Espresso epicure: Understanding the coffee house lifeblood

There is only one perfect espresso-based beverage: two shots of Ethiopian Sun-Dried Espresso tamped and layered with two teaspoons of raw sugar, infused with three ounces of fresh aerated milk, and finished with a 12 inch of caramel-laced foam. Sorry, Starbuckians—those automatic machines are incapable of making this drink—you must manually tamp the portafilter for this one.

This may not be your ideal cup, but until you put a few miles on the odometer of an espresso machine, it’s difficult to determine which drink is your favourite. For those of us who lack the time or patience to discover our perfect beverage, the first step is to grasp the fundamentals of espresso; from there, the rest is simple.

The most critical component of an espresso shot is the crema—that lovely rim of golden sunshine at the top of the shot glass. This is the place where the magic occurs. If you’ve ever ordered the same drink and had it taste five different ways, a lack of or underdeveloped crema is almost certainly to blame. Finding an exceptional barista is a challenge in and of itself—and it is for this reason that I reserve ordering my perfect cup of coffee for when I am confident in my barista’s abilities—so when you do find one, tip them well!

My go-to barista is Jaxsen Layton of Salt Lake Roasting Co. He understands what it takes to pour excellent espresso: “For a good espresso shot, it’s critical to get every detail right, from the coarseness/fineness of the grind to the amount of pressure applied when tamping and the water-to-coffee ratio.” Once those are perfect, the final thing I look for is an even crema throughout the shot. This is my indicator of the espresso shot’s quality.”

Once you’ve identified a go-to barista like Layton, you’re faced with a choice. Do you prefer the traditional roasty mc-roasted beans that corporate giants have conditioned us to accept, or do you prefer a blonde roast? If you prefer your coffee sweet and creamy, opt for a darker roast; if you prefer your coffee black, opt for a lighter roast. Knowing your preferred roaster changes everything, so order a demitasse the next time you visit your favourite roaster.

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