A barista will always put a spoon on the side of an espresso shot, and we suggest you do the same when making espresso at home. You might be surprised to hear this has nothing to do with adding sugar, but instead with the act of stirring espresso itself. Doing so before your first sip and frequently thereafter makes a major difference in the flavour, aroma and mouthfeel of espresso. A just-stirred espresso tastes complex yet beautifully balanced, and full-bodied with optimal intensity. Swirling espresso, as some coffee drinkers do, just isn’t as effective. If you’re not already in the habit of stirring, we suggest you try it with your next shot of espresso.
The Anatomy of Espresso
Every cup of coffee owes its characteristics to the many chemical components of the coffee itself, along with the effects of roasting and brewing techniques. A shot of espresso is distinct due to its strength, small volume, and tendency to settle into layers. On top is the crema, a pale, silky crown with a creamy texture and intensely bitter taste. Denser, thicker, stronger espresso with higher acidity plus a touch of natural sweetness settles at the bottom of an espresso shot. The thinner, weaker and less flavourful part of the extraction sits on top.
Without stirring, an espresso almost instantly settles into these layers, resulting in a series of dissimilar sips, some more or less pleasant than others. By learning how to drink espresso in a way that maximises the experience, particularly by giving it a stir before your first sip, you will instead enjoy the creaminess of the mixed-in crema, the slight sweetness and richness of the fine solids, and the full flavour profile of the brewed coffee in perfect balance.
Stirring Espresso Is All About Aroma
Stirring releases the wonderful aromas of an espresso shot, which enhances your perception of its flavours. Scent and taste are closely tied together, so inhaling the aromas of espresso before and whilst sipping it offers a more acute sensory experience.
Consider the Temperature
The ideal temperature for brewing espresso is hotter than the ideal temperature for drinking it. Giving espresso a stir before you sip helps cool it to a perfect drinking temperature a bit little faster. At a slightly cooler temperature, you can better perceive the espresso’s complex flavours.
How to Stir Espresso
There’s science behind the benefits of stirring espresso, but doing it couldn’t be simpler. Just give that espresso a thorough stir with a spoon soon before your first sip and after setting the cup down for long enough for the layers to settle. We know some coffee drinkers like to slowly savour an espresso while others consume a shot in mere moments, so the best frequency for stirring will come down to personal preference.
A demitasse set comprising a small cup, saucer and spoon, which is typically used to serve espresso in a coffee shop or café, is also ideal for enjoying espresso at home. If you don’t have these, any small cup and a regular teaspoon will do.