How to drink espresso and fully appreciate its flavor

Learning how to drink an espresso coffee like a professional and appreciate all its aromatic nuances is an art. It is not only enough to prepare the beverage correctly but also to know how to taste it. All this involves attention to details such as the environment, aroma, flavor, and texture.

➡️ In this article, you will find all the steps to drink an espresso coffee correctly and understand its characteristics.

How to drink espresso coffee like an expert?

Drinking an espresso is a multisensory experience that involves each of the senses of our body. I will show you what to remember to get the most out of them.

1. The environment

The tasting place is important since it must be neutral, that is, without loud noises, with direct light, and without intense or unpleasant smells in the environment. It sounds almost absurd, but the environment is important.

Our sense of smell can influence our judgment, as can our hearing.

In a cupping experiment, I was to taste three types of coffees blind. The first time I did it with classical music in the background, the second time with rock music and finally without music. I, proud to recognize each of the characteristics, gave three very different descriptions. In the end I discovered that it was the same coffee.

2. Prepare your mouth

Prepare your mouth with a glass of plain water. This will help you to clean your mouth and refresh your palate. This way, you can enjoy the taste of espresso correctly.

3. Sight

The first sense we use is sight. It is important to look carefully at the espresso and check that the crema has a nice hazelnut color.

If we notice that the crema is lighter than normal, the coffee has not been sufficiently extracted, and the grind has probably been too coarse. Therefore, the flavor will be sour and flat, with little taste.

If, on the contrary, it is too dark, it means that the coffee is over-extracted and that the grinding is too fine. The flavor will be bitter with burnt nuances.

To understand it better, here is a photo: in the first cup on the left, the crema is too light and would be that of an under-extracted coffee. While in the last cup on the right, the cream is too dark and would be that of an over-extracted coffee. The middle one, on the other hand, is a correct crema.

Comparison of three different espresso crema results
Comparison of three different espresso crema

NOTE: The crema of espresso should be bright, i.e., it should reflect light; it should also be smooth, i.e., without bubbles.

That said, we must understand that the crema of our espresso is an important element in its preparation, as it acts as a barrier that retains the aromas. If the crema is not properly formed or has holes, the flavors will be dispersed and not perceived correctly on our palate.

Therefore, paying attention to its quality is essential to enjoy a full and satisfying taste experience.

What should the perfect espresso crema look like?

The crema of a perfect espresso is hazelnut-colored, with some slightly reddish streaks, compact, shiny, silky, and free of microbubbles.

There are two types of crema:

  1. Arabica produces a finer crema but is much silkier, shinier, compact, and persistent over time.
  2. Robusta produces a thicker crema, but in seconds it settles or goes down because it is full of gases that make it not very persistent over time. The surface is also wavy, almost rough.

➡️ So, it is not true that the crema of a perfect espresso is the highest.

4. Smell

Break up the crema with a spoon and bring the cup to your nose, close your eyes, and ask yourself two questions:

  • Do I smell a lot or a little? If you smell a lot, the coffee has a high aromatic intensity; if you smell little, the coffee has a low intensity.
  • Are the aromas I smell good or bad? Only after evaluating the intensity do you focus on their quality.

Positive aromas include chocolate, cocoa, nuts, flowers, fruit, citrus, bread crust, caramel, honey, and more.

Negative aromas can be wood, earth, hay, ash, tar, rubber, mold, grass, mushrooms, etc.

I know it is not easy to recognize them; it requires study and training, but don’t give up and try anyway. Little by little, you will feel them more and more.

5. Taste

Drink a small sip, just as you drink soup (sniffing). This way, you can distribute the drink better throughout your mouth, thanks to the air, amplifying the taste.

Concentrate on these points:

  • Acidity: do you feel a sharp and intense acidity, a milder one, or none at all? Generally, medium or light-roasted coffees are more acidic than dark-roasted coffees, and Arabica coffees are more acidic than Robusta coffees. Acidity is a great quality of coffee, which allows us to develop a wide and pleasant aromatic range.
  • Sweetness: perhaps the most difficult to recognize initially because we are used to seeing espresso as a bitter drink. But if you smell the aromas of fruits or flowers, it may lead you to sweetness.
  • Bitterness: how bitter is the coffee? Do you detect the aromas of cocoa or dark chocolate? Does it linger on the palate for a long time, disappear quickly, and is it smooth, never overpowering, and unpleasant? Generally, dark-roasted coffees are more bitter than medium or light-roasted coffees, and Robusta coffees are more bitter than Arabica coffees. A defect is a too-intense bitterness that forces you to use sugar or dilute the coffee with milk.
  • Astringency: this is a perception like when eating an unripe banana as if the saliva dried the mouth and you felt a little gritty. This sensation is a defect and should not be felt.
  • Aroma: Do you find positive or negative aromas, and can you identify any?

➡️ Related article: What is coffee cupping, and how is it done?

6. Body

In what sense is the body also used for taste? Swirl the drink between your tongue and palate and concentrate.

The more you feel the friction, texture, and viscosity, the more body a coffee has. To understand each other better, water has no body; oil has a medium body, and hot chocolate has many bodies.

The body of an espresso can be defined as velvety or smooth if it has little body, round if it is medium, and, finally, robust and consistent when the coffee has a lot of body.

➡️ Read here a complete article on what is coffee’s body.

7. Last step: the aftertaste

You should concentrate on the sensations that remain on your palate and in your nose. Ask yourself if they are pleasant or unpleasant. Are they intense, or did they disappear immediately after a few minutes?

The aftertaste should be pleasant and last a few minutes; you should not have the sensation of wanting to drink water to get rid of an unpleasant bitterness.


To taste an espresso coffee, it is always better to do it away from food. You should not have eaten spicy or too salty food before so that the sensory organs of the mouth succeed in easily perceiving all the aromas. If you have, drink a glass of water.

The taste of a quality cup will be sweet, with a pleasant acidity and little bitterness. The body of the coffee is perceived on the palate; a quality espresso will be smooth and round, silky; it should never be astringent or leave the mouth dry. Finally, please take into account the cream, it should be hazelnut colored.

Now all that remains is for you to try as many coffees as possible to have a clear criterion in mind.