Ah, espresso. The quintessential, intense coffee. Since you’re here, I’m sure you’ve wondered: “how do you drink espresso?” Is there a right way to do it? Espresso is classic Italian coffee, so there must be a classic Italian way of drinking espresso, too! Enjoying an espresso to the fullest is two parts: enjoying the drink, and drinking in the culture.
Use the correct cup
So before we get to actually drinking espresso, did you know there is a proper kind of cup to drink out of? Proper espresso cups are called demitasse cups. You may be thinking “wait, demitasse sounds more French than Italian!”
And you’d be right – demitasse is indeed a French word, meaning half-cup. How an Italian drink managed to get served from a French cup, only the coffee beans know!
Traditionally, any white china cup of about 50-100ml will suffice, according to the Italian National Espresso Institute.
Note: We’re not kidding, there really is an institute dedicated to espresso.
Warm up the cup a little by either popping it in the microwave for 10 seconds or pouring hot water into it and emptying it out. Then pull your shot using your favorite espresso machine and espresso beans.
Take a sip of seltzer
Before drinking espresso, you may want to take a sip of sparkling water or seltzer.
This is to cleanse your palate of any lingering flavors, so you can better taste the subtle flavors in the coffee. It’s also said that seltzer water is slightly acidic(carbon dioxide and water makes carbonic acid), so it will balance with the acidity of the coffee, enabling you to taste the other flavors.
Enjoy your espresso
No matter which way you decide to drink your espresso, one thing is for sure: you need to enjoy it!
Espresso is all about intense coffee – so take in all of the intensity and flavors. Swish the coffee around in your mouth, run your tongue all over your teeth after you sip. Enjoy the flavors, aromas, and texture of the espresso. See what flavors the bean has hidden in it which the espresso masterfully brings out.
You can expect espresso to be slightly bitter, but it’s more intense than actually bitter. You’ll taste some bitterness, some acidity, and depending on the kind of coffee, some fruity and citrus notes as well. Some beans even have flavors similar to dark chocolate!
Personally, I like to drink espresso with the crema, especially when I just started drinking straight shots. Crema is the foam that forms on top of the espresso. The best looking espresso shots often have a nice thick layer of the stuff on top.
Sipping with the crema helps to mitigate the intensity of the espresso with a bit of creaminess. In a couple of sips, the crema will have dissipated, so you can still enjoy the rest of your shot without it.
If you’re wondering how it forms, it’s actually the result of all the CO2 escaping from the beans upon contact with hot water. More crema usually means a fresher bean.
Some people also like to either stir in the crema, or remove it with a spoon, citing that the foamy crema looks good, but does not do anything for the flavor. Stirring, on the other hand, will help distribute the flavors of the espresso shot more evenly, too.
Sipping vs downing
Should you chug an espresso like a shot, or sip it? Why not both?
An espresso shot has three parts: the crema, the body, and the finish. If you drink your espresso in three sips, you should be able to taste each part individually and enjoy the flavors.
You can also take a couple of sips to enjoy the flavor, then down the rest as a shot once it has cooled!
Traditionally, espresso is consumed in three sips. Remember to really enjoy and feel the flavors in your mouth as you take each sip. Hiding behind the strength of espresso is a medley of flavors you must experience!
You may find the shot of espresso quite overwhelming, so some cafes do serve espresso with a sugar cube you can add to sweeten the drink a little.
Personally, I am against adding sugar, but if you need to add a little to be able to enjoy it, go for it. It’s all about enjoying coffee, and if sticking to a tradition is getting in the way of you enjoying the coffee, enjoying is more important!
Note: You may find that your methods for enjoying coffee are a bit out of place if you order an espresso in Italy!
Finally, the last thing you can add to espresso is milk. There are three main types of espresso-based drinks:
A macchiato is the closest to an actual espresso, as it is just a shot of espresso marked with a tiny dollop of foamed milk. The foamed milk is mostly air, so it’s quite dry, and the drink is quite enjoyable overall.
A cappuccino has a little more milk, and is the perfect sweet spot between the strength of an espresso and the richness of milk. If you’re going to have milky coffee, cappuccino should tick all of your boxes.
Lattes are more milk than coffee, but they still taste really good if made with a proper shot of espresso.
Making a good espresso
The most important factor in how to drink an espresso is definitely how the espresso was made. First off, don’t get your espresso from big coffee chains. They don’t always use good coffee beans, and their beverages are geared more towards general consumers rather than coffee enthusiasts.
To drink a real espresso, head over to a new wave coffee shop. As them what kind of beans they’re using, when the beans were roasted, and what flavor notes to expect. They can help you craft the ideal espresso shot suited to your palate.
If you’re brewing at home, I can’t stress enough how important it is to use freshly roasted beans(10-14 days from roasting is fine). Grind the beans just before you brew. The aromas you’ll experience just as you grind will be part of the drinking experience.
The resulting cup will be delightfully flavorful and rich, and once you start enjoying espresso, you may find that other types of coffee taste like water!