3 Reasons Why Your Espresso Might Have No Crema


Espresso is among the most sought-after types of coffee almost everywhere in the world. Even if you don’t ask for espresso by name, you might be drinking espresso. Most coffee drinks at Starbucks, for instance, actually use shots of espresso as their coffee base. Because it’s so common, espresso sparks many questions, especially for people trying to make it at home.

If you tried to make espresso at home and you’re wondering why your espresso has no crema, you’re in the right place. A lack of crema usually means stale coffee grounds, the wrong type of grind on the beans, the wrong temperature of the water, or the wrong amount of pressure. Sometimes it means you need a bit more practice tamping.

There is much more information and detail about all of this below. We also address what crema is and why it’s important. There’s also a discussion regarding some types of espresso machines and other ways in which espresso might be a bit particular.

What Is Crema?

Crema is a tan or reddish-brown froth or foam that sits on top of an espresso shot. It’s sometimes called the “Guinness effect” because the foam vaguely resembles the head on a good pour of Guinness.

It’s the same idea with espresso crema; if you pulled the espresso right, you’d get that foamy layer on top of your drink.

On a more specific or scientific level, crema is tiny little bubbles of carbon dioxide in coffee compounds, specifically the oils.

The pressure involved in creating espresso partially breaks down the water, resulting in these perfect little bubbles. When the espresso’s components are all just right, you get plenty of bubbles, as well as a drink that’s the right consistency to trap the bubbles for a couple of minutes.

Why Is Crema Important?

Crema is generally regarded as important because it’s only possible to have the right combination of coffee beans, roast, grind, tamp, water temperature, and water pressure.

This makes it tricky to achieve, but it’s also often an indicator that you pulled a great shot of espresso.

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There’s some debate as to whether the crema’s taste adds to or detracts from the overall taste of the espresso.

The crema is quite bitter, but it can help balance the other flavors present in the espresso shot. Additionally, for many, the foam gives a mouthfeel that’s light and sweet, even if the flavor itself isn’t.

If you find your espresso too bitter when there’s foam, experts offer two easy options. You can either stir the crema into your espresso, or you can use a spoon to skim the crema off the top, removing it from your drink entirely.

What If I Have No Crema?

If you (or your barista!) have no crema and you find your espresso tasty, you’re always welcome to continue making things the way you already are!

However, if you’re reading this article, you may want to perfect your espresso shot for someone else or to know that you can make the perfect-looking espresso shot on demand.

If your coffee is stale (roasted more than a few weeks ago), then you’re going to have a much harder time getting crema. If your coffee beans were roasted within the past 48 hours, you might also struggle to get any crema.

Check to make sure the coffee you’re using is between 2 and 21 days past the roasting date.

If the coffee is ground too finely, it will choke the machine, but if it’s too coarse, the water will run through it too quickly.

This results in under-extracted coffee, which has too little coffee content to form a lasting crema. An espresso shot with this problem will also likely be a bit sour.

Make sure that you’re tamping your grounds before pulling the espresso shot. Tamping is using the little tool that should have come with your espresso machine.

You use it to pack the grinds a bit, and it’s best to make sure that your grinds are nice and level in the portafilter. If the tamp isn’t firm enough or uneven, you’ll end up with under-extracted coffee, with the same problems mentioned above.

Lastly, it’s possible that you didn’t use enough coffee. Check to see what size basket is in your portafilter. If it’s a single shot, you’ll want 7 grams of coffee grounds.

If it’s a double shot, you’ll want at least 14 grams, but some specialty coffeehouses use a bit more than that.

What If I Have Very Little Crema?

If you don’t have much crema, but you do have some, first start by checking the steps above. Then, check on your water temperature and pressure settings.

If these are close but not quite right, then that could throw off your espresso shot just a bit. Your water temperature should be around 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and your portafilter shouldn’t be cold enough to affect this greatly.

Your pressure should be set at 9 to 10 bars, but this can vary, so check the instructions for your particular espresso machine.

Is There Such Thing as Too Much Crema?

Because crema has such a bitter taste, you could theoretically have too much crema for a drink to taste good. However, it isn’t easy to get too much of a true crema.

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Be aware that some espresso machines add air at the end of your shot to get what looks like crema but is just bubbles in espresso. These will pop very quickly compared to true crema.

Why Does Crema Disappear After a Few Hours?

Like any other bubbles, crema does eventually dissipate. Exactly how long this should take depends on who you ask. However, the general consensus is that it lasts about two minutes.

Crema that disappears faster indicates that the espresso shot was probably a little too thin. Don’t expect crema to last for hours, despite Google suggestions that indicate otherwise.

Can I Get Crema Without an Espresso Machine?

Can I Get Crema Without an Espresso Machine

You can get crema without an espresso machine. However, it’s much more difficult and not always worth it, depending on why you want the crema.

To attempt it, you’ll need another pressurized method, such as the AeroPress. You’ll need a way to increase the pressure, and you’ll need to invert it without burning yourself. Please see a full guide before attempting this.

What Drinks Can I Make With an Espresso Machine?

Espresso machines can give you a virtually endless number of options, but they’re all going to start with one of two things: espresso or ristretto.

Ristretto is a smaller, even more, concentrated version of espresso made with finer grounds and a lower water ratio.

Once you have an espresso shot, your drink options are virtually endless. Some of the most popular espresso drinks involve adding a bit of steamed or foamed milk.

These include cappuccino, macchiato, flat white, latte, and cortado. Without adding anything but a bit more water, you can get an Americano. These are just some of the espresso drinks that are easy to make at home.

What Are the Best Brands of Espresso Machines?

While the best brand will depend on your individual needs and budget, a handful of brands frequently end up in “best of” lists and recommendations.

These include De’Longhi, Gaggia, Capresso, and Breville. Most of these are Italian brands, or at least Italian names because espresso originated in Italy.

Many other coffee appliance companies do make perfectly good espresso machines, too, but these four are the most recommended.

Why Is My Coffee or Espresso Sour?

Sour espresso means that the espresso was likely a little under-extracted. This means that not enough of the coffee compounds ended up in the drink.

This can be caused by water going through the grounds too quickly, water being too low a temperature, and water going through too little or too coarse coffee grounds. Sometimes it means that your coffee grounds are a bit too stale or that your beans had too light a roast.

Why Is My Coffee or Espresso Bitter?

If your coffee is too bitter, then your espresso was likely over-extracted. This means that too much of the coffee beans’ compounds ended up in your drink.

The most common causes are that the water is moving too slowly through the coffee grounds, the water is too hot, or the coffee is too fine or dense. Bitter coffee can also be caused by beans that were roasted a little too long.

How Much Caffeine Is In Espresso?

The exact amount of caffeine will depend on the type of beans you use and several other variables, but in general, a shot of espresso has 40 to 65 mg of caffeine.

In comparison, a cup of coffee has 65-180 mg of caffeine. Keep in mind, though, that a shot is just one ounce, and a cup of coffee can range from 6 to 12 ounces.

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