considered correct while expresso appears as a less common variant. Italy uses the term espresso, substituting most x letters in Latin root words with s; x is not considered part of the standard Italian alphabet. Italian people commonly refer to it simply as caffè (coffee), espresso being the ordinary coffee to order; in Spain, while café expreso is seen as the more “formal” denomination, café solo (alone, without milk) is the usual way to ask for it when at an espresso bar.

Modern espresso, using hot water under pressure, as pioneered by Gaggia in the 1940s, was originally called crema caffè, in English “cream coffee”, as can be seen on old Gaggia machines, due to the crema. This term is no longer used, though crema caffè and variants (caffè crema, café crema) find occasional use in branding.

While the ‘expresso’ spelling is recognized as mainstream usage in some American dictionaries, its inclusion is controversial, with many outright calling the ‘x’ variant illegitimate. Oxford Dictionaries online states “The spelling expresso is not used in the original Italian and is strictly incorrect, although it is common.”

In Slovakia, espresso is commonly referred to as preso, and is served with milk (either 10%-fat coffee cream packaged in small plastic cups, or milk in a tiny bucket in better cafés) on the side by default. Espresso lungo is also still more common than normale (usually referred to as piccolo), let alone ristretto. This is referred to as presso with milk (preso s mliekom in Slovak, preso s mlékem in Czech). The practice is slowly changing (especially under the influence of specialty coffee shops and international coffee chains).

Shot variables

The main variables in a shot of espresso are the size and length. This terminology is standardised, but the precise sizes and proportions vary substantially.

Cafés generally have a standardized shot (size and length), such as triple ristretto, only varying the number of shots in espresso-based drinks such as lattes, but not changing the extraction – changing between a double and a triple requires changing the filter basket size, while changing between ristretto, normale, and lungo require changing the grind, and cannot easily be accommodated in a busy café, as fine tweaking of the grind is a central aspect to consistent quality espresso-making, which is disrupted by major changes, such as ristretto to lungo.


The size can be a single, double, or triple, which corresponds roughly to approximately 30, 60 or 90ml standard (normale) shot, and use a proportional amount of ground coffee, roughly 7–8, 14–16, and 21–24 grams; correspondingly sized filter baskets are used. The Italian term doppio is often used for a double, with solo and triplo being more rarely used for singles and triples. The single shot is the traditional shot size, being the maximum that could easily be pulled on a lever machine, while the double is the standard shot today.

Single baskets are sharply tapered or stepped down in diameter to provide comparable depth to the double baskets and, therefore, comparable resistance to water pressure. Most double baskets are gently tapered (the Faema model), while others, such as the La Marzocco, have straight sides. Triple baskets are normally straight-sided.

Portafilters will often come with two spouts, usually closely spaced, and a double-size basket – each spout can optionally dispense into a separate cup, yielding two solo-size (but doppio-brewed) shots, or into a single cup (hence the close spacing). True solo shots are rare, with a single shot in a café generally being half of a doppio shot.

In espresso-based drinks, particularly larger milk-based drinks, a drink with three or four shots of espresso will be called a triple or quad, respectively, but this does not mean the shots themselves are triple or quadruple shots. Rather, generally double shots will be used, with one and a half shots used in a triple (split via the two spouts), and two shots used in a quad.


The length of the shot can be ristretto (restricted), normale/standard (normal), or lungo (long): these correspond to a smaller or larger drink with the same amount of ground coffee and same level of extraction. Proportions vary, and the volume (and low density) of crema make volume-based comparisons difficult (precise measurement uses the mass of the drink), but proportions of 1:1, 1:2, and 1:3–4 are common for ristretto, normale, and lungo, corresponding to 30 ml, 60 ml, 90–120 ml for a double shot. Ristretto is the most commonly used of these terms, and double or triple ristrettos are particularly associated with artisanal espresso.

Ristretto, normale, and lungo are not simply the same shot, stopped at different times – this will result in an underextracted shot (if run too short a time) or an overextracted shot (if run too long a time). Rather, the grind is adjusted (finer for ristretto, coarser for lungo) so the target volume is achieved by the time extraction finishes.

A significantly longer shot is the caffè crema, which is longer than a lungo, ranging in size from 120–240 ml, and brewed in the same way, with a coarser grind.

The method of adding hot water produces a milder version of original flavour, while passing more water through the load of ground coffee will add other flavours to the espresso, which might be unpleasant for some people.

Espresso-based drinks

A traditional macchiato as served in Italy

A traditional macchiato as served in Italy

In addition to being served alone, espresso is frequently blended, notably with milk (either steamed (without significant foam), wet foamed (microfoam), or dry foamed) and with hot water. Notable milk-based espresso drinks, in order of size, include:macchiato,cappuccino,flat white, and latte, while espresso and water drinks especially include the Americano and long black. Others include the red eye and latte macchiato. The cortado, piccolo, and galão are made primarily with steamed milk with little or no foam.

In order of size, these may be organised as follows:

  • Traditional macchiato: 35–40 ml, one shot (30 ml) with a small amount of milk (mostly steamed, with slight foam so there is a visible mark)
  • Modern macchiato: 60 ml or 120 ml, one or two shots (30 or 60 ml), with 1:1 milk
  • Cortado: 60 ml, one shot with 1:1 milk, little foam
  • Piccolo: 90 ml, one shot (30 ml) with 1:2 milk, little foam
  • Galão: 120 ml, one shot with 1:3 milk, little foam
  • Flat white: 150 ml, one or two shots (30 or 60 ml), with 1:4 or 2:3 milk
  • Cappuccino: 150–180 ml, one or two shots (30 or 60 ml), with wet foam to create a dome shape.
  • Latte: 240–600 ml, two or more shots (60 ml), with 1:3–1:9 milk

Some common combinations may be organized graphically as follows:

  Mixed with frothed milk Mixed with hot water
Espresso is on top latte macchiato long black
Espresso is on bottom caffè latte caffè americano


Methods of preparation differ between drinks and between baristas. For macchiatos, cappuccino, flat white, and smaller lattes and Americanos, the espresso is brewed into the cup, then the milk or water is poured in. For larger drinks, where a tall glass will not fit under the brew head, the espresso is brewed into a small cup, then poured into the larger cup; for this purpose a demitasse or specialised espresso brew pitcher may be used. This pouring into an existing glass is a defining characteristic of the latte macchiato and classic renditions of the red eye. Alternatively, a glass with existing water may have espresso brewed into it – to preserve the crema – in the long black. Brewing onto milk is not generally done. 


Caffe Shakerato

Caffe Shakerato

For a more comprehensive list, refer to List of Coffee Beverages.

  • Affogato (It. drowned)Espresso served over gelato. Traditionally, vanilla is used, but some coffeehouses or customers use any flavour.
  • Americano (American): Espresso and hot water, classically using equal parts each, with the water added to the espresso. Americano was created by American G.I.s during World War I, who added hot water to dilute the strong taste of the traditional espresso. It is similar to along black, but with opposite order.
  • Bicerin (little glass): Made of layers of espresso, drinking chocolate, and whole milk, invented and served in Turin.
  • Black eye: A cup of drip coffee with two shots of espresso in it (alternatively a red-eye, shot in the dark, or hammerhead).
  • Breve (It. brief): Espresso with half-and-half
  • Bucci: Espresso served in Key West’s Cuban cafes (sugar is always added; but may be added before or after brewing)
  • Caffè crema: It is produced by running 180 ml–240 ml of water when brewing an espresso, primarily by using a coarser grind. It is similar to a Long Black or Americano, but extracts differently and has a different taste profile.
  • Caffè Macchiato (It. stained): A small amount of milk or, sometimes, its foam is spooned onto the espresso, in Italy it further differentiates between caffè macchiato caldo (warm) and caffè macchiato freddo (cold), depending on the temperature of the milk being added; the cold version is gaining in popularity, as some people are not able to stand the rather hot temperature of caffè macchiato caldo, and therefore have to wait one or two minutes before being able to consume this version of the drink. The caffè macchiato is to be differentiated from the latte macchiato (described below). In France, it is known as a noisette.
  • Caffè Medici: A doppio poured over chocolate syrup and orange peel, usually topped with whipped cream, the drink originated at Seattle’s historic Last Exit on Brooklyn coffeehouse.
  • Caffè Tobio: Espresso with an equal amount of American coffee, similar to Americano or long black
  • Cappuccino: Traditionally, one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third microfoamSometimes it is topped upon request with a light dusting of cocoa powder.
  • Carajillo: Espresso with a shot of liquor.
  • Corretto: coffee with a shot of liquor, usually grappa or brandy. Corretto is also the common Italian word for spiked (with liquor).
  • Cortado(Sp./Port. cut): Espresso cut with a small amount of warm milk
  • Cubano(Sp. Cuban): Sugar is added to the collection container before brewing for a sweet flavour, different from that if the sugar is added after brewing. Sugar can also be whipped into a small amount of espresso after brewing and then mixed with the rest of the shot. Sometimes called cafe tinto.
  • Doppio: (It. Double) Double shot of espresso.
  • Espresso con panna(It. espresso with cream): Espresso with whipped cream on top
  • Firenzi: A hot-over-cold layered espresso beverage consisting of a foundation of 60 ml of cold milk or soy (fruit flavours optional) topped with a carefully pulled shot of espresso and served in a small, clear shooter glass.
  • Flat white: a coffee drink made of one-third espresso and two thirds steamed milk with little or no foam, very similar to latte
  • Frappuccino: A type of espresso coffee blended with ice and milk, branded exclusively by Starbucks
  • Guillermo: Originally, one or two shots of hot espresso, poured over slices of lime it can also be served on ice, sometimes with a touch of milk.
  • Ice brewed: Brewed with chips or cubes of ice added to the basket, which results in more volume and creme. Originated on small, inexpensive espresso machines, the technique is useful on other machines to change depth of flavour and other characteristics.
  • Latte(It. milk): This term is an abbreviation of caffellatte (or caffè e latte), coffee and milk. An espresso-based drink with a volume of steamed milk, it is served with either a thin layer of foam or none at all, depending on the shop or customer’s preference.
  • Latte macchiato(It. stained milk): Essentially an inverted cafè latte, with the espresso poured on top of the milk, the latte macchiato is to be differentiated from the caffè macchiato (described above). In Spain, it is known as manchada, Spanish for stained (milk).
  • Long black: Similar to an Americano, but with the order reversed, the espresso is added to hot water.
  • Lungo(It. long): More water (about 1.5x volume) is let through the ground coffee, yielding a weaker taste (40 ml), also known as an allongé in French.
  • Marron(brown): Of Venezuelan etymology, it is an espresso with milk; it varies from marron claro (light brown) with more milk to marron oscuro (dark brown) with less milk.
  • Mocha: Normally a latte blended with chocolate, this is not to be confused with the region of Yemen or the coffee associated with that region (which is often seen as ½ of the blend mocha java).
  • Red eye: A cup of drip coffee with one shot of espresso in it
  • Ristretto(It. restricted) or espresso corto (It. short): With less volume, it yields a stronger, sweeter taste (10–20 mL) (café serré or café court in French).
  • Shot in the Dark: A cup of drip coffee with one shot of espresso in it. aka Canadiano.
  • Solo (It. single): Single shot of espresso
  • Triplo or triple shot: Triple shot of espresso; triplo is rare; triple shot is more common.
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