What is Crema on coffee? (and do you want it?!)

by Mama Loves A Drink

Crema – not creamer! on coffee is an important part of the espresso making process, but often misunderstood.

So do you want crema, or is it a by product of what you’re doing to be discarded?

What is Crema?

Crema (pronounced “crem-ah”) is the golden brown foamy layer that naturally forms when an espresso shot is poured. It is formed when the hot water emulsifies the coffee bean oils and gets saturated with C02 which floats to the top.

It appears only on coffee made using pressure, such as in a Nespresso machine using pods, or in an espresso machine you’d find in a commercial business. You will not find it on drip coffee or cold brew coffee as these coffee-making techniques do not involve pressure to extract the liquid from the coffee beans.

Baristas seem to agree that the appearance of foam is a good indication of the quality of the espresso; Whether you leave it on and it’s the best part of the coffee, mix it or scrape it off its completely a matter of taste!

The argument is that crema is packed pull of Co2, which makes it bitter. Scraping it off or mixing it gives you a more delicate balance of flavours – but purest who love their espresso straight up will argue that bitter finish is what the espresso is all about!

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a single shot of espresso with a layer of cream on top - hot to make the perfect crema on espresso

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But how do you get exactly the right amount of crema, and does it matter?

Crema is made up of tiny bubbles that give your espresso a syrupy finish.

A “good” level of crema is considered to be about 1/4 of the totally espresso shot a deep golden caramel colour and lasts for around 2 minutes.

“Bad” crema is;

  • When it is too thin or barely visible
  • Too much, taking over a third of the shot – your roast is probably too fresh
  • Too light in colour – could be under extracted and not enough flavour has come through
  • Too dark in colour – could be over extracted with too fine a grind or pulled for too long
  • Disappears within a few seconds – your roast is probably not fresh
  • Has too many big bubbles

Drinking “bad” creama simply doesn’t taste as good and most likely means your coffee is not as fresh or has not been properly prepared.

The key to getting good crema!

If you are looking to perfect your own crema at home, here’s some simple steps to follow:

  • Fresh is best (but not too fresh!) You want coffee that’s at least 1 to 2 weeks since the roast date, as coffee that is freshly roasted needs enough time to release C02 gases. Too fresh = too much crema. Sitting there for weeks = crema disappears immediately.
  • A good espresso machine. If you invest in a cheaper coffee machine, sure they’ll do the job but they may not have the right amount of pressure to pull the perfect espresso shot. It’s fairly widely accepted that an espresso machine that can pull 15 bars of pressure is perfect for espresso.

Our Top Pick: Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso Machine

We love this Breville as a home espresso maker. The best for both your coffee grinds and your milk. You can control both the size of your coffee grounds and the temperature for optimal espresso extraction.

  • A lighter roast will give you a more distinctive crema colour than using a dark roast.
  • The best coffee been for excellent crema is thought to be Robusta, but many would argue you are then compromising on taste. Arabica, the main coffee been you’ll find used in specialty roasts is still thought to have the superior taste.

Not sure if creama is for you? Have ago trying at home and pull two shots of espresso, mix one and drink one straight and give it a try!

Does crema matter in my Latte?

Yes and No. The presence of a beautiful crema is evidence of lovely fresh beans and great extraction. However, as soon as you’re mixing it with milk, you are diluting the taste of the espresso and creating a different drink.

In some milky espressos like a flat white, the coffee becomes mixed with the milk as you pour, whilst other drinks like a latter have distinctive layers – hence the preference for having these drinks served in glass for visual appeal.

It is true espresso drinkers who will have a far grater interest in crema.

Want to learn more about home made coffee?

Pop on over to the coffee connoisseur section of our website. We help demystify all the jargon and explain in simple terms what you actually need to make amazing brews at home!

You can also check out our guide to the best Italian Espresso Machines, along with our favourite latte machines for home.

Because we all know how much mama loves a drink!

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