QUESTION: I just learned about the crema on top of espresso shots. Should I stir the crema into my coffee? — Nelson L.
ANSWER: Crema is the bubbly, rust-colored foam-like substance on top of espresso shots. Some people like to stir crema into their coffee to avoid tasting it on its own. By itself, crema tastes bitter, ashy, and dry.
However, the flavors that can be undesirable on their own do a lot toward your cup of coffee having the best possible taste. The crema is part of the nuanced, balanced flavor you love in espresso. So if the taste of crema sitting on top of your coffee bothers you, you can stir it in.
Crema is full of flavorful oils from your coffee beans. For one thing, a cup of coffee with crema included will have a longer aftertaste than a coffee drink that doesn’t have crema. Crema also helps give your espresso a rich, velvety mouthfeel.
Some people remove the crema from their cup completely by skimming it off. If you’re looking for less foam in general and a cleaner taste from your coffee, you may wish to try it with the crema skimmed instead of stirred in.
But because crema gives coffee that pungent, slightly burning flavor that’s part of its overall profile, we recommend you either leave the crema on top of the drink or stir it in. But you may want to wait for just three minutes.
In the first three minutes after your espresso shot is pulled, the crema helps move aromatic components up out of the cup where your nose can enjoy them. After three minutes, it forms a layer on top of the coffee that helps the remaining aromatics to stay where they are. By stirring in or skimming off the crema, you miss out on the aromatics you’d get with that layer in place.