If you are like me and love a great cup of coffee there is nothing better that a fresh brewed espresso. Finding a great espresso in Costa Rica can be an adventure.
Espresso is a concentrated beverage brewed by is forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water under pressure through finely ground coffee beans. Espresso often has a thicker consistency than coffee brewed by other methods, a higher concentration of suspended and dissolved solids, and crema (meaning cream, but being a reference to the foam with a creamy texture that forms as a result of the pressure).
As a result of the pressurized brewing process the flavours and chemicals in a typical cup of espresso are very concentrated. Espresso is the base for other drinks, such as a latte, cappuccino, macchiato, mocha, or americano. Espresso has more caffeine per unit volume than most beverages, but the usual serving size is smaller – a typical 60 ml of espresso has 80 to 150 mg of caffeine, a little less than the 95 to 200 mg of a standard 240 ml cup of drip-brewed coffee.
So, where can you get a good espresso in Costa Rica? The answer lies on your trial and patience. You will have to invest sometime in getting out, visiting different coffee shops and trying their coffee. When you find that great espresso you will know it.
For me, I have several spots. There’s Fred’s in Plaza Mayor and Illy in Multiplaza. But the best espresso is right in my own kitchen. And it can be in yours.
First you will have to invest in a good espresso maker. A cheapie wil run about ¢50.000 colones (US$100). Don’t waste your money. A decent espresso maker will run about ¢150.000 (US$300). You can spend more, but are just overdoing it.
Next comes the coffee. An Italian espresso coffee blend is the best. But it an set you back some ¢7.500 colones (US$15) for a 250g tin of coffee. I use Café Rey, the espresso blend. Costs about ¢3.000 colones (US$6) for 500g and makes a great coffee. You can try Britt, more expensive, same result.
The important here is to buy an espresso blend or at least “dark roast” and is an espresso grind. Very important the grind!
Storing the unused coffee is also very important. I keep on hand one or two day’s worth of coffee, the rest in the unopened bag is kept in the freezer. Yes, the freezer.
Then there is the coffee. I use Café Rey Espresso. It comes in ground and bean. I am too lazy to grind it myself. There are others, like Britt at almost twice the price. Whatever, make sure it is “espresso” or at the very least “dark roast”. And if you grind it yourself, the right grind is very important. Hence, my buying it ground.
There there’s storage. To keep that fresh grind going for days I keep a small amount (usually two day’s worth) in a coffee container, the rest in the freezer. Yes, the freezer. There are popular misconceptions on the way roasted coffee should be stored and maintained. The enemies of roasted coffee are moisture, air, light, and heat. Storing your coffee away from them will keep it fresher longer. Therefore, an airtight container stored in a cool, dry, dark place is the best environment for your coffee. I have yet to find a cool, dry place in Costa Rica.
So, the freezer is the next best thing as long as one, you don’t keep the coffee there for too long, a few days at most, and two, never, ever put it back in the freezer. What I usually do is take out what I will use for the day or next, making sure it totally is brought back to room temperature before putting in the coffee machine. Using cold coffee won’t hurt your machine, but you can say goodbye to that great espresso.
Next is brewing. It takes some skill to brew that great cup of espresso. Just turning on the machine and waiting for the ready light to go on or off (depending on your machine) is not enough. Make sure the water is hot. Touching the outside of the machine will tell you, not too hot to burn you, but hot enough to brew.
Use the right amount of coffee, pack the grinds into the portafilter and tamper it to compress the grounds to a density that will create just the right amount of resistance for the water being forced through the grind. This is a skill that takes time to acquire and a VERY IMPORTANT part of espresso coffee making. Tamper to tight and the coffee is bitter. Not enough and too watery.
Filling the cup just right is another key. If your are making an espresso shot, fill the demitasse (you know that small cup) half way. Never to the top.
A perfect cup is one that not only tastes great, but looks great. The crema does the trick.
Knowing how to drink an espresso is part of the experience. So, how do you drink and espresso? Carefully. It’s hot.
Me, I like my espresso without sugar. Some, pile in the sugar. Reminds me of the joke, a guy goes into a coffee shop and asks the price of coffee and the sugar. The coffee shop keeper replies, the coffee is a dollar, the sugar is free. Ok, a cup of coffee and two kilos of sugar, please.
One last note, in some coffee shops they will offer an “Americano” (English: American coffee). This is an espresso with hot water added to fill the big cup. It is stronger than regular brewed coffee. Me, in my espresso coffee maker, I squeeze out more water to fill the large cup and get the same results as adding hot water to my espresso.
Accompanying a great espresso is a great cookie. That is a story for another day.