If you’re a coffee lover, you’ve probably heard about the magical layer of creamy goodness that sits atop a well-brewed espresso shot. It’s called “crema,” and it often signifies a well-brewed cup of espresso. As a fan of quality espresso, I’ve always appreciated this particular aspect of the drink. But what’s the secret behind this divine foamy treasure, and how do you make sure your coffee beans are up to the task of producing it? In this article, we demystify crema and help you discover which coffee beans can give you that perfect crema every time. We also make our recommendations for the best coffee beans for crema.
If you’re more interested in just seeing our top picks, check out our top 3 choices for the best coffee beans for crema.
- The Magic of Crema
- What is Crema?
- The Coffee Bean Connection
- Achieving Crema Nirvana
- A Unique Insight: The Espresso Blend
- Best Coffee for Crema: Final Thoughts
The Magic of Crema
Before we dive into the world of coffee beans, let’s take a moment to understand what crema is all about. Crema is like the icing on the proverbial coffee cake—it’s the creamy, golden layer that floats on top of your espresso. Beyond its aesthetic appeal, crema also adds a delightful depth of flavor and aroma to your coffee.
What is Crema?
So what exactly is Crema and why does it matter?
The term is pronounced as “krem-muh””. From a chemistry perspective, crema is a concoction of tiny bubbles and coffee oils that forms during the espresso-making process or what is also known as extraction. When hot water under pressure meets finely ground coffee beans, magic happens.
Here’s the chemistry behind it: As the hot water pushes through the coffee grounds, it liberates carbon dioxide (CO2) gas locked within the beans. This CO2 mixes with the natural oils found in coffee. This duo—the gas and the oils—creates a frothy emulsion of bubbles. These bubbles assemble on the espresso’s surface, fashioning the golden, velvety crema that we espresso lover adore.
Why does crema matter?
Well, espresso lovers will tell you that it’s the heart and soul of their beloved brew. Beyond its aesthetic charm, crema packs a flavorful punch. It captures the volatile compounds responsible for coffee’s captivating aroma. This means that when you take that first sip, the crema releases a burst of fragrance and flavor, elevating your espresso experience to a whole new level.
Moreover, crema serves as an espresso quality indicator. A thick and rich crema is a telltale sign of a well-brewed shot, signifying that the coffee has been correctly extracted.
But crema isn’t just about taste; it’s about texture too. The creamy consistency adds a luxurious, almost velvety feel to your espresso. It’s like a comfort blanket for your taste buds, making every sip a sensory delight.
What Does Crema Taste Like?
Crema does not have an overpowering flavor. In fact, it’s considered to be very subtle and light. In the same way the “eyes are windows to the soul”, it’s also been said that “the cremas are windows into the soul of the espressos.” Often times a good crema has refined bitter taste to it similar to the foam from a good draft beer.
Depending on just how refined your taste buds are, you might think crema doesn’t have enough flavor to be labeled with a good or bad flavor.
The Coffee Bean Connection
Now, let’s uncover the mystery of how your choice of coffee beans impacts the crema you get. The best coffee beans for crema will be those that maximize a number of characteristics.
1. Type of Coffee Beans
When it comes to crema, the type of coffee beans you use is crucial. There are two main varieties of coffee beans.
Arabica beans are known for their gentle, aromatic flavors and smooth character. They’re the darlings of specialty coffee shops because they excel at producing that velvety crema we all love. They are typically sweeter in profile and offer the nuanced flavor that so many coffee connoisseurs adore. Their low acidity also helps create a well-balanced, enjoyable crema.
Robusta beans, on the other hand, are bold and intense. They boast a higher concentration of natural oils, which translates into a thicker crema. If you prefer a powerful and full-bodied crema, Robusta beans are your go-to choice. Robusta beans are typically more bitter than Arabica and also contain twice as much caffeine.
So which bean should I use?
Ultimately, Arabica produces a more stable crema than Robusta. The reason for this is that Arabica beans contain a higher concentration of lipids. Lipid concentration has a major influence on crema quality, taste, and texture. Arabica beans contain an average of around 15% fat while the lipid content of Robusta is around 10%. Source
2. The Freshness Factor
It goes without saying, but make sure your beans are fresh. And by “fresh” we don’t mean just the roast date. While roast date is obviously a key indicator of freshness, it’s also worth finding out how long the beans were stored before being roasted. A recently roasted bean means little in terms of freshness if those beans were sitting in a storehouse for nearly a year. Some brands will readily share this information while others can be understandably rather tight-lipped about it. Either way, you should ask.
From a chemistry-perspective, fresh roasted beans release oils and gases shortly after roasting. You’ll want to take advantage of this. Extracting freshly-roasted beans will ensure you’re using up all of these precious oils for your crema.
3. The Grind Game
The grind size of your coffee beans is another piece of the crema puzzle. For the best results, go for a fine to medium grind. This consistency helps with proper extraction during brewing, resulting in a rich and luscious crema.
4. Brewing Apparatus
If you’re serious about making an espresso at home, chances are you own an espresso machine. These pieces of equipment can greatly range in price from a couple hundred dollars to the price of a small car. The point is, you’ll want an espresso machine that can produce the appropriate amount of pressure to create a rich, thick layer of crema. If you’re not prepared to spend an arm and a leg on an espresso machine, consider a refurbished espresso machine that can be up discounted up to 50% of the original price.
The pressure created by an espresso machine has a major influence on the quality of crema produced. If there’s not enough pressure, then there won’t be enough particles released in your coffee. This results in under extraction which is likely to also result in weak crema.
How many bars of pressure do I need to produce crema? Good question. It is suggested that you’ll need at least 9 bars of pressure to produce a decent crema.
5. It’s All About the Tamping
Tamping is when you press down on the coffee in the espresso machine’s portafilter using a tool called a tamper. This is done to make sure that the water flows evenly through the coffee. Being that crema is all about chemistry, it’s important the coffee grounds are arranged so that the high pressure water can flow through uniformly.
Achieving Crema Nirvana
Now that you’ve got the basics down, let’s walk through the steps to help you achieve coffee nirvana with the perfect crema:
- Pick Premium Beans: Choose either Arabica or Robusta beans from reputable sources. Your crema journey begins with quality beans.
- Embrace Freshness: Always prioritize freshly roasted beans. Look for that roast date but also look to see how long were the beans stored before being roasted
- Mindful Storage: Keep your beans in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. This preserves their freshness and flavor.
- Grind Smart: Invest in a good burr grinder for that fine to medium grind. Your crema will thank you.
- Brewing Brilliance: Use an espresso machine and brewing method that’s spot-on. Get the water temperature and pressure right for that perfect crema extraction.
- Patience Pays Off: Let your espresso shot flow smoothly. Give your crema the time it needs to form and shine.
A Unique Insight: The Espresso Blend
Now, let’s introduce a unique insight into the crema world—the espresso blend. An espresso blend is a combination of different coffee beans, often including both Arabica and Robusta varieties. These blends are carefully crafted to bring out the best in each bean, resulting in a complex and flavorful crema.
Espresso blends offer a harmonious balance of acidity, body, and crema thickness. They are the secret sauce behind many coffee shops’ signature espresso shots. If you want to take your crema game to the next level, consider experimenting with different espresso blends until you find one that suits your taste buds.
These blends stand in stark contrast to single origin espresso beans which are sourced from the same geographical location and/or farm. Single origin espresso beans produce a more consistent and uniform flavor. However, blends can offer an intentionally unique flavor profile that can’t be reproduced by single origin espresso beans.
Best Coffee for Crema: Final Thoughts
Are you can see, the crema of an espresso is just as important as the brew itself. For the best espresso experience, you’ll want to ensure both the crema and the coffee beans are up to par.
In the delightful journey of chasing the perfect crema, your choice of coffee beans reigns supreme. By selecting high-quality beans, ensuring they’re fresh, and following our simple brewing tips, you’re well on your way to creating espresso shots that are not only visually stunning but also bursting with flavor.
At Best Quality Coffee, we’re passionate about coffee, and we hope this guide helps you achieve crema perfection in every cup.