The judge of a good coffee machine, or why people make such a fuss about the crema…

Crema is not an Italian way of saying creamy, when it comes to coffee and coffee machines. Creamy conjures up white, frothy, clean, fluffy. That’s not how anyone would describe the crema of an espresso.

I was filling in some time between meetings in one of Melbourne’s better know coffee hangouts last week, when I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on an interesting conversation, as far as conversations for coffee lovers go. There were two people involved, one slightly more smug than the other. Both were insisting the other party come over to theirs one day for a really good cup of coffee. ‘Why would your coffee machine do a better job than this place’s?’ the arrogant one asked. ‘Because my coffee machine gives good crema.’

Ok, I thought to myself, put it like that if you must. And then I thought about it some more. Once you truly understand the makings of a good cup of espresso, there’s no denying the importance of the crema. Lots of people get crema confused – somehow – with the creamy froth art displayed on top of the coffee. Whilst sloppy forth art could be indicative of bad coffee, there is no real linkage here and you should probably take it up with the café owner. Getting back to the crema. The confusion lies because way too few coffee drinkers are even aware of it, let alone know what it means in terms of their coffee machines.

It was Achilles Gaggia who first discovered crema, when he noticed a layer of foam on the top of his espresso, having used one of the world’s first coffee machines to pull it – made by his truly of course! Once the matter was analysed it became clear that it was certainly much more than froth, which is what many people will have you believe. Crema in fact consists mainly of carbon dioxide that has been extracted from the coffee bean fibres during the brewing process. It has an oily consistency and is a rich camel brown in colour. It is a noticeable bubbly layer that sits easily on top of an espresso. You cannot see it on a latte or cappuccino. And although it has nothing to do with cream, its appearance on an espresso indicates that the coffee machine that poured it is in full working order – the cream of the crop so to speak.

Tasting crema is not such a pleasant experience. They say only true coffee connoisseurs appreciate the taste of crema. I’m not so sure. It is extremely intense, quite bitter and when executed appropriately rich and velvety. Yet no one can deny that it smells much better than it tastes. So leave the tasting to the baristas. Your concern should be only that your coffee machine, whether the one you use at home or your office coffee machine, actually produces it in the first place. Sight of it is enough. If you do not notice it – that’s real cause for concern.

Warning: you are not drinking real espresso and your coffee machine needs repairing or replacing! And remember- you are not looking for cream.

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