QUESTION: Which coffee beans make the best layer of crema? I’ve been practicing pulling espresso shots at home and want to make it as easy as possible to pull a perfect shot. — Maeve L.
ANSWER: There are a few different types of coffee beans that we know are better for producing the best crema. In this article, we’ll run down the list of coffee bean characteristics that make for the perfect layer of crema.
You’ll hear some contradictory information on the web about whether dark or light roasts are best for crema. The best bet for you is to look for espresso roasts.
The longer a bean is roasted, the more carbon dioxide it will contain. That carbon dioxide moves through the coffee, along with some of the tasty oils stored inside the beans, resulting in a layer of crema on top of your beverage. But there is a limit. The darkest beans will create less crema because their oils tend to rub off during the shipping and handling process. But you don’t want to go too light, either, or the beans won’t contain enough carbon dioxide to produce a good crema.
Espresso roasts were developed especially to be used in making espresso shots and espresso-based beverages. As everybody knows, a good layer of crema is essential in making up the perfect espresso. Espresso roasts will be just right for making sure your espresso shots have the perfect layer of crema.
Freshly Roasted Beans
As we mentioned above, crema is formed from the oils from inside the coffee beans and the carbon dioxide that is trapped in the beans during the roasting process. The more carbon dioxide the beans have in them, the more crema will be produced. This carbon dioxide begins to leave the coffee beans as soon as the roasting process is over.
That means the quicker the beans are used after being roasted, the more carbon dioxide they will contain to make the best layer of crema. This is why you may have noticed that coffee beans roasted in-house form more crema than coffee beans that need to go through a shipping and handling process before they reach you.
Naturally Processed Beans
Naturally processed beans, or dry process beans, will give you an espresso shot with a better layer of crema than wet process, or washed, beans. This happens because natural process methods leave more of the coffee beans’ oils intact. These oils are directly responsible for the flavor and mouthfeel of your coffee as well as the layer of crema on top.
No Automatic Controls
Lots of the newer espresso machines have automatic controls and may even produce an imitation crema. Be warned that even when coffee makers don’t create an imitation crema, the crema they can produce will be limited in contrast to the crema on an espresso shot that’s manually pulled. For the best results and the best crema, choose a machine without automatic controls and take the time to learn how to pull an espresso shot manually.
One way you can tell whether an espresso machine produces true crema is to look for the word “portafilter” in the machine’s manual or product description. The portafilter aerates the coffee as it is being pulled to create something resembling a crema. The “crema” created by a portafilter looks right, but it doesn’t have the oils and fats inside that make crema so delicious.
Robusta coffees are known for creating lots of crema when they’re used, but Robustas are also known for adding too much bitterness to the brew. You can correct for the bitterness by choosing a coffee that’s a Robusta blend, where only part of the coffee beans used are Robusta beans. Then you’ll get the note of bitterness from the Robusta beans without it being overwhelming, and you’ll also get the quality crema from the Robusta beans. Using a blend smooths over the Robusta bitterness with the more desirable flavor of the Arabica beans.
Crema often goes along with a syrupy coffee body and thick mouthfeel, so that may be what you are looking for when you seek the best crema. If so, look for aged coffee from Java or monsooned coffee from Malabar, India. These coffees may not produce a ton of crema, but if you’re truly seeking the decadent mouthfeel, they’ll fit the bill.