It may seem strange that the country most famous for elevating a cup of coffee to an art form doesn’t grow it, but the perfect cup of espresso is quintessentially Italian even if coffee beans are not. Only in Italy could the fusion of art and science needed to create espresso, cappuccino and macchiato take place.
Espresso is to regular drip coffee what a Ferrari is to a domestic minivan. While other coffee-brewing methods rely on gravity to take its slow course, an espresso machine injects hot water and steam through finely ground coffee under high pressure. This process extracts more essential oils and flavors from the coffee, giving you a richer-tasting cup. Italian espresso tastes so bold that it’s customarily served in demitasse cups, usually with a twist of lemon to add a bracing tartness to the drink.
Big flavor isn’t the only extra ingredient filling that little cup of espresso. Coffee is rich in polyphenols, disease-fighting antioxidants that also give red wine and chocolate their healthful properties. An espresso machine extracts more of these natural health boosters. If caffeine is a concern then, espresso is a healthy choice on that score as well. Because the espresso machine leaves the coffee grounds in contact with the water for less time, less of the water-soluble caffeine winds up in your cup. A typical double espresso only has about 50 milligrams of caffeine; compared to a cup of standard coffee with its 150 milligrams of caffeine, that after dinner espresso is likelier to let you sleep tonight.
Now that you know the science behind your espresso, admire the art of Italian coffee. Espresso’s health benefits also belong to the other coffee concoctions Italian baristas have created, so if you prefer something other than straight espresso, you’ll still be doing your body and your palate a favor.
If you’re new to Italian coffee, try one of these favorites.
- Cappuccino is espresso with a froth of steamed milk. Italian baristas gave it its fanciful name because its light brown hue resembles the color of a Capuchin monk’s distinctive robes.
- Macchiato is Italian for “stained” and refers to espresso with just enough milk mixed in to change its color. Baristas typically add a teaspoon or so of foamed milk to the top to distinguish it from straight espresso.
- Cafe latte, or coffee with milk, contains less coffee and more milk than the previous coffee-based espresso drinks. It’s the Italian version of the French cafe au lait.
- Latte macchiato, as you might have guessed, means “stained milk.” If your cup contains more milk than espresso, you’re probably drinking a latte macchiato.
It’s rare to find a treat that’s good for you, but espresso fills the bill. Drink a cup of it to your health.Tweet