A few thoughts on crema

One of the things that seems to elicit different viewpoints where espresso is concerned, is the importance of crema. Some claim it to be “the worst part” of espresso and if you don’t get it, it’s no big deal, while others claim it to be essential to a well-prepared espresso. I’m in the camp that it adds a significant dimension to espresso, and should be present. Since I hold this opinion about it, I’ve naturally been chasing more and better crema since getting a decent coffee set up. My last purchase was the one that gave me what I was looking for. Amazing crema.

As we prepare our espresso, we generally aim to get a perfect shot that is neither sour, or bitter. But many of us like to add milk to coffee, whether as a significant part of the drink (such as latte), or in a smaller quantity, similar to what you’d have in a regular tea or coffee. In both situations, the milk can really eat into the intensity of the espresso, and in particular with dark roasts which can be incredibly mellow when done right, you lose so much intensity, that you start to think that its not a very good cup of Joe. Aside from allowing skilled baristas (of which I am not one) a canvas to draw their art, crema gives back some bite to a mellow espresso that cuts through the milk. It contains some bitterness, but not the stomach churning kind that you get from a poorly extracted espresso. It’s the icing on the cake for a milk based espresso.

So, to the gadget that changed my crema. The bottomless portafilter. When people try to justify the existence of a bottomless portafilter, they tend to talk about the training opportunities for a better extraction (and the new photographic/video opportunities, LOL). Removing the uneven distribution of grinds in the portafilter, means even extraction time throughout, and since the use of a bottomless requires perfect distribution and tamping to avoid spurting, which is easily visible when you use one, clearly this is a valuable training exercise for perfecting a shot that has no bitterness or sourness, but just the pure perfect extraction . But much less talked about, is the increase in crema when you go bottomless. This is possibly in part due to the contentious nature of the existence of crema in the first place. In any event, my initial testing shows that the crema has pretty much tripled when using a bottomless portafilter. My own experience is with a crema rich Brazilian single origin, dark roast bean – Daterra Farms Sweet Collection. With a regular double spouted portafilter, this does produce decent crema in my machine, but not mindblowing. With the bottomless portafilter, the crema is very large, thick, and long lasting. Like the head on a Guinness. Play this video, clean up your drool, and as you get to the end, notice the thickness of the crema. This is what I’m getting.

I think that for people who like intensity to their espresso, without the stomach churning bitterness, good crema adds a dimension that sets your espresso apart.

I will add that the bottomless has really made it easier to get a triple shot of espresso too. While it was possible with the spouted portafilter, I was never confident about the fit of the triple basket. The bottomless removes the problem. It also leaves more space between the portafilter and drip tray, allowing for a wider variety of cups to be used. This wouldn’t apply to commercial machines so much, but definitely does to the single boiler consumer ones.

After a bit of a fiasco trying to get a Gaggia branded bottomless, I ended up getting this beautiful walnut handled one from coffeeaddicts.ca.