QUESTION: Do you drink crema? Or should I be scooping it out or something like that? – Tiffany T.
ANSWER: Over the past decade, a common debate amongst espresso drinkers has centered around whether or not one should consume the crema, or the foamy head that forms on the top of an espresso shot. Though there are legitimately good reasons why coffee drinkers may choose to either keep or discard their crema, coffee drinkers can’t seem to agree on what is truly the best course of action.
Many coffee connoisseurs drink their espresso shots as they come, crema and all, letting the crema rest on top, where it is sure to be the first part of the beverage to touch the tongue. This allows the crema to be the first thing drinkers taste when they take their first sip of espresso.
Another popular method amongst espresso enthusiasts, is to stir the crema into the espresso shot so that it mixes into the brew, blending the flavors of the espresso and the crema together in the process.
A newer method was suggested just over one dozen years ago by the Denmark Coffee Collective, in which the crema is scraped off the top of the shot, removed from the cup and discarded before the espresso is consumed.
Crema, by itself, is quite atrocious. It is described as tasting ashy, dry, and especially bitter. Removing the crema from your espresso shot prior to drinking will typically result in a sweeter flavor and a lighter mouthfeel. By removing the crema, the drinker also removes some of the oils while mostly eliminating the frothy texture as well.
Though removing the crema from your espresso works wonders for reducing the bitterness of the beverage, allowing the more subtle flavors in the roast to shine a bit more, many believe that the bitterness which the crema provides, is an essential part of the espresso drinking experience.
Many espresso drinkers enjoy the texture and the overt bitterness that the crema adds and scoff at the thought of scraping it off the top. The crema foam topping is also aesthetically appealing as well, as it adds some character to the way an espresso shot is presented. If the espresso shot is evenly and accurately tamped and extracted correctly, the crema should look like a creamy, golden foam.
Before we discuss the merits of each crema concoction, let us first discuss how crema is formed, and define it more descriptively, for those who may not be sure exactly what it is in the first place. Like the foamy, frothy head that forms on a cold draft beer when it is properly poured into a pint glass and slid across the bar, the crema head which forms on a properly extracted shot of espresso adds a foamy texture, coupled with a burnt, bitter taste to your espresso.
Crema doesn’t form on regular coffee, no matter how it is brewed. However, when heated, pressurized water comes into contact with freshly ground coffee beans, the grounds begin to release CO2 gas, or Carbon Dioxide. The pressure created from the release of this gas works to mix the oils present in the coffee beans with the heated water.
The release results in small gas and air pockets, or bubbles, which form on the top layer of your shot, and are held in place by the oil and water emulsion. The tiny bubbles that rest on top of the espresso shot are mostly CO2 and other gasses, which are lightweight, which is why they float atop the heavier, denser liquid underneath.
When you drink an espresso shot with a nice crema layer on the top, you experience layered texture as well flavor. Espresso shots aren’t really supposed to be sweet and light-bodied, like they come across when the crema is removed. If you want something sweet and light-bodied, espresso probably isn’t gonna hit the spot. Perhaps a cup of regular drip coffee with a bit of cream and sugar would be more fitting.
When you blend the crema into the shot before you drink it, it keeps the flavors that the crema offer up, but it greatly diminishes the texture, body, and mouthfeel that an espresso shot with the crema left undisturbed provides. Though the espresso is still much stronger and more complex in flavor than a standard coffee, by stirring the crema into the shot, the light, foamy texture is no longer present.
When you scrape off the crema, you save yourself from excess bitterness. If you love espresso but would enjoy it more if it were less bitter and a little bit more sweet, scraping the crema off of your espressos might be the best route you could take.
So to answer your question, only you can decide which of the methods suits your tastes the best. Those that drink espresso with the crema left undisturbed likely couldn’t imagine themselves ever scraping off the foam. Those that prefer stirring it up are probably not particular about the texture that the foamy layer provides. Those that prefer scraping off the crema must not care much for the bitterness of a traditional espresso shot. Whether or not you choose to drink the crema is up to your personal taste.