Do Espresso Shots Die?

If you frequent coffee shops, you might have experienced baristas pronouncing espresso shots dead. At the time, you might have asked yourself, do espresso shots have lifespans? Turns out they do! But it’s a bit complicated so keep reading to understand how.

How Long Does Espresso Shot Last?

Espresso shots don’t last forever. As the espresso shot cools down, it begins to oxidize and lose flavor. The crema on top of the espresso shot protects it for a while but after a few minutes, you will notice a decrease in the overall quality of your espresso shot. An espresso shot is said to be dead at that point.

Usually, a fresh espresso shot can retain its flavor for a couple of minutes depending on the quality of the crema and coffee beans used. Still, you can safely drink a dead espresso shot if you’re not too bothered by the change in texture and taste.

A casual coffee drinker most likely wouldn’t notice too much difference between a 10 second espresso and a 10-minute one but espresso-lovers would likely taste a big difference.

The 10 Second Myth

There’s a popular myth about an espresso’s lifespan called the ’10-second rule’. It originates from Starbucks training modules where baristas were told that an espresso shot can only survive 10 seconds.

In reality, the espresso can maintain its freshness and taste for much longer. The 10-second rule was popularized among baristas to make them work faster.

Still, there is some truth to the 10-second rule’s approach to espresso shots at least in the context of coffee shops like Starbucks. If the barista takes too long to prepare and serve the espresso coffee, it can ruin the taste of the coffee. A ruined taste will leave a bad impression on the customer and hurt the business.  

What Happens When an Espresso Shot Dies?

Espressos are prepared by forcing hot water through the coffee ground to extract flavor. During the process, the coffee beans release carbon dioxide stuck inside the ground to form the crema.

While the crema itself is relatively tasteless, it provides temporary protection to the shot from the oxidation process. Still, the crema only slows the oxidation process. The longer you leave your espresso out, the more it oxidizes.

Because of the oxidization process, the espresso shot gradually becomes more acidic and harsher compared to a fresh espresso shot. This change isn’t necessarily bad as the preference of taste differs from person to person.

Some people might prefer to consume coffee on a leaner spectrum. They might look for a greater concentration of crema in their espresso shots. Other people might like to give it a few minutes to let the more nuanced flavors come to the surface.

What Affects a Dead Espresso’s Taste?

The final taste of a fully oxidized espresso shot depends on the quality of the coffee beans used. Espresso shots made from good quality coffee beans will have a much better taste after becoming fully oxidized. Espresso coffee made from poor-quality coffee beans, on the other hand, tastes awful after oxidization.

The extraction quality of your espresso machine also affects the final taste of the espresso shot. A good espresso machine can release more carbon dioxide during the brewing process resulting in thicker crema and better final flavor.

Can You Refrigerate Espresso?

There are no problems for you to refrigerate your espresso shot but keep in mind that it will not stop or reverse the oxidation of the espresso shot itself. Reheating a refrigerated espresso will not restore its taste or texture and at times can even worsen the taste of the shot.

Still, a refrigerated espresso shot can be used to make other caffeine-based beverages such as an iced latte. This is because in a latte, you are using the shot as an ingredient and the bitter harshness of the dead espresso would blend into the latte and get masked by the flavors of other ingredients.

Many coffee shops prepare espresso batches early in the morning to save time later during the day. This might seem counterproductive but it is almost impossible for anyone to tell the difference in taste. This is because the dead shots are only used for blended drinks where their bitter taste is camouflaged.

There is nothing quite like a freshly brewed espresso shot. However, sometimes it is better to refrigerate an espresso shot to save it from going into the trash. For cafes operating with tight profit margins, refrigerating shots can help lower day-to-day operating costs.

Final Thoughts

Espresso shots are very sensitive to environmental conditions so it is best to drink them as early as possible. Still, even if you don’t drink your espresso coffee right away, you can enjoy a uniquely flavored coffee after a while. If nothing else, you can store the dead espresso shot to make a latte later.

home > Perfect your Brew > Do Espresso Shots Die?

Evelyn J Stafford

Evelyn is a Coffee enthusiast and writer for Wins Coffee Bar. Her work has appeared in Bean Scene, The Home Kitchen and other publications.

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