Last updated on August 19th, 2023

Espresso Crema: Learn What Espresso Foam Is & How To Get It

Crema on espresso tastes unique and adds visual beauty to your drink. Whether you are a coffee nerd who wants to learn the science or a home barista looking to up their game, you might be wondering: exactly what is espresso crema? How does this intricate layer of espresso foam work, and why is it a vital part of the taste and texture of espresso? What is it made of, and can you get coffee crema with other methods? And how do you make espresso with crema at home?

a picture of espresso with crema forming on the top

In this article, you’ll learn the details and science of how crema forms and why you need it for the perfect espresso. We’ll also give you some tips and tricks for getting more reliable crema.

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What Is Espresso Crema?

Before you can understand the crema on top of espresso, you have to understand espresso as a brewing method. For full details, review our article all about espresso coffee. But in short, espresso is a strong dose of coffee brewed under high pressure.

A typical shot ranges from 1-2 ounces, and good espresso has a beautiful, balanced, and intense taste. And part of that flavor is the aroma and texture of the bubbles on top, called a crema.

What Is Crema in Espresso Made Of?

a picture describing what espresso crema is, the foam on the top of espresso.

A proper crema has multiple elements, including microbubbles, tiny coffee fragments, and emulsified coffee oils. The high pressure of the espresso machine pump pushing against the compacted grounds is how this colloidal dispersion of oil droplets and gas forms. As the espresso settles into the serving vessel, this collection rises to the surface, forming a layer of foam called crema.

What Are The Espresso Foam Bubbles

The bubbles are a part of the espresso crema that is most visually appealing. The ideal crema has microbubbles at the top comprised of carbon dioxide. Roasted coffee beans release carbon dioxide anytime they interact with hot water. You can see a similar degassing during any brewing method—you have probably seen it with filter coffee or French press. But the distinctive layer of microbubbles and oil forms because of espresso’s unique brewing method.

Does Espresso with Crema Taste Better?

The bubbles within the espresso crema enhance your sensory experience while drinking it. First and foremost, the bubbles release aromatic compounds that add to the perceived flavor. And once you sip it, a thick crema will give the espresso a heavier texture and body. This mouthfeel of espresso is part of why it holds up so well in milk drinks.

Is there Crema in Coffee?

Generally speaking, coffee crema is impossible unless you are brewing with the high pressure of an espresso machine. Some methods, like the AeroPress or Moka pot, can create a layer of foamy bubbles that resemble a crema. But this layer does not have the same texture or aroma as an espresso shot and contributes little to the overall taste and experience.

Brewing an Americano can preserve some crema elements as you drink a more standard coffee.

Why Is Crema Important in Espresso?

Besides the beautiful visuals of the reddish-brown color swirls that make your mouth water, crema plays a significant role in the overall sensory experience. First is the bubbles, which release aromatics as you smell and sip. Many coffee shops serve espresso with a small spoon, allowing you to break the crema layer and release the complex aroma.

Picture of a bottomless espresso shot with a velvety layer of crema forming.

And the bubbles get help from the coffee oils and suspended fragments to give you the perception of a thick texture. This element is called mouthfeel or body, and it is a huge part of why espresso is such a coveted beverage.

Crema also signifies that the barista correctly brewed your espresso because proper crema is a sign of solid extraction. We’ll cover troubleshooting tips later, but espresso without crema is a sign that something went wrong during brewing.

What Is the Perfect Espresso Crema?

Good crema should demonstrate the right visuals, tastes, and texture. The color should be as rich and complex as the taste, usually having a brown color with dark red hues mixed in. Crema formation happens as the espresso settles into the glass, and a quality crema should last for 1-2 minutes before dissipating into the beverage.

The intense aroma of espresso should jump off the surface of the crema, and the flavor should have sweetness and complexity that balances any bitterness. The coffee blend, water quality, freshness of the beans, and barista’s skills all factor into making perfect crema.

But in short, espresso crema should be a visual delight that fuses aroma, texture, and taste into a unified and delicious espresso experience!

Is All Espresso Foam Crema?

Especially with the popularity of coffee pods, it is understandable to wonder, is all foam on top of coffee crema? To put it simply, no, all espresso foam is not crema. Part of what makes crema so magical is the specific conditions that create it.

Let’s explore some common methods that produce espresso foam, and discuss how it differs from legitimate crema.

Nespresso Espresso Foam

nespresso espresso foam

The design of Nespresso machines aims to create the illusion of crema. And for the first minute or two after brewing, Nespresso coffee does appear to have the thick texture of espresso, including some foam on top.

But is Nespresso espresso foam real crema?

Read our breakdown of Nespresso crema to learn why we think the answer is a hard no. We’ve taste-tested Nespresso with and without the foam and found that it is more of an aesthetic feature, only slightly altering the texture.

AeroPress Crema: Is It Real or Fake?

Making espresso coffee in an AeroPress does not taste the same as a legitimate espresso shot—you cannot reach the high pressure of an espresso machine. But can you get crema from an AeroPress?

While you might be able to produce some bubbles with a fine grind, it would be inaccurate to call that crema. Using this metal disc with AeroPress will allow more oils and solids to hit your cup. Combined with a fine grind and strong plunging you can get a thicker foam.

There is also Fellow’s Prismo Attachment that helps build more pressure in the AeroPress, further helping get the texture of espresso. But neither of these options will come close to the taste and texture of espresso with genuine crema.

French Press

One of our favorite reasons to use a French press is when we want more body and texture in brewed coffee. The method does allow more coffee particles and oils to reach your cup. And while these oils and fines do give French press coffee a unique texture, we could not call that crema.

Moka Pot Foam: Is It Crema?

The foam produced by a Moka pot most closely resembles legitimate espresso crema. It can flow out with characteristic rich colors and what appears to be the right texture. But we could not technically consider this crema.

While moka pots do perform extraction through steam pressure, it does not approach the pressure levels of an espresso machine. We consider moka pot foam to be more like a froth. And while it contributes to the taste, it does not have the microbubbles or emulsified coffee oils produced during espresso brewing.

How To Make Espresso Crema

Firstly, you should be aware of the extraction principles for espresso brewing, especially proper grind size, dosing, and tamp pressure. But putting those basics aside, this section will cover some steps and parameters you can work through to help you get a proper crema every time.

  1. Use high-quality and fresh coffee
  2. Grind fine enough, preferably with a high-quality burr grinder.
  3. Distribute and tamp evenly—tamping too much or too little can ruin crema
  4. Use espresso beans—these tend to have a roast profile and blend suited for espresso.

You should also assess the quality of the crema and make adjustments as needed. The most common adjustments will be to the grind size and dose. But the number one reason people don’t get crema is because of stale beans or worse, pre-ground coffee. Read more about the importance of grinding coffee beans at home to learn why it is such a crucial investment.

What Is the Right Color for Crema Espresso?

The perfect cup of espresso should have a reddish-brown color. As the espresso falls from the portafilter, you should see strips of colors mixing in a thick texture. And as the espresso settles, the crema should rise to the top with a slightly lighter color.

How Much Crema Should Espresso Have?

Coffee experts will have varying opinions on how thick crema should be. The typical range would be a layer that is 10-30% of the total volume. Crema should be thick enough that it can hold its structure for a minute or two. But if the espresso foam is the majority of the beverage, you probably need to make some adjustments.

Remember, crema espresso is about balance and enhancement. The crema should augment the flavors of the liquid portion of espresso.

How To Make Crema Espresso Without a Machine

As you already read, most coffee foam from non-espresso methods is not crema. But if you want to get close to crema espresso without a machine, methods like the moka pot will come closest. You will also be able to fool yourself more easily when making milk drinks. Using a cheap milk frother and combining it with AeroPress or a moka pot will come closets to the rich and velvety mouthfeel of real espresso.

Without repeating material in the different sections, answer the following questions and section prompts in short paragraphs based on the outline below. Try to include links to reputable scientific sources when relevant.

Perfect Crema Tips

This section will go over the primary factors, tips, and tricks you should be aware of to get the perfect crema.

How To Get Better Crema on Espresso

To improve your espresso’s crema, scan through the following tips to make sure you are not missing anything:

  • Make sure your espresso machine has the right temperature and pressure settings.
  • Ensure coffee is fresh. Expired coffee will not produce good crema.
  • Experiment with different roast levels.
  • Use a finer grind and firm tamping pressure.

Checking in with these variables and techniques can lead to a better crema experience. Of all the variables, though, using fresh beans is the most crucial.

How Thick Should Espresso Crema Be?

To some extent, the thickness of espresso crema is a matter of preference. But it should be thick enough to have a decent structure and last a few minutes. It should still be creamy and velvety and never approaching thick or viscous. Experimenting with grind size, dose, and tamp pressure will all produce different types of crema.

Does a Finer Grind Make More Crema?

The size of the coffee grounds in your portafilter does affect crema formation. But it is not a hard and fast rule, and you cannot assume that finer grinds always lead to better crema. For example, too fine a grind can completely stall the flow of water, leading to no crema.

Instead of focusing solely on crema, follow the general guidelines for espresso brewing and aim to get an extraction that tastes amazing.

What Are the Best Beans for Espresso Crema?

While the specialty coffee world has established that Arabica coffee tastes better, Robusta coffee has been shown to produce more crema volume. That same study, however, showed that the crema from an Arabica bean—because of its lipid content—is more stable than that from a Robusta bean.

You might find that roast degree has an effect, especially with dark roasts that have an oily surface. But remember that those oils and lipids are still inside lighter roasted beans. Espresso roasts tend to be more developed to allow for fast extraction.

So overall, for the best crema, try to find an espresso roast and make sure it is freshly roasted.

Crema Espresso Troubleshooting

For easy reference, let’s examine a few of the common problems people have getting good crema and discuss troubleshooting options.

Watery Espresso with No Crema

Watery espresso is a sign of under-extraction. Assuming you are on top of other brewing parameters like dosing, tamping, and machine settings, try to use a finer grind. If you don’t have an espresso grinder and find yourself stuck between two settings—one under-extracting and one over-extracting—try increasing the dose.

Another common fix for watery espresso is tamping harder. But in general, focusing on getting a proper extraction with good taste will also lead to better crema.

Crema too thin

The most common reason for thin crema is stale coffee. Pre-ground coffee goes bad quickly, especially for an espresso grind size. Investing in a quality grinder will probably be the biggest factor to create a thicker crema.

Espresso with too Much Crema

If your espresso has too much crema, consider making the following adjustments:

  • Try using a coarser grind
  • Let fresh beans rest (or grind a few minutes before brewing)

Even though fresh beans are crucial for crema, beans that are roasted within a day or two have too much gas. Allowing them to rest and release some gas will improve espresso brewing.

Espresso Crema: Common Questions

Before finishing up, let’s answer some of the most common questions people have about coffee crema.

What is crema on espresso?

Crema on espresso is a layer of foam that forms on top of the extracted coffee, and it is made of emulsified oils, gases, and fine coffee particles.

Is crema necessary in espresso?

While not technically necessary, crema espresso has a better aroma, flavor, and visual beauty than espresso without crema.

How much crema should espresso have?

Coffee experts may disagree based on preference, but a good range of crema volume would be around 10-30% of the espresso shot’s total volume.

How long should crema last on espresso?

Crema should be thick enough to last for a minute or two before it dissipates into the liquid portion of your espresso.

Why is there no crema in espresso?

Many factors can prevent crema formation such as improper extraction, low-quality beans, incorrect grind size, or problems with the machine. Most often using fresh coffee will help with crema formation.

How do you make the perfect crema in espresso?

To get fantastic crema, make sure you have a working espresso machine with the proper brewing parameters. And besides dialing in other factors such as grind size, tamp pressure, and dosing, be sure to use freshly roasted coffee.

Coffee Crema: Final Thoughts

Hopefully, even a seasoned espresso drinker was able to learn something new from this article. Whether you usually drink espresso at a coffee shop or make it at home, you can now have a greater appreciation of what crema is and why it is important!

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