What is Crema in coffee?

what is crema

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With the explosion of coffee shops and speciality coffees in cities across the world, one of the buzzwords in such a setting is crema on an espresso. Listen to a passionate barista obsessing about the perfect crema. Is there such a thing? Well, this article dwelving into what is crema in coffee, what it says about a coffee and whether it should matter to you.

How crema came into being

The espresso at the turn of the 20th century was dark black and had no crema. Crema owes its origins to Achille Gaggia who used a piston mechanism to push water at a high pressure through coffee grounds.

This new piston mechanism-based coffee machine did two things – first, it meant that an espresso shot could be created in about 15 seconds instead of the many minutes of other commercial coffee machines of the time. The second was that it created a brown coloured foam on top of the espresso which is called crema.

Gaggia used this as part of his advertising as he installed his unique coffee machines in bars in Milan. The advertising read “caffé crema di caffe naturale (coffee cream from natural coffee)”

With the espresso craze that took the world by storm, crema came into being. Are you surprised to know that this isn’t even a hundred years old?

What is crema?

what is crema

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Crema is the signature reddish brown foam that sits on top of a freshly pulled shot of espresso. It is aromatic and something you can taste with flavours of its own compared to that of the espresso shot under.

What creates crema?

There’s a long complex answer that involves food science and technology. But in a nutshell,here’s the answer. When coffee beans are roasted, it creates carbon dioxide that over time gasses out of the beans. Even when this happens, there’s some amount of carbon dioxide still in the cells of the coffee beans. This still stays in the coffee after it is  ground. The roasting also releases oils in the coffee beans.

When high-pressure water mixes with the carbon dioxide to create tiny bubbles and this emulsifies the coffee oils which are released from the ground coffee beans. This creates a “Guinness effect” or a foam head to the espresso.


Why is it called crema?

This foam on top of an espresso is quite creamy and hence the term crema.

Does crema mean it’s a good espresso? The answer is NO

what is crema

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As a consumer of coffee, you don’t need to worry about crema. Are you wondering why? This is because a freshly roasted set any quality beans can create a thick crema.

With freshly roasted coffee, the whole shot will seem like its crema and it then settles down to create the espresso below.

The perfect crema is meant to be reddish brown and have a mottled look. Pale or tan coloured crema isn’t considered to be a good sign because it may be a sign of a weak espresso that’s been under extracted.


It’s possible have a great tasting espresso with little no or no crema. Conversely a large head of crema maybe hiding a bad espresso.



Interpreting crema

The professional barista can take a look at the crema and tell you something about it. But he or she also probably needs a lot more information than what one can discover from looking.  

The crema is dependent on

  • The roast of the beans (too dark or too light doesn’t create the right crema)
  • What kind of machine is being used (some machines imitate crema)
  • The processing of the beans
  • The freshness of the beans
  • The type of beans


Close your eyes, smell the coffee and then savour it

Coffee drinking should be a pleasure for your senses. Looking at your espresso is just one way to experience the pleasure of it. The other senses play an equally important role. Crema or no crema, close your eyes and savour the espresso and then judge your coffee.