Stories > The secret behind a great cup of coffee (no one has told you about)
The secret behind a great cup of coffee (no one has told you about)

The secret behind a great cup of coffee (no one has told you about)

Published 2021-03-04 by Peter Ternström

Do you think that a great cup of coffee is all about the beans and the most expensive machine you can find? Think again. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I have become an espresso nerd. From drinking instant coffee with milk every morning, it is now a tradition to head to the village cafe and have one shot of super-strong espresso. One shot. That's it. Then I walk back home with a pleasant coffee buzz to start a productive day writing blog posts and total clickbait like this.

The routine looks like this: At the big marble bar at the cafe, I order an espresso. It always costs exactly one euro, the standard price for a coffee all over Italy, except for St Marks square in Venice, Portofino harbour and Capri island. There it costs five euros, minimum.

Two minutes later my small cup arrives. It is steaming hot. I raise the cup to my face and take a deep sniff from the cup. The strong aroma hits my nostrils. The beautiful rich smell of Italian coffee. Nothing can beat it an early morning.

The coffee is really warm. I have to wait for a moment. I let the little shot cup rest on the bar. Watching it. Anticipating the next moment, when I get that blissful hit.

First, a second deep whiff, the aroma filling my nasal cavity. Then I chug down the entire shot of espresso in one go.

The sensation is astonishing. The combination of aroma and taste of coffee is amazing. It is as if your soul and your mind are kick-started and ready for a new day.

I don't fancy Starbucks or variants of coffee with milk, or god forbid it, cinnamon or vanilla. I just have plain espresso, and that's it.

In recent years, I have spent a lot of time in Italy. I have slowly grown to learn how a great espresso should taste. The aroma is important. It must have that rich smell. However, at least for me, the taste should absolutely be bitter. A wonderful bitter aftertaste is what separates a mediocre from a fantastic coffee. This is my opinion.

It is quite difficult to get a good espresso anywhere outside Italy. This is not because the baristas are incompetent, or because they use cheap coffee machines. No, it actually depends on something completely different.

To make a perfect espresso, three things are required: great coffee beans, a good enough machine and - pause for drama - a particular type of water. The water the cafe has access to (in the tap) has a tremendous impact on the taste. Much more than any brand of coffee beans or exclusive espresso machines will ever admit.

Italy, and especially in the northern part, has fantastic water to make coffee from. Someone explained it to me. It is about the amount of lime rock content in the water they pump from the ground and use in the taps. This is why coffee tastes so good in Italy.

As a side note, espresso also tastes amazing in New York City. Guess why? It is because the chemical composition of the tap water in the big apple is very similar to the water in Tuscany.

There's one more thing. A secret. Are you ready to become better informed than 90 per cent of your friends? Here we go.

Your cup of espresso has a taste from the last 200 shots made before in the same machine. A machine that makes just a few cups per day can never produce fantastic coffee. There will be stale coffee and water going bad in the inner pipes and tubing in the machine. The water left in the system develops a bad taste and contaminates the next cup. The process is much quicker than you think. The machine must make coffee all the time, without rest, for the best result.

The more cups of espresso made in the same machine per day, the better the taste. That is why the world's by far the best espresso is found along the Italian motorways. At the roadside cafes, like Autogrill. Nowhere else in the world do the machines make the same crazy amount of coffee in one day. Try it and you will understand. It is exactly one euro and it will rock your world.

Peter Ternström
Peter Ternström
peter@granturismo.org

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