Espresso is a concentrated beverage brewed by forcing very hot water under high pressure through finely ground, compacted coffee. This process produces an almost syrupy beverage by extracting both solid and dissolved components. It also produces the definitive crema (foam), by emulsifying the oils in the ground coffee.
According to the National Italian Espresso Institute (an industry group founded in 1998 that is committed to "safeguarding the philosophy of espresso"), the perfect brew must have a light, finely textured, noisette-coloured foam, and its colour must be uniform while its aroma must be that of grilled bread.
As a result of the pressurized brewing process, the flavours and chemicals in a typical cup of coffee are very concentrated; so espresso is the base for other drinks, such as a latte, cappuccino, macchiato, mocha or americano.
While many believe that the hardcore and popular European drink would have them wired, the truth is that espresso may have the strongest flavour, but it actually has less caffeine than a cup of coffee. A shot of espresso has about one third the caffeine of a standard cup (180ml serving) of drip-brewed coffee.
The origin of the word espresso has several meanings. The first meaning is to do with the idea of "expressing" or squeezing the flavour from the coffee using the pressure of the steam. The second meaning is to do with speed, as in a train. Finally there is the notion of doing something "expressly" for a person which actually falls in line with the invention of the espresso coffee machine.
The innovation came from Milanese, Luigi Bezzera in 1901, whose objective was to decrease his employees’ coffee break time and increase their productivity. Bezzera's machine used steam pressure to force hot water through the finely ground coffee, thus allowing coffee to be prepared quickly, (approximately 45 seconds), on demand, and by the cup. The patent was sold to Desidero Pavoni in 1905 who began producing and distributing the machine commercially throughout Europe.
In Italy, the rise of espresso consumption was associated with urbanization and espresso bars provided a place for socialization. Due both to the specialized equipment and skill required, the enjoyment of espresso evolved into a social experience and has become a popular drink in cafés all around the world.
The concentrated coffee drink has been endlessly expanded upon in a plethora of creative culinary delights therefore enabling caffeine lovers to supplement their fix from a number of different sources such as ice cream, chocolate or desserts. One of the most recognized and savoured being tiramisu.
So be sure perk up and drink, or eat up to celebrate National Espresso Day. Purchase a cup at your favourite coffee house or make your own using an espresso coffee machine and pay homage to an Italian classic.