Crema Controversy: Is It Truly Essential for a Great Espresso?

The Coffee World Divided – Aesthetic Perfection or Overrated Froth?

Picture this: a shot of espresso with a thick, golden-brown layer of crema on top. Ever since Italy introduced espresso to the world, that beautiful crema has been a signature part of the experience. But is it truly essential for a great espresso, or is it just a nice aesthetic touch? This question has sparked a heated debate among coffee lovers. Let’s break it down.

The Visual Appeal of Crema 

Crema isn't just about looks, though it certainly adds to the presentation. This frothy, caramel-coloured layer is the perfect canvas for baristas to create intricate and eye-catching latte art. In today's Instagram-driven culture, where how a drink looks is as important as its taste, a beautiful crema can make all the difference. Without crema, that stunning latte art wouldn't be possible. The cherry on top transforms a simple espresso into a work of art.

The Science Behind Crema

Crema forms during the espresso extraction process when hot water emulsifies coffee bean oils and traps coffee's soluble compounds in tiny carbon dioxide bubbles. This rich, creamy foam is traditionally seen as a sign of a well-made espresso. Coffee expert James Hoffmann explains, "A good crema indicates fresh coffee, a proper grind size, and the correct brewing technique."


The Crema Critique

But not everyone is convinced that crema is essential. Some argue that focusing on crema is outdated. "Crema can sometimes give a false impression of quality. It’s the balance of flavours in the liquid that truly defines a great espresso," says world barista champion Matt Perger. He believes that too much emphasis on crema can distract from the true quality of the coffee itself.

The Specialty Coffee Movement

With the rise of specialty coffee and its preference for lighter roasts, it's becoming more common to see less crema on your espresso. Light roasts produce less crema because they have less oil and carbon dioxide. These lighter roasts often emphasise the bean's unique flavour characteristics, leading to a different but equally enjoyable espresso experience. Coffee consultant Lindsey Goodwin notes, "The presence of crema is not a definitive marker of quality. Lighter roasts can produce excellent espresso with less crema, focusing more on the bean's natural flavours."

Industry Insiders Weigh In

The debate doesn’t stop at taste. Oliver Strand, a respected coffee expert, states, "Espresso is about balance and harmony. Crema is just one part of the equation, not the whole story." This sentiment is echoed by other industry leaders who argue that a great espresso can be achieved without the traditional layer of crema.

Is Crema Essential?

So, is crema essential for a great espresso? The answer depends on who you ask. While crema adds to espresso’s visual and sensory experience, it is not the sole determinant of quality. A great espresso can still be achieved with little to no crema, especially when using lighter roasts that highlight the bean's natural flavours.

Ultimately, whether or not crema is essential depends on personal preference. For those who love a classic espresso shot’s traditional, robust taste, crema is crucial. For others who enjoy exploring the diverse flavours of specialty coffee, a lack of crema does not equate to a lack of quality.


In the end, the best espresso is the one that brings you joy, whether it has a thick layer of crema or not. The beauty of coffee lies in its diversity and the myriad ways it can be enjoyed. So next time you sip on an espresso, take a moment to appreciate its nuances, with or without the crema.

Let us know your thoughts. Do you consider crema an essential part of your espresso experience? Share your opinions with us and join the conversation.