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The Golden Rule of Perfect Espresso

By now you've probably studied my 9 steps to making perfect espresso coffee and the separate section on making perfect crema. In the section on making perfect crema, I made reference to "The Golden Rule" that you see frequently quoted, which is: "Extract 2 to 2.5 ounces of coffee into your cup in 20 to 30 seconds from the moment you turn on the pump."

I have a completely different Golden Rule for making perfect espresso coffee that I am going to share with you now.

Crema floating on top of an espresso 
New Zealand where I grew up has an even more deeply entrenched "espresso coffee culture" than the United States, and there is one significant difference in how espresso coffee is made in New Zealand cafes and coffee shops. That key difference is this: in the United States the espresso is typically brewed into a pitcher and then poured into the cup.

In New Zealand, and many other countries for that matter, the espresso is brewed directly into the cup from which is will be drunk. This one simple difference makes a huge difference in flavor. Why? The crema!

Crema is the caramelized coffee sugars and coffee proteins that float on top of a well-brewed espresso coffee, and carries with it immense aroma and flavor. If you've had espresso and not liked it, it may have been because the "barista" didn't do a good job of making the espresso and literally threw most of the crema down the drain! How so? Quite easily; by using the technique popular in the U.S. of brewing the espresso into a pitcher and then pouring it into the cup, most of the crema is left clinging to the sides of the pitcher, to be washed down the drain. What a crying shame! But it happens millions of times all over the U.S. every day in every Starbucks, and other coffee chains you frequent. Why do they do it?

Espresso crema - the liqueur of coffee.Crema consists of caramelized coffee sugars and coffee proteins. It will be formed only when you brew your coffee at the right pressure and right temperature. Read here about how to make perfect crema.

Crema! floating on top of an espresso shot in a
Stylish Glass Espresso Cup with Stainless Steel Handle
Here's an illustration of what I mean. I brewed an espresso into a glass demitasse cup so you can clearly see the caramel-like foam on the top called "crema". Sometimes it may even appear milky-white when looking down on it, hence the name "crema".

Then I poured the espresso out into another cup. Look at all the crema left behind on the sides of the demitasse cup! The same thing happens when the coffee is extracted into a stainless steel pitcher and then poured into a cup.

Why do American coffee shops wash cream down the drain?

So that's my Golden Rule: Make your espresso directly into the cup from which you are going to drink it! Don't be guilty of washing your crema down the drain. You'll be amazed at the difference in flavor!


  1. I fully understand what you mean but it's not nearly as bad as you say it is in the United States, most places pour the shot right into an espresso cup. All restaurants that I know of anyway. Even starbucks I'm pretty sure pull directy to a cup.
    Anyway, interesting blog, thanks

  2. Huge delicious piece of comparative espresso discussion you put here for your fans. I am a new reader here and excited with the way you explained the whole golden rule of perfect coffee espresso. I love to admit, I had no idea about the different habit of taking espresso between New Zealand and America. This is surely very knowledgeable and interesting too. Espresso coffee


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