Loving That Italian Espresso Coffee

Whether you get it at home or at a coffee shop that sells espresso, there's noting that can quite match the full-bodied, rich taste of Italian espresso coffee. Espresso, or, as it's usually called, "espresso," was invented in Italy in the early 1900s. Espresso coffee may be Italian in origin, but its popularity is definitely worldwide, as evidenced by the boom in recent decades in specialty coffee shops. Now, you can get a cup of great Italian-style espresso coffee at your favorite bookstore, grocery, or just down the corner.

Enjoying Italian Espresso Coffee

Traditionally, espresso is made by forcing steam or very hot water through very finely ground coffee. The resulting drink is somewhat thicker than American coffee, has a stronger, richer taste, and carries a bigger caffeine wallop than American coffee. The traditional Italian espresso coffee has a foamy head on top, similar to beer, that is called crema ("cream" in Italian), and is made up of the frothy residue from the brewing process. Espresso, when taken straight, is usually served in a small, or demi-tasse cup, with sugar to taste (or perhaps just a bit of sugar sprinkled on top of the crema).

But not everybody likes their Italian espresso coffee straight up. Never at a loss for culinary ideas, the Italians have developed several delightful variations on the espresso theme. Capucchino is a coffee drink usually composed of about two-thirds espresso, a third steamed milk, and topped with milk foam, often sprinkled with cocoa powder. The drink takes its name from the Capuchin order of Catholic monks, who wear hoods ("cappuccino") similar in color to a properly prepared capuccino drink.

Other coffee enthusiasts favor latte' ("caffe latte'," or "coffee with milk"), which is about one third espresso and two thirds milk, often with a topping of milk foam. Macchiato ("caffe macchiato," or "spotted coffee") contains mostly espresso with a bit of milk, and sometimes a spoonful of milk foam on the top. Macchiato is often served in a demi-tasse, like espresso, since it is very similar in composition to straight Italian espresso coffee.

Brewing Your Own

With an espresso machine and a little practice, you can brew your own great-tasting Italian espresso coffee right in your own home. Espresso machines start at just over $200, and can run well in excess of $5,000, depending on how serious you are about your Italian espresso coffee (and how much your budget can tolerate). Experienced baristas (coffee brewers) say that the main trick to getting a great cup of Italian espresso coffee is having the water at just the right temperature, and forcing it through the coffee at just the right pressure.