Stirring Crema: The Great Debate

A simple white cup of espresso on a white background.

Coffee professionals around the world have mixed opinions on the importance of crema in your espresso.

BY TOBIAS ANDERSON
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Cover photo courtesy of Nathan Dumlao for Unsplash

Let’s talk about crema—that beautiful red-brown foam that sits on top of your shot of espresso. Coffee drinkers have been getting excited about crema since 1948, when Achille Gaggia invented an espresso machine that brewed coffee at a higher pressure than anyone had brewed coffee with before.

Under intense pressure, the CO2 trapped in coffee during the roasting process dissolves into the water. Once the coffee leaves the pressurized environment, the escaping gases form the attractive foam that coffee lovers have come to associate with a well-brewed espresso.

Believe it or not, the spoon is not there to stir sugar. Photo by Paje Victoria for Unsplash.

So thats what the spoon is for?

Yes, crema looks stunning. But let’s put aesthetics aside and discuss the implications crema has on the taste of your coffee.

Step up to the bar and order a double espresso; chances are you will be served your drink in an espresso demitasse accompanied by a tiny spoon. You may ask: What is this spoon for? Do they want me to add sugar? 

The fact is that many espresso drinkers choose to stir a shot of espresso before taking a sip, mixing the layers that stratified after the espresso was pulled. Why is this a common practice, and what do the experts have to say about the question “to stir or not to stir?”

To stir or not to stir crema?

To further explore this question, I sat down with an expert in the coffee industry. Jon Dail, owner of the Grind Coffee House and former regional AeroPress champion of Southern California, recommends to “always stir your espresso,” claiming that stirring recombines all the essential elements, creating a more balanced and full-flavored experience. Most coffee professionals tend to agree with Jon.

James Hoffmann, former world barista champion and esteemed coffee author/expert, got some online heat a few years ago for advocating that people skim the crema off of their espresso altogether before drinking it. He recommends trying this, as it reduces the bitter quality of the espresso. 

Aroma plays a huge role in our sense of taste. A delicious smell lays a pretty platform for tasting. Stirring an espresso releases gases and aromatic components, providing the drinker a powerful experience before taking a sip.

SoCal AeroPress champ Jon Dail is a firm believer in stirring crema. Photo courtesy of Jon Dail.

Try removing the crema yourself! 

You may like bitter espresso. Coffee is a very personal, almost religious aspect of many people’s lives. During the past few weeks, I have asked dozens of people whether they stir their espresso or not. Many say they don’t because they like the bitter crema on top. Some even skim the crema off and eat it on its own. To each their own, right?

That being said, a good deal of coffee drinkers said they never considered giving their espresso a stir, and that they figured the spoon was for adding sugar. This article is for these people and others.

Sometimes little things can make a big difference. If a little stir can change your espresso, why not give it a try? You may like what you taste. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Tobias Anderson (he/him) is a freelance writer and six-year veteran of the specialty-coffee industry. Coffee and conversation are the greatest joys in his life. You can reach him at tobiasandersonwork@gmail.com.

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