The name espresso is Italian in origin. It was first coined around 1900 and, loosely translated, means a cup of coffee brewed expressly (just) for you. Today, you will often find that people incorrectly pronounce or spell it "expresso." Many think that cappuccino and latte are the same as espresso (they aren't). What makes a true espresso?
Is it the bean that makes a great espresso?
Nope. People have been lead to believe that the type of bean determines whether a brew is espresso or not. This isn't true. Any type of bean can be used to make good espresso.
Is it the blend?
Nope. Although there are blends of beans created just for espresso, the blend doesn't make it espresso. By trying to perfect espresso blends it has led us to this common misunderstanding. Some roasters say that you can only make a good espresso with the right blend.
Is it the roast?
Nope. Some think that espresso must be an extremely dark roast; however the espresso roast varies from region to region. In California, you will see a dark or "French" roast. On the east coast, a light roast is common. And in Northern Italy, a medium roast is normally used. Any roast can be used to make good espresso. It is simply a matter of taste.
Are all espresso machines really espresso machines?
Nope. There are machines out there sold as "espresso machines" that aren't true espresso machines. These machines are usually electric "moka" style machines that use steam pressure to force water through the ground beans. Steam pressure can only produce up to 1.5 BAR or 50 PSI (pounds per square inch) of pressure. A real espresso machine must produce at least 9 BAR or 135 PSI to force the water through the finely ground and compacted ground beans. The steam driven moka machines are often sold in major department stores for $75 or less.
So, what is espresso?
Espresso coffee is a small (1 to 2 oz.) shot of pressure-brewed coffee, using about 1 Tablespoon of finely ground coffee. Brewing takes about 25 to 30 seconds and when done properly, it will feature a layer of rich, dark golden cream, called crema on the surface. This crema is one indictor of a quality espresso. Making a great espresso is truly an art as well as a science.