The Reason Some People Skim The Crema Off Of Espresso

Seasoned coffee drinkers know the differences between brewed coffee and a shot of espresso go beyond size and strength. One of the most notable is the presence of crema, the distinctively flavored foam that tops freshly pulled espresso. 

Crema has long been considered a telltale sign of a correctly pulled shot of espresso made from quality beans, processed through finely-tuned machinery. This unique, sensory-rich addition to your shot results from the espresso-making process. First, hot water is forced through the grounds with high pressure, triggering a few chemical reactions. First, oils on the beans are removed and emulsified, mixing with carbon dioxide released during the process, creating the bitter, roasted-tasting foaminess resting atop the liquid.

However, an increasing number of coffee experts now recommend that connoisseurs scrape off or remove the crema before drinking. For example, barista and coffee roaster Kenneth Robertsen offered a Food & Wine reporter shots with and without crema — and the latter was found to produce a fuller and more nuanced flavor profile. Robertsen also pointed out that the bitterness in the carbon dioxide is also removed by skimming off the crema. "We've learned that the crema takes away some of the details—depending on what you want out of the espresso. It makes it a lot more bitter. If you mix it in, or take it off, you'll get a totally different experience," said Robertsen. 

To skim crema or not to skim?

While the improved flavor may be the biggest motivator for espresso enthusiasts, it's not the only reason many are scraping off crema from their espresso shots more often these days. Removing the foam not only improves the texture of the espresso but prevents people from ending up with a mouth coated with an unpleasant aftertaste after consuming it. 

It should be noted that crema is a relatively recent addition to Italian coffee culture: It only emerged in 1948, when inventor Achille Gaggia first created an espresso maker design that created high enough pressure during extraction to produce crema. Today, nearly all the best espresso machines can produce quality crema — and you don't even need a trip to the coffee shop to make espresso. For some, removing the crema from espresso changes the fundamental experience of enjoying this beverage. Despite the advantages of skimming crema from espresso, purists may still prefer the flavor it adds to perfectly pulled shots, which can't be replicated by other coffee drinks.