Italian Espresso

Drinking espresso is deeply ingrained in Italian culture, and learning how to enjoy it like a true Italian not only immerses you in this rich tradition but also elevates your coffee-drinking experience. The art of sipping espresso, from understanding the beverage to embracing the etiquette, offers a glimpse into a key aspect of Italian daily life. In this article, we will explore the nuances of Italian espresso, how it's prepared, and the proper way to relish it for the ultimate enriching experience.

At its core, espresso is a strong, concentrated coffee that requires precision and expertise to brew just right. In Italy, it is not merely a caffeine fix but rather an integral part of the social fabric. From the morning ritual to the afternoon pick-me-up, knowing how to drink espresso like an Italian allows you to fully appreciate this flavorful beverage, connect with the local coffee culture, and perhaps even adopt it as part of your own way of life.

Moreover, it's essential to understand that Italian espresso drinking etiquette extends beyond just the brewing process and the coffee itself. Factors such as timing, setting, and even how the beverage is served contribute to a complete and authentic experience. As you venture into the world of Italian espresso, it's crucial to be open to exploring these aspects, respecting the culture, and evolving your own coffee-drinking habits.

Key Takeaways

  • Drinking espresso is an integral part of Italian culture, reflecting social connection and daily routines.
  • Preparing and consuming espresso encompasses understanding the brewing process, flavors, and etiquette.
  • Embracing the authentic Italian espresso experience involves adapting to local customs while being open to alternative ways of enjoyment.

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Understanding Espresso

History of Espresso

The history of espresso dates back to the late 19th century in Italy. The desire for a quicker coffee-making process led to the invention of the espresso machine, which uses high pressure to force hot water through finely-ground coffee beans. With this method, a concentrated and rich coffee, known as espresso, emerged as a staple in Italian coffee culture.

Defining Espresso

Espresso is a concentrated coffee beverage brewed by forcing a small amount of near-boiling water through finely-ground coffee beans under high pressure. It is characterized by its strong flavor, thicker consistency, and a layer of foam called crema on top. An espresso shot typically contains more caffeine per unit volume than regular drip coffee, making it the preferred choice for those seeking a quick and potent caffeine boost.

Espresso Versus Other Coffees

Espresso sets itself apart from other types of coffee due to its brewing method and distinctive taste:

  • Espresso: As mentioned before, espresso is brewed using high pressure and near-boiling water, resulting in a concentrated, robust flavor profile. This method also extracts the fine oils and compounds responsible for the coffee's distinct aroma and nuanced taste.

  • Drip Coffee: Drip coffee uses gravity to pass hot water through coffee grounds, resulting in a less concentrated, often milder-tasting coffee compared to espresso. Unlike espresso, drip coffee is usually brewed in larger quantities and consumed over a longer period, as it has less caffeine per unit volume.

  • French Press: French press coffee is an immersion brewing method in which coffee grounds are steeped in hot water before being separated using a mesh filter. This method typically produces a more robust and full-bodied coffee than drip but lacks the concentrated intensity of espresso.

When comparing espresso to other types of coffee, factors like brewing methods, flavor profile, and caffeine content make the difference. In Italy, espresso is deeply ingrained in everyday life, often enjoyed in small cups while standing in the cozy ambiance of a local coffee shop. By understanding the nuances of espresso and the history behind it, you too can embrace its true essence and enjoy it like an Italian.

The Italian Espresso Machine

Choosing the Right Machine

When it comes to enjoying a perfect espresso like an Italian, choosing the right espresso machine is crucial. Ideally, you should focus on a machine that utilizes high pressure, reaching at least 9 bars, as it will extract the full flavor and aroma from the coffee beans. There are several renowned Italian coffee machine brands on the market, such as Gaggia, Rancilio, and De'Longhi, known for their quality and authenticity.

To make an informed decision, consider these factors:

  • Size: Decide whether you need a compact machine for a small kitchen or a more extensive, professional model for a coffee corner.
  • Price: Determine your budget, keeping in mind that investing in a high-quality espresso machine will ensure consistent results and longevity.
  • Features: Evaluate if you require additional options, such as a built-in grinder or frothing wand for milk-based drinks.

Operating the Espresso Machine

Using an Italian espresso machine properly is essential for obtaining the best possible taste. Here are the general steps:

  1. Preparation: Fill the water tank, preheat the machine, and grind your coffee beans to a fine consistency for espresso.
  2. Portafilter: Take the portafilter (the metal filter basket with a handle), place approximately 20 grams of finely ground coffee inside, then tamp down firmly and evenly.
  3. Brewing: Insert the portafilter into the machine and engage the espresso by turning on the switch or pressing the button.
  4. Extraction: Monitor the flow of espresso; the ideal extraction time should be around 25-30 seconds for a double shot.
  5. Cleanup: After the extraction, turn off the machine, remove the portafilter, and discard the used coffee grounds.

By utilizing a suitable espresso machine and following these steps, you can enjoy an authentic Italian espresso experience in the comfort of your home.

Preparation of Espresso

Selection of Coffee Beans

High-quality coffee beans are essential for achieving the perfect Italian espresso. It is important to use fresh and properly stored beans, as they retain maximum flavor and aroma. It's advisable to choose beans that have been specifically roasted for espresso, as they undergo a unique roasting technique suitable for the espresso brewing process.

Grading and Roasting

The grading process categorizes coffee beans by their size, shape, and quality. While Arabica and Robusta beans are commonly used in espresso, Arabica beans are known to create a smoother and more complex flavor. The roasting process develops the beans' flavor, color, and aroma. Espresso roasts are generally darker, which contributes to the rich and distinctive taste.

Dialing in the Espresso Machine

An espresso machine is the key to making authentic Italian espresso. Ensure that the machine is clean, and the water is of good quality, as it affects the flavor of the espresso. Next, set the machine's pressure to 9-10 bars for optimal extraction. Measure your coffee grounds; for a single shot, 7-9 grams of coffee are needed, while a double shot requires 14-18 grams.

Adjust the grind size accordingly: a fine grind is necessary to create the perfect amount of resistance and proper extraction time. Aim for an extraction time of 25-30 seconds for a balanced espresso shot. Once everything is set, warm-up your espresso cup, pull the shot, and enjoy your espresso like an Italian.

Tasting Espresso

Apppreciating the Crema

When drinking espresso like an Italian, it's crucial to appreciate the crema - the creamy, light brown layer on top of the espresso shot. The crema is a result of the high-pressure brewing process and is an indicator of a well-prepared espresso. Take a moment to observe the texture and thickness of the crema, which can reveal the quality of the coffee beans and the skill of the barista.

Assessing the Aroma

Before taking a sip, bring the espresso cup to your nose and inhale the aroma. This step is essential because the aroma can make up a significant portion of your taste experience. Top-quality espresso will exhibit a rich and nuanced aroma, with notes that may include flowers, fruits, nuts, chocolate, or even spices. As the aroma interacts with your olfactory system, it helps prepare your palate for the next stage of tasting.

Savouring the Flavor

Now it's time to taste the espresso. Take a small sip, allowing the liquid to coat your entire tongue and interact with your taste buds. An expertly crafted espresso should have a balanced combination of bitter, sweet, and acidic flavors. You might detect notes of dark chocolate, caramel, or almonds. Observe the mouthfeel, too – it should be full-bodied yet smooth, without any excessive acidity or astringency.

Spotting the Aftertaste

Finally, focus on the aftertaste that lingers in your mouth after swallowing the espresso. A high-quality shot will leave a pleasant, lingering aftertaste, comprised of the complex flavors you've tasted throughout the experience. Pay attention to how long the aftertaste remains, as a longer-lasting aftertaste is often indicative of a well-executed espresso shot.

In summary, to drink espresso like an Italian, one should appreciate the crema, assess the aroma, savour the flavor, and spot the aftertaste. By following these steps, you can fully enjoy and understand the subtleties of a well-crafted espresso.

Italian Espresso Drinking Etiquette

Ordering Espresso in Italy

When in Italy, ordering an espresso is quite simple. Most Italian coffee orders can be made by uttering a single word. A "caffè" is a strong shot of espresso. Do not ask for a large double-shot skinny vanilla latte with whipped cream on top, as this is not part of the Italian coffee culture. Instead, be prepared to order an espresso shot or a "macchiato," which is an espresso with a dash of steamed milk.

Serving Espresso

Espresso is typically served in a small, heated cup known as a "demitasse." The demitasse is placed on a saucer, accompanied by a small spoon for stirring in sugar or other add-ons. A customary Italian practice is to also provide a glass of sparkling water alongside the espresso. This is used to cleanse the palate before tasting the rich flavor of the espresso.

Drinking Espresso with Add-ons

While Italians often enjoy their espresso "as is," there are a few ways to customize the drink according to individual preferences. Here are some common options for drinking espresso with add-ons:

  • Sugar: Some individuals may want to add sugar to their espresso. In this case, they can use the small spoon provided with the saucer to stir the sugar into the espresso.
  • Espresso Macchiato: An espresso macchiato consists of an espresso shot with a small amount of steamed milk. This addition lightens the strong taste of the espresso and adds a creamy texture.
  • Caffè Corretto: For those who prefer a little extra kick in their espresso, a "caffè corretto" is a great choice. This beverage consists of an espresso shot with a splash of liquor, such as grappa or sambuca.

Alternative Ways to Enjoy Espresso

While traditional Italians might prefer drinking a simple, robust espresso shot, there are alternative ways to enjoy this delightful beverage. In this section, we explore a few popular variations that can cater to different preferences.

Espresso with Milk

If you find the strong taste of an espresso shot to be too intense, consider adding milk to your beverage. A great example of an espresso with milk is a cappuccino, which consists of equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. This delicious combination provides a smoother, creamier texture and lessens the intensity of the espresso while still allowing its rich flavor to shine through.

Decaf Espresso

For those sensitive to caffeine or wishing to enjoy espresso later in the day without impacting their sleep, decaf espresso is a suitable option. Decaffeinated espresso still boasts the rich flavors and aroma of its regular counterpart but without the potentially disruptive effects of caffeine. Many coffee shops and roasters offer high-quality decaf options that maintain the integrity of the espresso experience.

Double Espresso Shot

If you're craving a more robust and intense espresso experience, consider ordering a double shot, also known as a doppio. A double espresso contains twice the amount of coffee grounds in a single shot, resulting in a bolder flavor and a higher caffeine content. This option is great for those who need an extra boost or simply enjoy the intensity of a more concentrated espresso.

Exploring these alternative ways to enjoy espresso not only broadens your palate but also caters to your individual preferences. By incorporating milk, opting for decaf, or doubling down on the espresso shot, you can tailor your espresso experience to suit your personal taste.


Drinking espresso like an Italian is a celebration of tradition and appreciation of flavor. Embracing this culture begins with understanding the proper way to order and savor an espresso. Typically, Italians enjoy their espresso in a cozy spot, ideally at a cafe or a coffee bar, where they can immerse themselves in the experience and appreciate the expert skills of baristas.

The key to truly enjoying espresso lies in embracing both the process and the flavors of the drink. Ordering an espresso at the counter and sipping it while standing ensures you get the authentic Italian experience, as this is how locals commonly consume the beverage. Paying attention to the cup is also crucial; using a ceramic cup helps maintain the ideal temperature and allows the rich aromas to shine through.

When it comes to the actual consumption, it is essential to savor each sip and appreciate the diverse flavors. Adding sugar or other personal preferences is acceptable, as long as it enhances the overall enjoyment. Another vital aspect of drinking espresso like an Italian is the timing - consuming it either after meals or during breaks from work demonstrates the cultural importance of this tradition.

By following these tips, one can learn to drink espresso like an Italian and develop a deeper appreciation for the rich history and artful flavors that accompany this beloved beverage. Incorporating these suggestions into your espresso-drinking habits will allow you to become more knowledgeable about the Italian coffee tradition and experience a taste of Italy wherever you are.

Italian espresso tips
Tony Barlow

Tony Barlow

Majesty Coffee Technical Sales Expert - Meet the Team

Tony Barlow, with over a decade of experience in the coffee industry, is the go-to technical sales expert at Majesty Coffee. He's passionate about helping businesses find the right espresso equipment for their needs.

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