Crema – A perk, or a necessary evil?
Crema has often been believed to be a sign of a properly pulled espresso. More recently, crema became loved as a sign of freshness of the coffee. More recently still, a famous blogger declared that crema is rubbish. Let’s move on to the lesser appreciated, but more commonly “understood” expression of coffee oils and gas often referred to as “creme”, but that I refer to as “bloom”.
French press fans have long been fans of what is often improperly called “crema” or “creme”. It is referred to as “bloom” before poured into the cup, and it doesn’t change states between brewing and pouring, so I have opted to refer to it as bloom. Nevertheless, it has then moved on to be an indication of how fresh a coffee is. If it is “too fresh”, there will be unmanageable amounts of gas being released upon hot water contact, and the bloom risks overflowing its vessel. More recently, an earlier World Barista Champion introduced the “cupping method” of French press brewing.
The question then being, “Does it make a difference?” I have done a LOT of experimenting with French press brewing. It’s the way that coffee is most often brewed in the mornings in my household. It is full submersion brewing (read: even extraction) that you could teach a monkey to do. There were talks of using a high dose and short brew time with a french press when the Clover was taken off of the independent market. It can be used for cold brew coffee. You can brew at double strength quite easily for Japanese method iced coffee, or to tide you over until you can afford that espresso machine that you so wisely passed up in order to blow all of your money on the best grinder you could get your hands on.
The French press definitely has it merits. I would argue, however, that the single greatest contribution for the quality of home coffee brewing is the introduction of getting rid of that gorgeous foam before pressing the plunger down on your French press. It makes that big of a difference. Back to espresso.
Espresso, as we all know by now, is comprised of three parts: crema, body, and heart. By definition, espresso is not espresso without crema.. but that would lead to a philosophical debate about ontology and semantics (so let’s just leave that bit out). The heart is the concentrated solution of dissolved and undissolved solids in the bottom of your demitasse. It is the reason for espresso’s being. (I have found myself wiping clinging remainder of an espresso from the inside of my demitasse with my finger to get every last bit of flavor from one of the best shots I have ever tasted) The body is the bulk of the liquid part of the espresso, which contains water, dissolved solids, and not a whole lot else. The crema, they say, is a colloid of coffee oils and carbon dioxide gas. The carbon dioxide is a known binder of aromatics.. which is something that most aficionados recognize as vitally important to a good cup of coffee.
It seems, however, that there is something else hiding in the crema, as well as in the bloom. People have often talked about fine particles in the cup, but rarely do they blame the crema or bloom for that bitter tinge, when they are often the bulk of the cause.
Bloom lends texture to your French press coffee, and it is visually pleasing to behold. Crema can tell you a lot about the espresso that was just served to you before you even taste it. It also lends a texture, and a lasting persistence of flavor and aromatics long after the espresso is consumed.
The definitive question, however, is: Is it worth it?