How to Start Drinking Espresso (and How to Love It!)
To some, espresso is the epitome of coffee. For others, it just tastes muddy and bitter. It's no secret that espresso is an acquired taste, and if you aren't from Italy, it could be hard to learn to appreciate its bold flavor.
There is a lot to learn when you first enter the world of specialty coffee. There's even more information to digest when it comes to espresso.
Read on to learn everything you need to know to start drinking espresso and (hopefully) how to learn to love it.
How do you start liking espresso?
Espresso is a naturally bitter drink. It has such a strong flavor it is often unpalatable to people who are used to drinking drip coffee. That said, espresso is so popular because good espresso tastes well-rounded, creamy, and bold, with a smooth aftertaste. Many people enjoy espresso as a drink by itself or paired with milk.
There are many exciting flavors to experience in a single shot of espresso, depending on region, processing methods, and roast. Still, it's not the easiest thing to get into if you're not used to picking out these nuanced flavors in a straight shot.
Although it is one of the most popular ways to drink coffee, espresso is an acquired taste. A great way to learn to love espresso is by easing into it.
The best way to ease into drinking espresso for many people, especially those who already like drip coffee, is by pairing it with steamed milk. Most coffee drinks at cafes combine espresso and steamed milk.
If you wish to embark on the journey to enjoying espresso, it is best to pick a specialty coffee or a cafe you love and stick with it. Your local barista will be your best resource throughout all of this. A good barista can provide a wealth of good insight along the way, based on the flavors you already know you like.
Start with Lattes
Lattes contain the most steamed milk out of all the well-known espresso drinks. If you are drinking espresso for the first time, it would be easiest to begin by drinking lattes.
We recommend drinking your lattes with less and less sweetener over time if you like your coffee sweetened. Doing this will help you start to enjoy the natural sweetness of coffee and the milk without it.
Also, feel free to use your favorite milk substitute. We prefer oat milk for its somewhat neutral flavor and fatty texture, similar to regular milk.
Move on to Cappuccinos
Once you have learned to love the creamy, rich taste of lattes, try cappuccinos. Cappuccinos contain slightly less milk than lattes. A good cappuccino strikes a remarkable balance of flavor as the milk enhances the inherent creaminess of the espresso shot.
Try a Macchiato
Once the taste of cappuccinos is acquired, move on to macchiatos.
In the US, traditional macchiatos are often confused with Starbucks' caramel macchiatos which, technically, are lattes with flavor added.
Traditional Italian macchiatos contain equal parts milk and espresso. Trying these will help you to start to appreciate the flavor of the coffee for what it is.
Drink an Espresso Shot
At this point, you should have a good feel for what you can expect an espresso to taste like with minimal milk. It's a great time to try an espresso shot with just a splash of milk or dive in and begin sipping on the bold flavors of straight espresso.
If you made it this far, there's a good chance that you like drinking espresso and are interested in trying more.
How to Drink Espresso
Are you supposed to drink espresso quickly?
How quickly you drink espresso largely depends on what type of espresso drink you are consuming. Lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiatos, for example, are nearly impossible to down in one go. Espresso shots by themselves, however, are another story.
A fresh espresso shot will have a top layer of crema. The crema is paler in color when compared to the rest of the espresso and tastes exceptionally bitter. It is often mistaken for milk foam. An espresso's crema comes from carbon dioxide leaving the coffee grounds combined with the espresso machine's pressure.
After several minutes, the espresso shot will begin to cool off considerably—this change in temperature forces the crema to dissolve, which changes the flavor of the espresso shot.
This change in flavor is hard to detect when serving the espresso shot with steamed milk. Still, it can make plain espresso taste significantly more bitter. Dissolved crema can make an espresso shot taste acrid and unpleasant.
It is best to drink the espresso shot quickly to preserve the integrity of the coffee's flavor. The espresso will not change flavor in a matter of seconds; however, several minutes of sitting at the counter will affect how it tastes.
Do you drink espresso like a shot?
There’s certainly nothing stopping you from downing a shot of espresso the same way that a person would down a shot of alcohol at the bar.
However, by gulping it straight down this way, you will undoubtedly miss the complex flavors inherent in specialty coffee.
To fully appreciate the taste, we suggest taking a few sips and letting it coat your tongue.
For the best experience, whether sipping or gulping, you’ll want to drink your espresso shot down before it cools completely.
Why do you get a glass of water with an espresso?
Espresso is an intense drink. You can think of it as a concentrated or condensed coffee, which can be hard on your taste buds. Sparkling water is a palate cleanser to prepare for this explosion of flavor.
Do you drink water before or after espresso?
Sparkling water is traditionally served and consumed before drinking espresso. Many Italians consume espresso after eating, and the water is a palate cleanser. It helps create a barrier between the various tastes of the patron's last meal and the bold flavors of espresso.
Although many Italians drink water after an espresso shot, it is not traditional, and traditionalists perceive it as bad manners. Water is often consumed after the last sip of espresso to cut the bitter aftertaste and remove coffee breath.
Espresso purists often believe that drinking water after the espresso is an insult to the barista. Espresso has a unique bittersweet aftertaste, but a lousy espresso shot will be overly bitter. When this is the case, many patrons will drink water to dispel the unpleasant flavor.
Most American coffee shops will not care if you drink water after your last sip of espresso. Still, in Italy, it could be interpreted as offensive.
Should you stir espresso?
Stirring espresso is a personal choice based on taste preferences. While many espresso fans drink the coffee without mixing it, there is no right or wrong way to drink espresso.
Espresso is not as homogeneous as regular coffee is. Thicker parts of the espresso shot will fall to the bottom. At the same time, lighter oils combined with the coffee beans' carbon dioxide gas will rise to the top to form the crema layer.
The crema is significantly more bitter than the rest of the espresso shot, making it unpalatable for some people. These people prefer to mix the crema into the sweeter layers of the espresso to create a more rounded flavor.
Others remove the crema altogether to make the espresso shot sweeter. No one of these three methods is correct. Choosing to stir an espresso shot or remove the crema is a personal choice.
Other FAQ’s About Drinking Espresso
Is espresso stronger than coffee?
Espresso is renowned for its strong taste and does indeed taste much more robust than coffee. Espresso's bold flavors help it pack a big punch, but espresso contains less caffeine than coffee does.
Espresso is served in 1–2-ounce glasses, while the smallest coffee is often 8 ounces. Naturally, coffee has more caffeine than espresso does when consumed in such large quantities.
A single espresso shot may not have as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. Still, when consumed in equal amounts, espresso wins both in flavor and caffeine content.
Espresso can add more caffeine to your bloodstream in a shorter amount of time. While the amount of caffeine you are consuming will directly correlate to feelings of alertness, the time you consume caffeine certainly has some effect.
By consuming high amounts of caffeine in a shorter period, the caffeine has a more significant effect on your body. It also reduces the number of acids in your digestive tract.
Why is espresso so small?
Espresso shots come from pressing finely ground coffee into a portafilter and using near-boiling, highly pressurized water to extract flavor.
Espresso is made with small quantities of water to facilitate a bold and robust flavor.
If the espresso brewing process used more water, the flavor of the coffee would not be as impactful.
In terms of flavor and caffeine content, a condensed coffee results from using a small amount of water relative to the weight of ground beans.
So, What is the best way to enjoy espresso?
While there is no consensus on whether it is proper to stir espresso, specific techniques make drinking espresso more enjoyable. These techniques allow you to taste the complete flavor profile of the espresso mindfully.
Espresso is most likely to be enjoyed when made to order.
If it has been sitting on the counter for too long, the espresso shot will taste much different. A good espresso shot will typically have a crema layer on top unless you specifically ask the barista to remove it.
Most specialty coffee shops will provide a glass of sparkling water for you to have before drinking your espresso shot. Drink this first to cleanse your palate of any undesired flavors that interact with the coffee you are about to consume.
Before drinking an espresso shot, hold your nose close to the glass and take a deep breath. The taste sensation is directly related to our sense of smell, so getting a good whiff of the espresso's aroma will help you identify its flavors.
When you are ready to drink the espresso, slurping it will allow the liquid to coat your tongue thoroughly. Although it is rude to slurp in many cultures, it is acceptable to slurp both espresso and coffee.
From there, let the flavors linger a bit, and try to identify what you are tasting. One of the most fun aspects of drinking espresso is understanding and describing what you are tasting. The more you do this, the better you will get at it.
From there, try different coffees from different roasters or regions, or stick to the ones that you have already grown to love. The choice is yours.
Espresso is a delicious combination of bittersweet flavors and bold taste. Still, it can take some time to appreciate. It is a staple of Italian culture that has formed countless traditions worldwide and created many of the flavors we enjoy today.
We don't expect you to become an espresso connoisseur overnight. However, we hope the tips and newfound knowledge provided here can help get you started!