what is espresso?

We are often asked what makes something an espresso coffee. Is it a super dark roasted coffee, or is it a particular kind of coffee? To be honest there is no absolute right answer with the exception of how to pronounce uh·spreh·sow. There is no “x” in espresso, unless you might be from Long Gisland.

answer from the roaster

When we roast and blend coffees that we call espresso, it is still coffee. How do you get espresso then? To transform from coffee to espresso you need an espresso machine.

You can brew any coffee at any roast level on an espresso machine, single origin coffee, or a blend of different coffees. Each gives us a different result. In the end it simply comes down to what you like.

The variety of espresso machines available can then lead you down a long rabbit hole. Like what to select for an espresso machine, a grinder, tamper etc. We will reserve this discussion for our blog later in the year. I warn you now, once you brew coffee with an espresso machine you will be heading down a new path one with many twists and turns. Making pro-con lists and checking your wallet. Proceed with caution but have fun because once you decide to be your own home barista there is no turning back.

It started in February of 2007

I went to a class in Eugene Oregon instructed by Sherri Johns, you can look her up, she has built an amazing resume across decades when it comes to coffee. I knew absolutely nothing when it came to espresso. Yes I may have been an (expresso) person before I took Sherri’s class. 4 days of pulling shots, learning the Dosing, Tamping, Extraction, and Grind rules. We pulled shots for hours, honing our skills and mastering the peculiarities of the La Pavoni machines which were lined up like soldiers along the classroom perimeter. My lab partner, gosh wish I could remember his name, I’m thinking “Max” who was determined to pull the fastest shots in the class. It was like he was in a competition. Later I realized he was drinking every shot he made. This is no exaggeration, one day I think Max downed 40 shots. This was when I realized coffee people are really special.

For the first day we all struggled, learning the nuances of how much coffee to dose. How hard to tamp. Making sure our shots would fill two 1 ounce shot glasses between 20-30 seconds. Sounds easy right? Well not when you aren’t sure how to grind the coffee. By day 2 though we were quickly becoming experts. That is until we were then taught milk steaming. Then it was back to square one. We had three solid days of pulling shots, steaming lattes, and cappuccinos and all the classics. All the while learning about the history of coffee.

I’ll skip ahead because towards the end of the class Sherri had written a book called Coffee Cafe and we got a chance to make many of these drinks. There were some downright amazing recipes for espresso. Shaken iced drinks with different spices and liquors. It took me years to realize that there was an endless path that Lee and I would recreate with our baristas, developing what is now some amazing espresso drinks with some unexpected ingredients, like lemon verbena, and bitters all that pair amazingly well with espresso. Check out our “shaken not stirred” and “stirred not shaken” drinks at the shop.

Our espresso inspiration

On this same trip I took a short detour up to Seattle to visit my late cousin Neil Callahan (he passed unexpectedly later that year). I told him I was starting a new career in coffee. He cautioned me on all the business areas I needed to be aware of, but when he realized this was not going to side track my dream, he invited me to spend 2 short coffee packed days with him. In two days we toured the smallest shops to the biggest. In the end he finished things off by taking me to the coffee roastery of Umbria Coffee. This is where for the first time I had espresso that had all the components that made a double shot espresso seem like perfection. My short dynamic visit with Neil in Seattle will always remain a special memory and I will always treasure the time I spent with him as he shared his passion for coffee.

A good espresso shot

Now everyone has slightly different idea of what the perfect shot is, so I will throw down and I will add my two cents of expertise since I can now say after 13 years I might actually have a small idea of what makes a good espresso shot. I like a layered espresso shot, a bit sweet even bright at the beginning. Something to wake up the taste buds. This is followed by buttery silky thick crema that neutralizes the acidity of that first sip. In the the next stage you get a great brewed coffee aroma and flavor as all those micro bubbles from the crema explode in your mouth. In what I like to call the “finish” I look for that deep coffee after taste, not bitter but bold enough to allow your next sip start the whole experience over again. This is what I remember when I tried Umbria’s espresso for the first time and ever since I continually strive to perfect our espresso blend to match this memory.

Our espresso is good when enjoyed as a straight espresso shot, but it also carries well in all our dairy and non dairy based drinks. And it definitely pairs well with our cocktail style drinks.

Bright citrus, butter crema, coffee, and bold finish.

Why Puma Moon?

Well I know this extremely talented, dynamic and maybe even a bit crazy (in a good way) artist friend Alma Quillian, yes you can look her up too. Alma can paint, sculpt, and create just about anything. She painted all our original coffee plaques. When I asked her to make one for my espresso blend, our Black Puma icon came into existence. She captured what espresso would look like if it were an animal. A black mysterious puma that leaves you with a lasting impression. And so the art reflects the coffee and thus the name stuck.

Final word

It is important to come full circle and say that even though our espresso blend was developed specifically to be brewed on an espresso machine, it is really good brewed on a moka pot, aeropress, and yes even a basic drip pot. In conclusion, I am very proud of our espresso and think it falls in a special coffee category.

Thomas J Isole’
Trifecta Coffee Co.
founder, co-owner, roaster