The secret to perfect espresso crema

The sweet, nutty aroma of fresh-ground coffee fills the room. With a practiced hand, your barista draws a shot of espresso, and as the rich, dark liquid flows, a creamy layer forms on the coffee’s surface, crowning the cup with a delightful foam.

This is espresso crema—a byproduct of the CO2 which naturally occurs in coffee and is emulsified in the process of brewing espresso. More than simply an aesthetic charm, the presence of rich crema signifies a balance of temperature, pressure, and coffee bean freshness.

But just what is crema in espresso? Does it truly enhance the coffee experience? And how can you achieve cafe-quality crema at home? 

Understanding the role of crema in espresso

What is crema in espresso, exactly? The Italian word for “cream,” this caramel-colored foam is created when air bubbles combine with the soluble oils from finely ground coffee during the brewing process. 

Besides adding visual appeal, what role does espresso crema play in pulling the perfect shot? Quite a few, actually:

● Since crema’s airy bubbles are filled with CO2, it contributes to the effervescence which can help deliver some of espresso’s complex flavors.

● A rich layer of crema also refines an espresso shot’s overall texture and mouthfeel, adding a layer of nuance to the coffee experience.

● Crema’s color and consistency give insight into the freshness of the coffee beans and extraction techniques, with thicker, golden-colored crema generally indicating fresher coffee.

Whatever your preference, one thing is certain: With the right preparation, you’ll be rewarded with a rich, persistent crema that elevates the entire drinking experience.

The science behind the perfect espresso crema

Crema is formed when hot water is pushed through finely ground and tamped coffee with the high pressure of an espresso machine. Understanding this science behind espresso crema can help us reverse-engineer the ideal texture and taste. 

Here are a few key factors that influence crema formation:

● Coffee bean freshness – Freshly roasted beans retain more natural oils and gases essential for a lush crema.

● Grind size – A consistent, fine grind is crucial to ensure even water distribution, leading to the optimal extraction of oils necessary for the frothing process.

● Brew pressure – The best types of espresso machines deliver high levels of pressure and more importantly, regulate that pressure to ensure a precise introduction of agitation - generally around 9 bars, a key aspect of crema formation. 

While crafting the perfect crema is a blend of art and science, the results are well worth it. Espresso crema essentially acts as a preview of a cup’s full palate, capturing much of the espresso’s aromatic compounds and flavors.

Techniques for achieving rich and velvety crema

Beyond using the right coffee beans and brewing equipment, your technique as a home barista can greatly influence your crema quality. To that end, here are a few points to keep in mind during each stage of your brewing process:

● Prepping – Set the stage for your perfect shot by dialing in your espresso machine to fit the grind size, roast level, and other variables of your beans.

● Tamping – Apply a consistent, even pressure when tamping ground coffee in the portafilter. Uneven or loose grounds can lead to poor coffee extraction and weaker crema.

● Pulling – Aim for a balanced extraction of about 25 to 30 seconds. Shots pulled with too much water tend to produce thinner crema layers.

With the right preparation and technique, you’ll achieve that picture-perfect layer of crema with every pull.

Common crema mistakes and how to avoid them

Don’t despair if your crema falls flat. Even with the best equipment and application, mistakes can still happen. Some common issues include:

● Using old or stale coffee beans

● Grinding too coarse or too fine

● Not paying attention to your ratio of coffee to water

To avoid these issues, ensure you’re following espresso best practices. Store your beans properly (in an airtight container away from light), experiment with grind size, and practice with a dedicated tamper.

In addition, properly cleaning and descaling your espresso machine is a necessity. Regular care helps maintain your machine’s precise pressure and temperature stability, allowing crema to survive and thrive.

Craft crema perfection with Breville

What is crema in espresso? In many ways, it’s a barista’s crowning achievement—the culmination of technique, precision, and passion. But creating the ultimate espresso crema isn’t limited to cafes and professional coffee shops. 

Whether you’re a seasoned espresso aficionado or just starting your coffee journey, Breville empowers you with the tools you need to bring cafe-quality results to the comfort of your own kitchen.

The path to perfect crema is paved with patience, practice, and the right appliances. And with a Breville espresso machine, you’ll have everything needed to achieve optimal pressure and temperature, along with ease of maintenance. 

Ensure every cup (and every espresso pull) is as good as the last with Breville.


1. Serious Eats. Should You Skim the Crema off Your Espresso?

2. Bean Ground. How To Make Perfect Espresso Crema? (The 5 Golden Rules!)

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