October 31, 2022 2 min read
If an espresso has beautiful crema, does it necessarily follow that it is a great espresso? The short answer is no.
There are some objective criteria that are necessary in order to pull a shot with beautiful crema. And some of those criteria happen to coincide and overlap with criteria that are necessary for great espresso.
For example, for an espresso to have nice crema, the coffee must be relatively fresh. Fresh coffee is also necessary for great-tasting espresso (we could spend a lot of time arguing about what we mean exactly by “fresh” another time – but “fresh” doesn’t mean it has to be day-of or one day off of roast). Fresh coffee has not completely off-gassed and the oils have not completely oxidized, so they are available for the emulsion and extraction that results in crema. Those oils are also going to contribute to a great espresso.
Likewise, crema requires a certain amount of pressure during extraction, and those are *generally* the parameters necessary for espresso extraction (8-10 bars).
So, there’s certainly overlap between the criteria needed for crema and the criteria for great espresso. However, there’s much more than those criteria alone that go into great espresso: Do you actually like the coffee? Do you like the roast degree, the blend components, the brew ratio?
You can get good crema and still get all of those other things wrong. The result is a less desirable espresso with beautiful crema.
In summary, great espresso is most likely going to have a nice crema accompanying it. But crema by itself does not mean the espresso is good. In other words, crema is an evidence of great espresso, but it is not a sufficient measure of whether or not the espresso is good.
For extra credit, here’s a video that speaks more specifically to coffee freshness and how it impacts crema:
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