What is Coffee Crema and Why Does It Form?

No espresso is complete without its frothy crown. But what actually is coffee crema? Get the low-down here!

 

The ‘crema’ on an espresso is the fine layer of frothy foam that sits on top of its dark liquid body. It gives your espresso a striking appearance and has a big impact on flavour.

An ideal crema completes your espresso. It’s the fish to your chips; the Tom to your Jerry!

It’s what makes your espresso so… espresso-y!

 

Espresso shot pouring into a red mug

 

 

What is Coffee Crema?

Espresso is coffee majesty. Strong and syrupy with a brew ratio of 1:2, espresso coffee is the purest coffee you can get.

And we can’t chat espresso without chatting CREMA.

Crema is the dense layer of biscotti-coloured puff that tops a good espresso. In Italian, the name means ‘cream’ because it crowns your little coffee with a creamy head. Not mad on Mr Whippys? More of a beer drinker? Think of it as the head on your pint.

 

Double shot espresso pouring into two coffee mugs

 

Achille Gaggia is, if you like, the ‘father’ of the espresso crema. When he invented his ‘Lampo’ system espresso maker in 1948, he made high-pressure coffee a reality. Baristas now pulled a lever to create a sudden jump in pressure and, voilà, frothy crema is a THING. Thanks, Achille; where would we be without you?

Some see crema as a central part of the espresso experience. Others can’t see why there’s so much fuss. But there’s no denying it, coffee fans… coffee crema deserves our attention!

 

close up of espresso crema in red mug

 

 

Why Does Crema Form?

We know crema exists. But where does it come from?

To answer this question, we need to get gassy.

Carbon dioxide gassy, to be precise. That’s because roasted coffee naturally contains a little carbon dioxide. This comes from the high temperatures of the roaster, which transform raw beans into flavourful, roasted coffee.

Water can dissolve a lot of carbon dioxide when put under pressure. But we can’t keep the high pressures forever: the brewed espresso comes back to normal pressure as it trickles into your cup. The coffee liquid can no longer hold all the gas, so the C02 comes out in the form of tiny bubbles. These bubbles get trapped in the coffee, mix with the soluble oils and emulsify as a frothy foam. And that’s it – your crema!

 

 

why does crema form?

 

 

What is the Ideal Crema?

There’s quite a bit of contention here. Some want a tan-coloured crema; others like it darker. Some say a tad thicker is tastier. Some say no crema at all!

An Ultimate Guide to the Perfect Crema doesn’t exist, but here are some pointers to get you started. Tick these off, and we’re sure you’re crema is cool!

  • A tawny colour that contrasts to the dark liquid
  • Takes up about 1/10 of the drink
  • Not too thick or thin
  • Lots of small bubbles rather than a hodgepodge of different sizes
  • Should stay for around two minutes before dissolving

Here’s a little test you can try…

Tilt your cup. Does the crema stretch to cover the surface of your espresso? Does it re-form when you set the cup back upright? Then you’re holding an ideal crema, my friend!

 

Ideal crema in an espresso glass on a wooden table

 

What Does Crema Tell Us?

Read your future from your tea leaves… and your espresso quality from your crema!

The crema tells us two main things about an espresso

 

Is the Coffee Fresh?

Fresh is best when it comes to coffee. And always best when it comes to espresso. Coffee roasted months ago has lost too much of its gas, so contains less carbon dioxide. This means it’ll produce less foam when it returns to normal air pressure in your cup.

Order from Two Chimps and you’ll always get freshly roasted coffee! That’s a promise.

Why not also check out these tips for keeping coffee fresh at home?

 

Coffee beans in cooling drum of Two Chimps roaster

 

Is the Espresso Strong or Weak?

Those little crema bubbles refract light, did you know? This clever process means that darker roasted coffee produces darker looking cremas.

So stronger, darker coffee = darker-coloured crema.

 

fresh-coffee-beans-uk

 

 

What Does Coffee Crema Taste Like?

We are going to say something in a sec that might blow your mind. Knock your socks off. Leave you flabbergasted.

Crema doesn’t taste that nice. There – you never thought you’d hear us say that a coffee doesn’t taste nice!

BUT… brief but crucial clarification. We’re saying that crema alone isn’t tasty. The flavour depends on the coffee used, of course, but that crema cap tends to taste very bitter and ashy. This is why the best way to drink an espresso is to stir in the crema before taking a sip.

 

Stirring espresso shot in a latte glass

 

As well as lending your espresso a more punchy bitterness, cremas bring a fuller mouthfeel and longer aftertaste (because their foam coats your mouth and tongue).

Fancy a lighter-bodied espresso? Try scraping the crema off the top. Some might say it’s sacrilege, but removing the crema will give you a sweeter-tasting espresso.

 

Is Coffee Crema Important?

Crema looks lovely and adds to flavour, but it’s not make-or-(espresso)-break.

It’s 100 percent possible to make a great-tasting espresso at home without the perfect crema. Equally, you can find lovely cremas topping lousy espressos. Scrummy coffee liquid with a nice crema cap – that’s what we’re after.

Your crema isn’t invincible, however. There are a few things it can’t tell us…

  • Were the raw beans good quality arabica?
  • Was the coffee well-roasted?
  • Was the coffee machine squeaky clean?

 

Espresso machine at Two Chimps Coffee roastery

 

 

 

What Makes an Ideal Crema on Coffee?

Want to make the best coffee crema? The crème de la crème of espresso drinks? Here are some tips to getting the best coffee crema at home:

  • Use a coffee machine! Manual coffee devices like cafetieres just can’t reach the pressure we need for crema concoction. Nope, you need a quality espresso maker that can create at least nine bars of pressure.
  • Use a tamp to apply even pressure and make sure the coffee grounds sit level in the portafilter.
  • Try a coffee processed by the Natural Method. This type of coffee processing leaves more of the bean’s natural oils intact.
  • Darker roasts taste gorgeous and chocolatey, but they don’t always produce the best crema. Medium roasts are your crema companion – they contain just the right amount of oil for top-quality crema creation!
  • Use freshly roasted coffee. Ideally, you want to use it about a week or two after the roast date. This is when the bubble-producing C02 levels are at their peak. Need fresh coffee? Roasted in small batches and delivered First Class? Pop along to our shop and  try Two Chimps!

 

How to get the ideal crema

 

 

 

How to Make Coffee Crema at Home

To get a lovely, aromatic crema at home, you just need to pull a good espresso with your freshly roasted coffee.

Here’s how ‘ya do it!

  1. Turn on the machine and purge (this is when you make an espresso without the portafilter attached to flush away coffee residue).
  2. Add 16-18g of coffee to the portafilter. This will make a double espresso.
  3. Use the tamper to make sure the coffee is level and compact in the portafilter basket.
  4. Place the portafilter in the group head.
  5. Pull the shot! You’ll need to extract for around 18-24 seconds (again, for a double shot).

 

Double shot pouring into a blue coffee mug and a red coffee mug

 

Crema dilemma: Crema Problem Solver

Why does my coffee have no crema?

Maybe your beans weren’t fresh enough? This would mean they had de-gassed too much and contain too little carbon dioxide.

 

Espresso in a glass with a thin crema
Why is my coffee crema too bubbly?

Has your coffee had a few days to de-gas? If it’s still super, super, super fresh, there’s a chance it contains a little too much carbon dioxide. This makes crema bubbly!

 

Espresso shot in a glass with a bubbly crema
Why does my crema dissolve too soon?

Under-extraction can cause a crema to dissolve too soon. Try a finer grind size or slow down the extraction time when you next pull a shot.

 

Under extracted espresso no crema
Why are my crema bubbles dark and uneven?

Over-extraction can cause dark brown, bubbly cremas. Try a coarser grind size or less hot water, or pull the shot for less time.

 

Over-extracted espresso with a dark crema

 

 

 

Need a one-stop guide for making the perfect espresso at home? Find it below!

 

Espresso Guide

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