A robusta apostle and crema is rubbish

Hello ElPugDiablo.

So....what are your thoughts on your espresso experiments.....crema vs. no crema?

I watched the video and read some of the comments. Some people agreed that espresso tastes better when you skim the crema off, and some said that they couldn't taste a difference.
I was wondering if you came to any conclusion after experimenting yesterday.

Maybe we should eventually start a poll to see what everyone else thinks (after they do their own taste tests).

The robusta experiment would be a bit more difficult to try because most people don't have 100% robusta beans handy.

  • Thread Starter
  • Thread starter
  • #3
I found cremaless espresso to be sweeter and has better clarity, but also has less body. Crema is a heavier, bitter muddy version of the cremaless espresso; but I did not find it ashy and I did not find it objectionable. In my case, I believe the sum is greater than the parts. However, my espresso is a blend that works best in small cappuccino. I think the tester used an espresso geared for straight shot. If I were pulling a delicate single origin Yirgacheffe, I would lean toward the cremaless version.
It is an interesting arguement. Surely Espresso with no crema is no longer espresso? By definition Crema is part and parcel of the whole equation. OK so I too have tried the two options- espresso with crema removed and standard espresso. Call me a traditionalist- I still prefer the espresso with crema...bitterness, make that 'perceived biterness' is not at all necessarily a bad thing.
  • Thread Starter
  • Thread starter
  • #5
Alun_evans said:
It is an interesting arguement. Surely Espresso with no crema is no longer espresso? By definition Crema is part and parcel of the whole equation. OK so I too have tried the two options- espresso with crema removed and standard espresso. Call me a traditionalist- I still prefer the espresso with crema...bitterness, make that 'perceived biterness' is not at all necessarily a bad thing.
Quite a bit of people asked the same question or commented it is no longer espresso. I wonder. I like my champagne a little flat; am I still drinking champagne if I swirl it to let out some of the bubbles? I think I am. Anyway, the whole thing started when Coffee Collective wrote they skim the crema off their Americano. I am not sure many people asked is that still an Americano. Hoffmann responded to some opposing comments in another site by saying he stirs his espresso, I guess that fits the definition of espresso but still gets what he wants.
I would say- stiring a traditional espresso with crema means (from a puriest point of view) it is still espresso. Likewise I would agree drinking flat champagne...it is still champagne. But I am not convinced drinking espresso sans crema is still espresso as we know it. Sticky one I know, and surely worth more debate. Brings me back to my law school days- torts and definitions!
my point of view is that "espresso" is a brewing method. as for what you call whatever you make using the coffee brewed in this manner, that's up to you. that being said, i think the crema is part of the process, so why take that away? i think it's part of what gives espresso its defining characteristics. acidity, body, mouthfeel... and if you're using a good coffee, your crema looks really pretty too :]
I subscribe to the "coffee libertarian" viewpoint, where it all boils down to this: it's a matter of taste, and no two people have the exact same taste for espresso. In other words, if crema-less espresso tastes better to you than crema-ful espresso, knock yourself out, and scrape off the crema!!

My personal observation (and this is certainly not meant to diminish the value or importance of espresso standards set by the industry) is that there is a lot of emphasis on what qualities an espresso is supposed to have. I appreciate having learned about the various qualities and the importance of each one, but in the end, it all boils down to our own individual tastes. Being a roaster, I am happy to provide an espresso blend that satisfies my customer's needs, and while I'm happy to give advice about why crema is a good thing, I'd be just as happy to provide a blend that has very little, if that is what they want.

OK, I'm off my soapbox now :)

Indeed this is an interesting debate and one that has taken us so far down several paths. It is interesting that espresso in its purest form is something that has changed very little over time. The Italians are so passionate about protecting the identity of espresso that a few years ago there was a sustained effort to stop espresso being called espresso unless> it was 25-30ml, had crema, was extracted in 25-30 seconds and served in a demitasse cup (maximum 70ml capacity). Obviously on the other side of the equation the new world has worked on breaking the mould and experimenting not just with espresso but also the drinks that they go into. Sometimes this traddition meets the new world does not work (like anything Machiatto should be espresso marked with steamed milk- NOT a milky monstrosity ala SBUX). Regarding the original arguement, I am pretty sure that James who started this debate may have been just stirring the pot...which, for sure, he has done!

Regarding 100% robusta based espressos, I have tried these in Italy. Often the robusta is a blend of several robustas- washed and naturally processed. I am not a fan off higher than 10% robusta in an espresso blend, but I must say one Italian Gold medal blend I tried was excellent at 50:50- using washed robusta from India. Some of the robusta from the sub continent and also from Madagascar is good enough to be blended fairly successfully at a good percentage against Indian, Kenyan or Colombian Arabicas in particular% robusta is, I confess, too much for me. In Naples- where lever machines are predominatley used, the extraction works fairly well with this type of blend and the espresso is palatable. Using pump driven machines, almost undrinkable. I am pretty sure it may explain the number of levers in cafes throughout Southern Italy.

Perhaps my only slight disagreement with Ellen would be I dont subscribe to the point of view that blending as the customer wants is the way to go. I think the roaster has a certain responsibility, being the one with the experience and knowledge of coffee, to be making the call on blends and explaining why. Taste is indeed subjective, but a roasters understanding of his/her beans and how they work together is far more objective, than subjective.
Espresso with the crema skimmed off is just that: espresso with the crema skimmed off. Is it still espresso? I'd say it is, it just has the crema skimmed off. It's like toast with the crusts cut off (it's still toast), pizza with the edges cut off (it's still pizza), or an apple with the skin peeled off (it's still an apple). It's up to the individual how to take it, but I think the fundamentals are still the same.

I've tried crema skimming and find I like it better with the overly bitter shots. The fact that I find the shots overly bitter to begin with means that I obviously don't have a preference for them anyway. Taking away the crema in those instances yields a drink that is more palatable to me. The blend that I'm currently using is not overly bitter, so I don't need to do this. I did use a different blend a few weeks ago that was also darker roasted. I couldn't drink it without skimming the crema. For me, it comes down to the beans.
It is indeed a lively debate: I guess though the definition might be refined to how important a component the crema IS in defining espresso. If you served an espresso (and from experience around 90%+ of drinks served in Italian bars are espresso) to an Italian without crema he would refuse it. If you served it to him, whipped out a spoon and scooped the crema off in front of him, he might bop you in the nose. So, I guess from an Italian point of view espresso is indeed something very specific- not at all sans crema. However this does not necessarily mean the Italians are right...rest of the world is wrong...right? :wink: The Italian would argue beer without Malt/hops...is not beer, a croissant made without butter might look like a croissant...but it is not a real croissant!

I dont know, maybe we have done this subject almost to death. I still think James H was having everyone on anyway.

EPD- Regarding quality of shots Italy vs USA all I can say is Italy is a volume business. No...really a volume business. I myself pulled 1500 shots at Trieste back in 2006- the punters wanted it fast, they wanted it made properly. Compared to the somewhat fussy NZ and Australian markets- you cant pull a fast one over on the Italians. I would say if you pulled a 14 sec shot and served in in NZ to an average punter- he in likelihood would not complain...the Italian would. Now, I am not sure about the US market but i would guess it would be closer to the Australian than the Italian (also of course the Italians drinki very,very few milk based drinks- the Kiwis/Ausssies about 95% I estimate would be MB'ed). You can hide poor blends, and poor barista technique in milk- harder in espresso alone.

Regrding quality of blends- I think the Europeans as a whiole blend differently anyway from the New World Roasters. Blending in Italy is primarily for shots as mentioned above. A NZ roaster will primarily blend an espresso with the correct assumption that the coffee will end up in a Flatwhite or in a latte/cappuccino. Therefore I reckon it is difficult to compare apples to apples. I know of some excellent US roasters, I know of some excellent Italian roasters. I know of countless poor quality US AND Italian Roasters. I think blending is a very hard one to fight out. See my objective/subjective remarks above. I remember 1 study done recently by a group of prominent US cuppers market the Italian blends as far inferior to the US blends....I would say if you did the reverse and presented US Blendes to Italoians for blind tasting/cupping the results would be reversed- US blends at the bottom of the heap.
I agree.

I, too, think James was trying to stir things up a bit, literally and metaphorically. He took a bit of criticism for the crema skimming when people really should have thanked him for making them think a bit more about their espresso.