I’m Drinking a Cup of Crema


I know, look at that crema and although I can’t capture the depth of it in the cup, trust me, the cream is literally half of the coffee in the cup. Curious ? Of course you are, that’s why you’re still reading. In short, this is a pure robusta espresso blend. If you look through my pages on types of coffee, you will know that there are two main types of coffee, arabica and robusta. The latter is a cheaper variety of coffee with a much higher caffeine content, inferior in taste and used mostly for the ghastly stuff called “instant coffee” Sorry! but I’m a self-confessed coffee snob and drinking instant coffee is like saying you’re eating fresh fruit that has been somehow preserved for many months and years and looks like fruit – I’d rather drink water. Ok! I digress, but I’m coming to the good bit.

Traditionally, robusta is not used for speciality coffee because amongst other things, it is inferior in taste and for coffee connoisseurs, taste is king. Even when it is used, it is blended with its much more superior cousin, arabica, to give it some colour and a more profound caffeine kick. The Italians tend to prefer a bit of robusta in their blends because the other key quality of robusta is….. wait for it, crema, plus it looks good with a brown reddish vibe and we all know the Italians love what things look like. So, if you want crema and a good looking espresso or ristretto with a caffeine kick, then head to Italy or search for one of the rare coffee roasters that uses robusta in their blends. But, I know you’re asking “what about taste ?”

Yes, taste is king. My previous experience with robusta blends was a caffeine kick, where literally the back of my head by my neck hurt. However when I visited the cafe at the Ampersand Hotel in South Kensington, London (see my post before last), I was pleasantly surprised by what I had and even more so to discover that the espresso coffee was 100% robusta, roasted by the company Leave the Herd Behind – a very apt name denoting that they are going against the grain, having discovered how to work with coffee growers in India to grow robusta coffee in a way that can be roasted with a good taste profile for espresso based coffee – they call it black sheep coffee, read more about them on www.leavetheherdbehind.com

In any case, the robusta comes from the Sethuraman Estate – the first specialty grade robusta farm in the World

So impressed was I with their coffee that I made a special order of two espresso blends and two Ethiopian single estate coffee for filter, Yirgacheffe Dumerso, grown at over 2,000 metres, naturally processed, very fruity and sublime, when brewed on a hario V60.


The espresso Robusta blend was literally a cup of crema, dark chocolate and very full bodied and you could literally scoop the crema out with a spoon. Using the sugar test – a spoon of sugar took about 10 seconds before it fell through the crema cloud, wow! now that’s what I call a full bodied crema. When blended with milk, literally hot chocolate came to mind – I even paused and looked at the pack again to check they hadn’t sent me hot chocolate.


I know the picture looks weird but honestly there’s no photoshop nor manipulation of the picture – it’s like the crema blends weirdly with milk giving it this dreamy like effect. Well, if you dream of chocolate then this is the blends for you. If you can’t buy and brew beans at home, then when you’re in London visit them, as they have two shops:

63 Charlotte Street, London, W1T 4PG London

Inside Urban Outsiders on 469 Oxford Street, W1C 2PY London

So, if you’re nearby, leave the herd behind on Oxford Street and grab a good looking cup of crema, yum!


Espresso Cream

No ! that isn’t spelt wrong… it is cream this time and not crema, but you need crema first. Confusing ! I thought so, so let me explain. I was drinking Square Mile Coffee Roasters latest addition “Progresso” I love the way it sounds. It’s like a new espresso drink should be created with that name. In any case, Progresso is advertised as a cremay cup, with lingering sweetness, if brewed properly of course. So, looking into my fridge, I noticed a carton of full cream inside and thought “I’ve never tried espresso with cream before, well there’s always a first time”. The main reason for this of course, is that I thought “how can someone destroy an espresso by putting cream inside” and the very thought cold easily make me scream, BUT on this occasion, my culinary curiosity got the better of me, because I thought cream added to sweet things usually enhances it. So first up, extract a beautiful espresso with a good dose of crema visible on top like below;

Then of course, just pour a little bit of cream on top, but it should be enough to make the drink rise just a little bit – say about 2 teaspoons worth.

In the picture below, this is more evident, as I used an espresso shot glass, which when extracting a single espresso should rise to the line, but there was enough cream to just push it above the line.

This adventure just wasn’t about the taste, but about the art of coffee, because I really wanted to see how the colours would display with a shot of cream poured inside an espresso crema – would the crema disappear, or would it rise to the top like real cream is supposed to, and so there was a bit of the scientific too. Just look at all those colours.

On taste, I was correct, the sweetness in the espresso was enhanced, making it a truly tasty experience. So next time, break with the conventional and try something different. Is this progress with drinking espresso ? I don’t know but just one more time, say PROGRESSO like an Italian would.

Ciao, Espresso Cream Crema……

Making Affogato

I’m not sure where you are, but in Vienna, it’s been quite hot. Not one for compromising on my afternoon fix of a double espresso, when I’m at home, I thought I’d re-visit another one of my favourite coffee recipes, Espresso Affogato in full, but for those who know, just Affogato. It’s quite popular in Italy, especially in the summer. In short, it’s ice cream and espresso together….simple, isn’t it. First up, get a cup that’s wide enough to handle a double espresso shot. Wide is important here, because with both ice cream and espresso in one cup, you don’t want the mixture spilling out at the top, as would happen if you used a normal espresso cup. Second, prepare your espresso and extract it preferably into a milk jug. Third, scoop one portion of vanilla ice cream into the cup and you are ready to complete your affogato.

Simply pour the double espresso on top of the ice cream scoop in the cup and there you have it, Espresso Affogato.

You won’t have much time to enjoy this, especially if you have used freshly homemade ice cream, like me (recipe here), and it is really hot outside, which it was, when I made this, as the hot espresso will begin to melt away the ice cream, almost creating an espresso style float, whereby the float is warm ice cream rising to the top of the double espresso, creating a vanilla ice cream crema…. hmmmm !

One tip; to make this experience longer, adapt the pre-warmed cup technique for making espresso, for this cold/warm drink, but of course this time, you will pre-freeze the cup. So, place the cup you intend to use into the freezer or fridge for at least 30 minutes before you make the affogato, so that you don’t suffer what I went through. If you really want to be trendy with this, you can also serve it as a dessert on a warm evening in trendy cups with teaspoons to scoop the ice cream out, which some restaurants now do during the summer months, so share this experience as much as you can during the late summer months.

Looking for Crema in Dubai

Wow ! it’s already been a month since my last post, which is way over my target of a weekly post but my excuse, if I can get away with one, is that it was family holiday season and we went again to Dubai – the kids and wife insisted.

Burj al Arab coffee 

Last year I wrote a summary on drinking coffee in Dubai, which was really like a summary of drinking coffee in one mall. This time, I tried to broaden my horizons by visiting a few more malls but still failed to visit some cafes outside the mall perimeter – next time God willing. Following on from some advise given by a coffee pro – “don’t bother tasting espresso style coffee from coffee chains because it is always going to be badly prepared”, I initially only ordered what could be called Americanos and just “normal” filter coffee. For a while it satisfied my caffeine thirst, but then I thought, it’s been over one week without espresso and decided to risk it.

A few pointers before telling you about my experience. Firstly, I only visited cafes with semi-automatic machines and not pure automatic ones (witness Starbucks), where the barista just pushes a button and hopes for the best. Secondly, and I was called a snub for this by my wife – insist that the barista cleans the machine before making your coffee. Usually, old coffee is left in the portafilter, emptied and without cleaning the old dried stale coffee, what is supposed to be fresh coffee is ground and placed into the portafilter before placing into the group head without cleaning the machine – Yuk! On this occasion, I insisted every time that the barista empty the old coffee, flush it out with hot water and also clean the group head with hot water. Finally, I insisted that they tamp the ground beans. You would think that with these key pointers, some sort of espresso will come out, but sadly this was not the case – why ? I think it falls under the best known two classical mistakes – serving non-fresh coffee with an inaccurate grind setting. From the taste of the majority of the coffee I had, freshness was compromised by far, because, even if the coffee is fresh and the grind setting is inaccurate, you will smell the aroma and the coffee, although bitter in taste, will still have some sort of fresh taste. I didn’t even go there with milk based drinks because badly frothed milk is usually burnt and gives me indigestion – Snubbish ? No ! I’m just trying to get what I paid for and not mess up my stomach.

Anyway to the shops. One thing I noticed now is that some more of the cafes have now started trying to tamp. At the Tea Merchants, Burjuman Mall, I noticed a La Marzocco machine and an expensive Mahl Konig Grind-on-Demand coffee grinder, but sadly, as you can see from the picture, after insisting on cleaning the machine, etc the crema was still very thing and lasted about a minute but the taste told me more – not very fresh.

Tea Merchants Espresso 

The baristas, however, were very amused by my tips on cleaning the machine and tamping the coffee.

Having looked down on coffee chains and there are everywhere, I decided to try a popular one in Dubai, who boasted about the “Italian taste”, so I went to the aptly named Barista – which is actually an Indian coffee chain. At their shop in the Dubai Festival City (nice shops and water way) I was impressed by their preparation techniques and most of all by the taste – it did have an “Italian taste” after all, as they proudly displayed that their coffee is roasted in Milan.

Barista Espresso 

In all, I told them that their espresso was the best I had tasted in Dubai. I also caught, surprisingly of all, one of the baristi having a go at latte art… hmmmm !

One more success story was the espresso I had on my last day at the Dubai International Financial Centre in the Testa Rossa Caffe. I decided not to fuss about how the coffee would be made – I was too hungry to run over to the bar. However, perhaps my reputation had preceded me as I watched the barista, clean the machine, flush out the group head, grind the coffee and tamp. I was impressed and although the coffee had some crema, the taste was not as sharp as the one I had at Barista.

Testa Rossa Espresso 

I’m still looking for real crema and that authentic espresso taste in Dubai – land of the malls, flashy cars, famous hotels and indoor ski slope, but that will have to be on another occasion God willing if I return. I’ve just got to leave you with one incident – On another occasion on this trip, I decided to try an espresso at a Dubai based coffee chain and after warning the barista that I write on coffee, he boasted that his colleague could make really good espresso, so I thought why not. In chatting to him, I went a step further, “so ! what sort of coffee do you use in your blend and where is your coffee from ?” “Canada” was the reply and I thought “Oh no it doesn’t, they don’t grow coffee in Canada” but I decided to keep that embarrassing revelation to myself and just smiled – I then knew I was in for a surprise. Needless to say my suspicions were confirmed and that is why I have a story and not a picture of what was advertised as an espresso. I think they need really good coffee in Dubai to match their plans to become one of the top destinations in the World…. still looking.

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