Crema is that thick, foamy, gold and tan colored ‘cream’ that forms on top of a freshly brewed shot of espresso. It is a result of the ever-famous espresso brewing process; where hot water is forced through finely-ground coffee beans at a high pressure.
Espresso crema is an integral part of the overall espresso experience, contributing to its aroma, taste, and mouthfeel.
The taste of crema can vary depending on coffee origin, roast level, age of coffee, water quality, water temperature and applied pressure during brewing. However, in general, crema can be described as having the following taste characteristics:
- Bitterness: Crema often has a slightly bitter taste, as it contains compounds such as melanoidins and other products of the Maillard reaction that occur during the roasting process. Additionally, some of the organic acids present in coffee contribute to its bitterness.
- Richness: The oils and fats present in coffee beans give crema a rich, creamy texture and mouthfeel. These lipids emulsify during the brewing process, forming tiny droplets that help create the foam and contribute to the overall taste.
- Sweetness: Although crema is often associated with bitterness, it can also have a subtle sweetness. This is due to the natural sugars and polysaccharides present in coffee beans, which contribute to the overall flavor profile.
- Complexity: The various compounds found in crema, such as aroma compounds, organic acids, and proteins, can create a complex taste experience that is difficult to describe precisely. This complexity is part of what makes espresso unique and enjoyable for many coffee lovers.
Some coffee enthusiasts prefer stirring the crema into the espresso to balance the flavors and create a smoother taste, while others enjoy sipping the crema separately to experience its own unique taste characteristics.
There is no right or wrong way since it always boils down to personal preference.
Something to consider the next time you order an espresso!