What’s Wrong With My Espresso? Why is There No Crema

Do you love your coffee with crema? If you do, we are not surprised! In fact, we love ours the same way too! Crema is that reddish-brown foamy layer on top of an espresso shot. It adds a great deal of aroma and flavor to any cup of Joe. It is formed once air bubbles come in contact with finely ground coffee’s oils. To some, this is the “Guinness effect” because it resembles the head on a pour of the Irish stout.

It takes a top quality and well-ground coffee together with a skilled barista to create an espresso with some good crema on top. But what if your espresso has not enough crema? This may result in an unsatisfying coffee experience. If you wanna make sure to always have that crema, you better tune in!

So what is the perfect crema?

closeup classic fresh espresso served dark surface 1220 5376

The perfect crema, as always, depends on preference. But generally, every barista’s goal is to pull off a crema with a thickness that’s just somewhere in between: not too thick nor too thin. A crema that stays for about a couple of minutes is the goal.

Quick facts about crema

  • As a general rule: the more crema there is, the lesser espresso the cup has. A crema that’s about a tenth of the espresso is a great reference.
  • Extraction should be about 15 to 30 seconds with a quality espresso, but one machine may be different from another.
  • Over- and under-extraction has an effect on your crema.
  • The coarseness of grind also dictates the type of crema.
  • If the crema disappears in less than a minute, it may be due to a fast extraction or a roast that’s too light.
  • Keep your machine clean and allow warming up prior pulling a shot to avoid bitterness.

Factors that may affect your crema

esppresso comparison
  • Freshly roasted beans produce more crema on top of the espresso due to the oils from the beans still out-gassing. Thus, roasting your own beans will provide you with more crema.
  • Generally speaking, the darker the beans, the less crema will form. But roasts that are too light aren’t ideal as well. Some companies actually offer an espresso roast which is made to give out the best crema.
  • Naturally processed beans give out more crema since more oils remain.
  • Manually pulled shots actually form more crema than automatic espresso machines.
  • Other things that may decrease crema quality:
    • Utilization of pre-ground coffee, especially if old and dried out
    • Utilization of cold portafilter causing poor extraction
    • Too coarse of a grind
    • Weak extraction
    • Coffee is not tamped enough into the portafilter
    • Utilization of the wrong basket
    • Utilization of insufficient amount of coffee

An old and dried out coffee belongs in one place: the trash! We understand that pre-ground coffee is convenient. However, it’s not the best ingredient for a perfect crema.

Ideal extraction is best done with water at 195-200 degrees fahrenheit temperature, otherwise, the extraction will be weak. A weak extraction results in a weak coffee that lacks aroma and flavor.

Now, let’s move to the grind. If the grind is too coarse, water will not be able to get through into the coffee and this will result in under-extraction. Thus, this will result in less crema and less flavor. To achieve the best crema, it’s best to grind finer. Additionally, an extraction should take about 25 seconds. If your coffee extracts significantly faster than that, there’s a high chance that your grind may be too coarse. Another thing to consider is make sure to tamp it! It’s best to tamp with a pressure of 30-40 pounds for accurate extraction.

Another thing you should not skip on is using the correct filter basket and the correct amount of coffee. To make a single shot, 7 grams of coffee should be used. Take note of the magic word: this is for a SINGLE shot! 

Now take a look at this photo above. As stated, the 7-gram scoop is for a single shot and you’ll need the single-shot basket for it. If you need two shots, use a double-shot basket to house 14 grams of coffee. Now here’s the thing: if you use a single scoop of coffee in a double-shot basket, proper extraction will not take place and you’ll have a weak coffee instead. 

Espresso-related issues

There are some espresso problems that may be solved with a quick troubleshooting and let me walk you through them.

Thin espresso

  1. Check the roast date: coffee roasted more than three weeks ago will be less viscous.
  2. Check the shot speed: if too slow, espresso will be thin and oily.
  3. Check the volume: take note that the espresso ends at the third change in color and if the shot is flowing past the end of the second change, adjust the volume settings.
  4. Check the temperature and pressure of the machine: ideally, temperature should be between 92 to 96 degrees celsius while the steam and pump pressure should be 1-1.5 bars and 9 bars, respectively.

Amount of bubbles and rate of dissipation

  1. Check the roast date: if you are too close to the roasting date, the more bubbles there will be and dissipation will be fast. For a more stable crema, wait for 2 days since roasting before brewing. But, on the other end, if it goes past 21 days since the roast date, you might have a stale coffee.

No crema on a long black

  1. Rate of dissipation: it may be due to the bubbles disappearing quickly.
  2. Check the roast date: if the coffee is past 21 days and is most likely stale, crema may not show up at all.
  3. Check your storage method: store in a cool and dry place to prevent the coffee from going stale.
  4. Check the brew temperature: the correct brew temperature helps with the quality of the crema.

Shot channelling

Shot channelling is once the water has an uneven press through the coffee puck causing it to either go around the coffee or through any easier direction within the puck.

  1. Evaluate the evenness of extraction: to check if the flow of water is acceptable. A great tool to do this is the Naked Portafilter.
  2. Check the amount of coffee in the basket: the puck should ideally be firm with a spongy surface.
  3. Check the basket: water flowing out of the machine will trail to any damp pathway, thus, make sure that your basket is dry.
  4. Check the tamp: your tamp needs to be leveled since water goes through the path with least resistance, if uneven.

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Early blonding

Any coffee that blondes early will have a lacking body and will taste towards the bitter side.

  1. Check the freshness of the coffee: stale coffee blondes early.
  2. Check the speed of pour: a shot that is poured too fast will blonde sooner.
  3. Check for channelling: shot channelling can induce early blonding.
  4. Check the machine’s temperature.

Harsh or bitter espresso

  1. Check the roast date: if it’s past three weeks since, chances are it has gone stale and will taste bitter.
  2. Check the speed of the shot.
  3. Check the machine’s temperature.

Sour espresso

  1. Check the roast date: if your coffee is too fresh, meaning it’s too close since the roast date, your espresso may turn out sour.
  2. Check the speed of the shot: the faster the shot, the more sour it can be.
  3. Check the machine’s temperature.

Reading through this section may have made you realize the importance of having a fresh coffee, proper storage, and accurate technique! There are a lot of things you can constantly do to have a delicious shot every time.

The 5 Golden Espresso Crema Rules

Naked Portafilter

Now, it’s time for a quick review of how to create a perfect crema! Quick tip: a mix of Arabica and Robusta beans is a great ingredient for that excellent espresso crema. The 5 golden espresso crema rules are as follows:

  1. Use fresh beans
  2. Use a high quality espresso machine
  3. Don’t forget to tamp!
  4. Finer grind is the way to go
  5. Use fresh water only!

Last words

Yes, to a lot of coffee lovers, crema matters a lot. There’s something about it that adds to the coffee experience. The extra flavor really is a great way to enjoy your cup. Remember, practice makes perfect. If you’re not satisfied with your crema yet, know that you get closer and closer with every brew. Best of luck!

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nv-author-image

Self-proclaimed coffee drinker. I would, on a typical day, start my day by grinding my coffee with a manual grinder and use a French Press as a starter (2 cups), then a pour-over in the afternoon (4 cups). I had my fair share as a barista but I prefer to drink it, not serve it.