Art of making espresso lies in following the rules

TURIN, Italy, June 29 Fri Jun 29, 2007 1:34pm EDT

TURIN, Italy, June 29 (Reuters Life!) - You don't have to be Italian to make a perfect espresso. You just have to follow precise rules established over the more than 100 years since Italians invented a way to make this eye-poppingly strong coffee.

In 1901 Luigi Bezzera, an engineer from Milan, created the first espresso machine which used steam to make coffee. But espresso as we know it was born in 1947 when Achille Gaggia, a bar owner in Milan, invented a way to brew coffee under pressure.

The first espresso machines were huge and cylindrical, made of copper, bronze and brass and looked like space ships.

They not only sped up the coffee making process -- a necessity as coffee consumption was growing rapidly at the start of last century. They also created a new type of beverage -- the creamy, strong espresso.

Some people say the term espresso, one of the best-known Italian words in the world, refers to the particular method of brewing coffee under pressure. Others say it refers to the quickness of the process.

The secret of making the true espresso remains in following a set procedure to create crema, a creamy hazelnut-colored coffee foam.

STICK TO THE RULES

Following are the rules for making a perfect espresso as explained by Luca Mastantuoni, who trains foreign clients at Lavazza, a leading Italian coffee roaster:

-- pressure in the machine should be kept at nine atmospheres.

-- water should be brought to 90-95 degrees Celsius (194-203 degrees Fahrenheit), not to a boiling point.

-- freshly ground coffee should be used within one day;

-- time of brewing a standard 30 ml (1.01 ounce) cup of espresso should be 25 to 30 seconds.

-- if it takes more time the coffee will have a burnt flavor and dark foam, and if it takes less time the coffee will be watery and will have a light weak foam.

-- an espresso cup should be warmed to 45C (113F) and should be made of special thick porcelain to prevent the coffee from getting cold too quickly and losing its specific aroma.

-- the cup should be shaped like a truncated cone to keep crema the best, and should be thicker at the bottom to keep the coffee warm longer.

-- the coffee should be drunk within two minutes after it was prepared or it starts losing its delicate bouquet. That is why bar counters have the best espresso and not fine restaurants where it will be served by a waiter.

-- crema is the best indicator of espresso quality: it should be of an even hazelnut color and be thick enough so that if sugar is added it should float on the surface for a few seconds before sinking. The crema then should close over the sugar after it drops to the bottom of a cup.

-- Another famous Italian coffee, cappuccino, is made by adding milk emulsion to espresso in a proportion of one unit of coffee to four units of milk which has been stirred by steam.

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