Why is crema important?
True coffee lovers look for the signature rich, creamy layer on top of a quality cup of espresso. This light-brown puff of foam is called crema. But what is crema, and what purpose does it serve?
What is crema?
The fine layer of froth on the top of your coffee is crema. It’s formed when the hot water and high pressure hit the coffee grounds inside an espresso machine. This combination causes the oils to release tiny bubbles that rapidly multiply to create the foamy layer of crema.
The crema itself doesn’t make or break the taste of the espresso, but its presence is a good indication of the espresso’s quality. It helps leave a lasting aftertaste, a pleasant mouthfeel, and a fuller flavour.
What does crema do?
Superficially, crema looks good. It helps a barista make impressive latte art and it makes your espresso look even more delicious. But crema also has a bigger purpose.
The perfect cup of espresso has many steps. Espresso cups are often stored on top of the machine, or doused with hot water before being filled. This is to help maintain the temperature of the espresso. Storing it above the machine or filling it with hot water will warm the cup up so the brewed espresso doesn’t cool as quickly.
The cup itself is also designed to keep your espresso at the perfect temperature longer. Double walled espresso cups help maintain the heat.
After all this work to help keep the espresso nice and hot, there’s one place left for the heat to escape: the top of the cup. This is where crema comes in: this layer of foam helps insulate the espresso, just like a hat.
What if your espresso doesn’t have crema?
Plenty of things affect the creation of crema, from the way it is processed at the plantation to the roast date to the type of machine used to make the espresso. A lack of crema doesn’t mean you have a bad cup of espresso, but it does generally add to the enjoyment of the cup.
Freshly roasted beans have more crema because the coffee bean oils are still producing gas from the roasting process. However, the darker the roast, the less crema it will naturally create because darker roasts generally have less oils. This is why there are special “espresso roasts” - this will have a good balance of oil to get the perfect crema and flavour.
Not having a layer of crema also may mean that the grind used in the machine is too coarse or that the grounds were not tapped enough in the handle, meaning the water came out of the machine too fast.