The rind or outer casing is what defines the greatest cheeses found around the world. Brie, for example, is noted for its outer shell. Some consumers feel this kind is just as important in regards to flavor as the cheese itself, while others choose to avoid the kind, and dive directly into the cheese.
Crema is the strong aromatic foam which sits atop a freshly made espresso shot. Like with cheese, connoisseurs are conflicted on whether or not this should be a part of the experience or simply an “outer shell” which should be removed.
There are some who prize the bitter tasting, strong smelling foam for its bold flavors. Others choose to avoid the substance, claiming it to be a bit overwhelming when compared to the lighter, sweeter taste of the espresso itself.
Which way of thinking is correct? Should crema be skimmed, or should it be allowed to lend it’s naturally strong pungency to an otherwise lighter brew? Let’s take a deeper look to figure it out.
What is crema?
When the pressurized water meets the coffee beans, just freshly ground, under the high levels of heat used to brew espresso, CO2 gas is released.
The pressure than emulsifies the oils that have been released from the beans using water, which then creates a dense “foam” which suspends air.
This crema is thicker than the basic espresso liquid, which allows it sit atop the drink versus sinking in. Like the foam on a freshly poured beer, crema will begin to disappear quickly as the liquid coats them, causing them to become heavier.
Why does this only occur with espresso, though, and not other types of brews extracted from coffee beans?
The reason is due to the special pressurized extraction which created espresso. This is high enough to contain carbon dioxide, as well as some other gases, as it’s released from the grounds.
This special brewing process that contains these gases within the mixture of oil and water, creating the only substance defined purely as crema. A little bonus information for you: this process is also the reason espresso has it’s strong, concentrated taste.
So what would be the reason behind skimming it?
The idea of skimming crema off espresso is not a new one. In the late 2010’s Denmark’s Coffee Collective began arguing whether crema enhanced or devalued the aromatic tastes of Espresso.
The truth is that crema on its own is nothing but a dry substance with an overpoweringly bitter taste. You wouldn’t want to drink it on its own and certainly, wouldn’t want to ingest much of it in general.
Skimming this substance off the top does achieve several things consumers might find beneficial. These include:
- Bitterness is reduced
- Smoother texture
Skimming the crema is not without its downfalls, however. Ridding espresso of its foamy substance does also rid it of that pungency which has become its hallmark for consumers everywhere.
Similar to whiskey drinkers, espresso lovers know that it tastes great and horrible simultaneously.
Depending on the exact coffee blend, the result of skimming crema allows for a much sweeter taste and lighter body.
If that was what you desired, however, wouldn’t you simply drink a regular cup of brewed coffee instead?
When crema is combined with the heavy brew of espresso, this foamy substance can help to add dimension and complexity to the drink (and, some say, quality). The bitterness, when properly mixed into the dark liquid itself, really is more a complementing taste (versus a distraction).
This is best compared to cake, which is best when the icing and cake are eaten together. Few consumers prefer only cake, or only icing, as eating them in isolation defeats the purpose of their combination.
Do you skim your crema, stir it into the beverage, or only sip? Let me know how you prefer to drink your espresso, and what your thoughts are on skimming crema.