Espresso: Is it Better Swirled or Stirred?

So, you’ve just created the best espresso shot known to man.

You’ve got a great machine, your measurements were perfect and it poured at just the right pressure. Now you’re going to swirl it and take a sip, right?

Slow down! Whilst most of us like to give our espresso a swirl before taking a sip, did you know that it actually tastes better if you give it a little stir instead?

Breaking down the espresso shot

We’re definitely going into minute details here but when you break down the espresso bit by bit, you start to realise why mixing is better than simply swirling.

When the very first drops of espresso leave the machine and hit your cup, these drops are going to be thicker than the rest of the shot. The density of the initial liquid essentially sits at the bottom of your cup. As the shot pours, the liquid gets thinner and thinner, creating layers over the top of the initial dense layer at the bottom.

Tasting an unmixed espresso

If you picked up your espresso cup without mixing it, that first sip will be mostly the last part of the shot. This last part is thinner, isn’t as sweet and lacks the texture of the first part of the shot.

Your next sip is going to be a little bit better as the layers below become sweeter and sweeter. But with that final sip you’re drinking the dense part of the shot at the bottom. Granted it’s the sweetest part but it’s also more acidic.

This evolution of sips if you will is interesting, but ultimately each one will be disappointing.

So mixing is better?

Once you’ve mixed your shot each layer is combined and makes every sip more balanced and ultimately tastier. So whilst we’ve determined that mixing is better than simply doing nothing, how do we know that stirring is better than swirling?

By taking samples from the top layers of a mixed espresso and a swirler espresso, we can measure the strength by using something called a coffee refractometer. A coffee refractometer can signal the strength of the coffee with 99.99% accuracy.

During testing, the top layer of our mixed espresso was on average 0.3% stronger than the swirled espresso.

Whilst this might seem like such a small difference, the taste test confirms the results. Moreover, whilst stirring looks cool, there’s always the chance of your espresso going everywhere (we’ve all been there). So next time you make an espresso, give it a good stir.