Espresso Basics You Need To Know

Here is a post I've been meaning to transfer from a photography and illustration focused tumblr site I started a ways back. Although I am no longer a barista, I still work in coffee and am constantly learning more and more nerdy details:

The first time I ordered an espresso was… memorable. Kids in their early teens generally have no reason to spend time in a coffee shop aside from having nowhere else to go; that’s why they always order steamers. Before the popular age of soy and almond milk I was (and still am) a lactose intolerant nerd; Coffee was my only choice.

The coffee in the cafĂ© where my best friend got a job and where I spent too much time was not good but it provided caffeine, something I did not need, and it made me feel cool the way cigarettes made other kids feel cool. Because of my dad, a nerdy mechanical and forensic engineer who calculated the amount of time in my mom’s life that she “wastes” preparing her coffee with cream and sugar, I was always taught “learn to drink your coffee black”, so I did. That made me feel extra badass.

One particularly adventurous day I decided to explore beyond black coffee by ordering espresso because it seemed exotic. I spent hours listening to the slamming, grinding, and whirring sounds permeating the shop but had no idea what was really happening behind the mysterious Cimbali monster. The barista handed me a cup smaller than an egg filled with dark brown mud. I stared at it for a few seconds, stared at the barista who stared back at me blankly, and took the feeble looking drink to my table. My friends dumbly asked me “what is that?” to which I responded, “Apparently it’s an espresso” (because everyone’s favorite word in high school is “apparently"). I didn’t know epsresso is basically coffee concentrate, but more interestingly I don’t know what I expected it to be because somehow I was completely shocked when I gulped down the potent sludge, instinctually contracted every muscle in my face, and choked for a millisecond or two.

Now, as a barista, I have encounters with my former self from time to time. Here are your espresso bar basics to help you avoid looking like a nerd when you’re especially trying to not look like nerd:


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