Use knowledge, skills, and tools to find your new, unique taste
By Melissa Dixon, La Marzocco Home Educator
Illustrations by Chriska North Street
Until the last half of the 20th century, creating cafe-quality espresso at home was an incredibly difficult task for the home barista. Now, with access to smaller, top performing espresso equipment and a plethora of education, advances in home espresso are moving quicker than ever.
Having an espresso machine in this elevated category can challenge us as coffee enthusiasts to somehow match our barista skills to the machine’s ability. A previously inaccessible craft is now at our fingertips. Now what? Having the power to brew espresso to our own standards can cause serious feelings of uncertainty. Where do we begin? How do we know what’s “good?”
Feeling overwhelmed is nothing new, but can be avoided by focusing on this simple fact: making espresso is meant to be fun. Settling into this idea takes the pressure off, and can allow understanding to build more naturally and our capabilities to flourish.
This is a journey, so let’s build into our expertise with style!
The Espresso Tasting Journey
To meet this “skills challenge” in a playful way, we’ll start by tasting some classic espresso styles. Let’s call it an Espresso Tasting Journey. This Espresso Tasting Journey will not only help develop the palate, but will also open our minds to a diversity of recipes—the perfect excuse to consume extra coffee!
Before we begin, let’s clarify the essentials needed to control the taste of espresso. There are four main variables that will affect the way espresso tastes:
brew ratio, grind size (time), temperature, and pressure
Of these four, adjusting the brew ratio typically sets the “style” of the espresso—and so, it’s a great variable to start with. “Brew ratio” refers to the ratio of water to coffee being used in an espresso.
Choosing a brew ratio before brewing gives us a tangible, numerical target to hit. With that said, let’s talk more about style…
Timeless Espresso Styles
Here is a collection of our favorite timeless espresso styles, based on brew ratio. Any of these styles can be brewed in a balanced and delicious fashion; therefore, each one should be given a solid try. We recommend trying each of them on at least once.
The Legendary Ristretto
Ristretto, the smallest brew ratio in the espresso world is brewed anywhere from a 1:1 to a 1:1.5 ratio. This is an espresso with weight to it, concentrated, and with no extra frills. Expect a lingering presence long after it’s been consumed. Cut with silky milk, the classic espresso taste will still shine through. For a busy day on the go, pair this style with a darker roasted bean.
The Contemporary Normale
Normale is a staple in the coffee community. Brewed anywhere from a 1:2 to a 1:3 ratio, consider this one of the most current and popular espresso styles in the industry today. This is an espresso straight out of the fine-tuned specialty coffee scene with clear-ringing notes, and a full body. It can be enjoyed with cream, but also holds its ground without any milk. For a relaxing mid afternoon coffee break, pair this style with a medium to lighter roasted bean.
The Prominent Lungo
Lungo, a more sizable brew ratio in cafe society is brewed anywhere from a 1:3 to a 1:4+ ratio. This cosmic espresso shot has depth, but is light on the tongue. Desirable and easy to drink, leaving a smooth finish in its wake. For a refreshing late-day pick me up, pair this style with a lighter roasted bean.
Alternative Large Brew Ratio Styles
Long style shots that push past the 1:4 ratio are referred to in many different ways around the world, including the Australian Long Black, French Allonge and American Coffee Shot. Discovered by the coffee trendsetters of the world; these are brewed anywhere between a 1:3 all the way up to a 1:15 ratio. They bring to light a playful spin on our traditional espresso ideas. For an exciting weekend experiment, pair this style with any roast and surprise yourself.
Espresso can be enjoyed in many different styles, but usually we settle into the one that catches our taste buds notice. Finding your preferred style will take time. Even when the “aha! moment” is close—so close you can feel it—it can be tough to know which espresso style is standing out as special. The only way to know is to taste. Over and over again. As we try new things our taste preference will evolve, so it’s best we don’t get locked into one style too quickly.
Another way to add to our coffee tasting journey is to try joining a coffee subscription for inspiration. A good subscription will introduce us to coffees we may otherwise never know about. Often the subscriptions include recipes to start with that have already been tested and liked by others. We have one that we’re really proud of: the La Marzocco Home Espresso Subscription. A subscription is a great place to begin, and there are plenty of them out there to pair alongside your home espresso journey.
Let’s not just consume espresso. Let’s use our power, tools, and confidence to find our unique taste and own it.