Should you Stir Espresso?

Should you Stir Espresso?
Photo by Mohamed Shaffaf / Unsplash

You should stir your espresso to achieve a more balanced profile, and avoid tasting overly bitter flavor compounds at the end of the espresso shot.

A shot of espresso should taste like dark chocolate: bittersweet and mildly acidic.

Because of the way coffee is extracted, espresso tastes sour at the bottom of the cup, sweet in the middle, and bitter at the top.

What does Crema Taste Like?

The top layer of the espresso shot is called “crema”, and is formed by carbon dioxide that’s released during extraction. In most espresso profiles, crema tastes bitter and sometimes burnt, smokey, or ashy.

The amount of crema in espresso can make the shot look more appealing, but the amount of crema usually doesn’t say much about the flavor or quality of the shot.

Crema can be influenced by a number of variables. For example:

  • Darker roasts will have more crema than lighter roasts, because more CO2 is trapped during the malliard reaction.
  • Similarly, coffees closer to their roast date will likewise have more CO2, because the coffee has not had enough time to rest or degas.

While crema makes for a nice appearance, it doesn’t say much about the quality of the espresso and it’s not the best heuristic for coffee freshness. Most importantly, it doesn’t usually taste good on its own.

Stirring Espresso vs Swirling

Stirring espresso helps incorporate the crema into the rest of the shot, mixing the bitter flavors of the crema with acidic flavors from the initial seconds of extraction.

In traditional Italian espresso, a spoon is provided with the demitasse cup. We recommend stirring the espresso to fully incorporate the flavors, as opposed to swirling, which is less effective and can lead to spilling.

Some aficionados have even conducted studies comparing the extraction strength of an espresso when stirred vs swirled.

The bottomline is you should stir your espresso shot in order to pull a balanced shot.

Stirring Espressos for Lattes and Milk-based Drinks

For lattes, cappuccinos, or even cortados, stirring the espresso shot before adding steamed milk may not significantly impact flavor, because the milk usually incorporates the espresso and masks some of the espresso’s flavor.

For drinks involving less milk like the macchiato or a short cortado, you may want to stir your shot, as the flavor of the espresso will be a bit more pronounced.

When using sugar, chocolate, or syrups, you should stir the syrup into the espresso shot before adding milk.

Removing Crema

Some espresso drinks advocate for spooning out the crema to avoid smoky, overly bitter flavors.

If your espresso is tasting too bitter or burnt, we recommend pulling a shorter shot and reducing extraction time rather than scooping out the crema.

Yes, you should stir espresso

Whether it’s dark roast or light roast, stirring espresso helps incorporate flavor compounds at the top of the cup with flavors at the bottom and while crema makes for a neat appearance in an espresso shot, it’s generally an undesirable first sip!