How to Drink Espresso: Do It Like a Pro!

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

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We’ve all seen those movies where the main character sips espresso at a scenic cafe in Paris or Venice. They make it look so natural, but those scenes aren’t always easy to recreate in real life. Especially when you’re not sure how to drink espresso.

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We’ve all seen those movies where the main character sips espresso at a scenic cafe in Paris or Venice. They make it look so natural, but those scenes aren’t always easy to recreate in real life. Especially when you’re not sure how to drink espresso.

Fortunately, I’ve come equipped with a complete guide on how to drink espresso like a pro (or at least your favorite movie character). Don’t worry, you won’t need a plane ticket, and the picturesque view of the Eiffel tower is optional.

Seriously though, it doesn’t take much to learn how to drink espresso and how to order exactly what you want. Ready to go pro? Let’s do this!

Overview: Background on Espresso

Espresso may seem elegant and dignified now, but when it was first introduced, it was just meant to be a really fast cup of coffee. Through the early work of Luigi Bezzera and later Achille Gaggia, people began “pulling shots of espresso” during the 1940s.

Whereas drip coffee makers could take several minutes or more to produce a single cup, espresso machines provided a faster alternative. In less than a minute, you could have your hands on a concentrated shot of coffee.

Over the decades, espresso has seen its fair share of changes. Walk into any coffee shop, and you’ll find a myriad of espresso drinks to pick from. Espresso has birthed all sorts of new concoctions – like lattes, americanos and espresso macchiatos. Still, just about any coffee shop will be happy to make a regular shot of espresso for you.

Of course, just because you can doesn’t mean you know how. Learning how to order and drink espresso may seem intimidating, but it’s easier than it looks.

Fun fact: Early espresso drinkers were initially skeptical of the “scum” that formed on top of their shots. That is, until Gaggia dubbed it caffe creme. He suggested that high-quality espresso included its own aromatic crema. Today, many coffee drinkers still measure the quality of their espresso by its crema layer.

What Makes a Good Espresso?

A “good” movie or TV show might be subjective, but good espresso is not. Next time you’re drinking espresso at a coffee shop, here are a couple of indicators that you’ve been served a good shot.

Crema

Looking down on a shot of espresso from above.

When the barista hands you that shot of espresso, you don’t want to miss the crema. A good espresso shot will always have a bit of crema, but more isn’t always better. Ideally, crema should only be a few millimeters thick and completely cover the espresso.

The color can vary. However, double shots tend to have darker crema while single shots should display more of a golden brown color.

Crema isn’t the only factor that determines good espresso. Still, its consistency is more telling than you might think. Just as you might steer clear of a soggy sandwich or runny soup, you may want to think twice about drinking espresso that’s missing crema.

Temperature

This one might seem a little obvious, but yes, the temperature of your espresso shots does matter. If you’re served espresso that’s only lukewarm, then it was probably poured into a cold espresso cup. That or the machine has some serious technical issues.

Any barista worth their salt knows that you should heat your espresso or Turkish coffee cups before pulling the shot.A warm cup maintains the temperature of the coffee, so you’re able to drink espresso as it was meant to be consumed: piping hot.

This might be small potatoes to some people, but if the temperature isn’t good, the espresso probably isn’t either.

Espresso Taste

Arne drinking a shot of espresso.

If temperature and crema don’t clue you in, the taste of your coffee drink might. A straight espresso shot should taste somewhat bitter with a rich, lasting flavor. It should never be bitter to the point of being undrinkable.

Your shot should never seem sour to your taste buds either. A sour taste (or smell) can indicate that your drink was over extracted or has been sitting out too long. On the flipside, a thin, watery espresso with very little crema was likely under extracted.

Ordering Espresso: What to Ask For

Unfortunately, ordering straight espresso is not the same as asking for brewed coffee. Use the wrong buzzword, and you could end up with a mocha latte or some other espresso drink.

Since there are a couple of variations on the traditional espresso shot, here’s how to make sure you get exactly what you’re asking for:

  • Single espresso shot: Usually served in a demitasse cup, a single shot comprises about an ounce of espresso (30 milliliters). Don’t expect any milk foam or sugary add-ons. This is just straight espresso. 
  • Double espresso shot (doppio): You can ask for a doppio, but depending on where you’re located, there’s no telling if the barista will give you more than a blank stare. Either way, a double espresso shot is just two ounces (60 milliliters) of espresso. 
  • Lungo shot: A lungo shot, which measures around two ounces (60 milliliters), isn’t the same as a double shot. A lungo shot has twice the amount of water as a single shot with the same amount of ground coffee used. 
  • Ristretto shot: Whereas lungo shots tend to taste more diluted, ristretto shots are more intense. In short, ristretto is a more concentrated single shot of espresso. A single ristretto should clock in at just under 0.75 ounces (22 milliliters). 

I know the coffee terms can be confusing, but once you know how to order it, you’re on the right track to figuring out how to drink espresso.

Pro tip: Make sure you’re pronouncing espresso correctly. It may be tempting to say “ex-presso,” but it’s pronounced “eh-spresso.” That’s especially important if you’re ordering in Italy!

How to Drink Espresso

Closeup of espresso in Coffeeness glasses.

Now we’ve reached the part you’ve all been waiting for – how to drink espresso. Perform these steps next time you order an espresso at a coffee shop, and nobody will be able to doubt that you’re a seasoned coffee drinker.

Ask For Some Sparkling Water

Depending on the cafe, your espresso shot may come with a side of sparkling water. I wouldn’t expect it from big chains like Starbucks, but your local coffee shop could surprise you. Either way, don’t be afraid to ask for a glass of the fizzy stuff to pair with your shot.

A lot of coffee lovers consider sparkling water to be a great palate cleanser for espresso. You should drink sparkling water before the shot. The idea here is that the carbonated water should stimulate your taste buds, making it easier to experience the full range of flavors from your espresso shot.

Deal With the Crema

Arne showing the crema on a freshly pulled shot of espresso.

Most coffee lovers will tell you that the crema is the window to the soul of your espresso shot. However, those same coffee drinkers often bicker about what to do with that crema. Some suggest “skimming” the crema off the top of your shot with a spoon and ditching it.

By itself, crema tastes bitter. It doesn’t contribute much to the shot’s flavor, which is why so many advocate for its removal. However, others will argue that the crema is an essential part of the espresso drinking experience. It’s like scooping the whipped cream off a milkshake or leaving the vanilla ice cream off a piece of apple pie.

Personally, I don’t mind taking my shots either way. You can certainly try both methods and stick with the technique you enjoy more.

Give It a Stir

To stir or not to stir – that is life’s most important question. Much like skimming the crema, not everyone agrees on whether you should stir your espresso shot. Traditionally, you’d just drink your espresso as is … but if you ask me, some rules are meant to be broken!

After all, there’s good reason for stirring your shot. Once it’s been brewed and served, espresso is prone to separating. This can leave the bottom of your espresso cup with a syrup-like consistency. Stirring espresso can prevent this and ensure you get a more well-balanced shot.

Sip, Don’t Slurp

Arne sipping a shot of espresso.

Despite being called an espresso “shot,” that doesn’t mean you need to down a single or double shot in one go. Ideally, you’ll want to consume the intense drink before it cools down, but many espresso lovers like to sip their shots.

It may take a little longer to get that caffeinated kick, but you’ll get to slowly savor all the bold flavor and complexity of your concentrated elixir.

Final Thoughts

Modern machines have made extraction more efficient than ever, but I think it’s still important to know how to drink espresso. Even if some of the above steps seem tedious, the end goal is important: to get the most out of your espresso.

Plus, you don’t need to sit in a cafe to drink espresso properly. Even if you’re using your own home espresso machine or super automatic, there’s no reason not to get the full experience out of your coffee beans.

How to Drink Espresso FAQ

It’s an acquired taste for some, but you can drink espresso shots straight.

You can drink espresso shots straight or try making an espresso-based specialty drink to ease yourself into the world of espresso.

While the flavor of espresso is often considered stronger than brewed coffee, a single shot of espresso will likely contain less caffeine than a big mug of drip.

Not necessarily. The health benefits of your coffee are more dependent on the type of beans you’re using, not the brewing method.

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Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

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