James clearly has a good portion of the industry a-buzz about this topic. As James’ videoblog raised the issue, many have responded with, “Well, MY crema tastes great!” or “Well, it depends on the coffee.” I think that everyone’s probably right.
So much of this does depend on the multitude of factors at work. I’ve had yummy crema. I’ve had salty crema. I’ve had bitter crema. I’ve had chalky crema. So to me, the question isn’t “is crema rubbish?” It’s, “How is YOUR crema?” To be totally frank here, I’m a bit surprised that James took such a decisive stance, rather than a more open-ended query. Granted, things are being taken a bit out-of-context in the telling and re-telling of James’ provocative videoblog.
One thing that I (and I know others like my bud and pf.net blogger Mr. Schecter) would love to see people spend some more time thinking about is how crema volume factors into how we’re extracting espresso.
Crema serves multiple purposes to a barista, and to the consumer/customer. Aromatic-vehicle, quality indicator, light-and-airy-layer, etc. A function that most of us take for granted is the way that the volume, and therefore the density, of the crema (both intimately related to, AND distinct from the volume & density of the liquor-portion of the beverage) establishes the critically-important perceived volume of the shot (both the final volume and the volume as the shot progresses), therefore the extraction rate, therefore the entire extraction dynamic… with “dynamic” meaning a sort of catch-all to encompass everything that’s relevant to the qualities of the beverage.
AndyS and I and a few others have waxed poetic about how mass is the true constant, and that measuring by volume is somewhat a fallacy. As I’ve been thinking about it some more, it’s clear that integrating little scales into the drip-trays of espresso machines isn’t the answer either. In fact, in a our own sort of Heisenberg uncertainty principle, as you pay attention to one, you lose focus on the other, and both seem crucial..
I’m clearly not providing many conclusions, so much as I’m raising more questions. Just a few coffee-thoughts on a pleasingly hot Washington DC summer Monday afternoon!