Espresso Shots: Can They Really Die?

The topic of “dead espresso shots” has sparked debate among coffee lovers and baristas. While some argue that espresso shots can indeed “die” if left too long, others believe that it is a controversial concept. In this expert article, we will explore the concept of dead espresso shots, the factors that contribute to their deterioration, and provide valuable insights for coffee lovers and professionals alike.

Understanding dead espresso shots

A dead espresso shot is a freshly made espresso that is left to sit for more than 60 seconds before consumption. During this time, changes occur that affect both the taste and quality of the shot. However, it is important to note that the term “dead” is subjective and the espresso does not actually cease to exist, but rather undergoes certain transformations.

Factors that contribute to deterioration

  1. Сrema: Crema, the layer of foam on top of the espresso, is highly prized in Italian espresso culture. Over time, however, the crema begins to break down as the water evaporates and the emulsified lipids interact with the foam. This breakdown of the crema can affect the overall sensory experience of the espresso.
  2. Oxidation: As the espresso sits, chemical reactions occur that oxidise the oils and lipids that contribute to its rich body and aftertaste. This oxidation process results in the development of off-flavours, often described as rancid or acrid, which can significantly alter the flavour profile of the espresso.
  3. Time: The length of time an espresso shot is left to rest plays a crucial role in its degradation. While the changes mentioned above take some time to manifest themselves, prolonged sitting will exacerbate these negative effects, ultimately degrading the quality of the shot.

Impact on taste

A dead espresso shot undergoes significant flavour changes compared to a freshly made shot. The deterioration of the shot over time can result in a less desirable flavour profile. Here are some key aspects of how a dead espresso shot affects flavour:

  • Bitterness: As an espresso shot sits, the chlorogenic acids break down into bitter and metallic quinic acids. This can lead to an increase in bitterness, making the shot less enjoyable for those who prefer a balanced and smooth espresso flavour.
  • Acidity: The acidity of a dead espresso shot can decrease or increase, depending on the specific coffee beans and the time it has been sitting. Loss of acidity can result in a duller and less vibrant flavour, while increased acidity can make the shot overly sharp or sour.
  • Body and mouthfeel: The body and mouthfeel of an espresso shot can change as it sits. Initially, a well-prepared shot will have a smooth and velvety texture, with a full-bodied presence on the palate. Over time, however, the oils and lipids that contribute to the richness of the shot can oxidise, resulting in a thinner and less satisfying mouthfeel.
  • Flavour complexity: Freshly made espresso shots often have a wide range of flavour notes, including fruity, floral, chocolate or nutty undertones. However, as a shot becomes “dead”, these flavours can diminish or change, resulting in a less complex and nuanced taste experience.
  • Astringency: A dead espresso shot can exhibit increased astringency, which is a drying or puckering sensation in the mouth. This can be attributed to the breakdown of compounds during oxidation, resulting in an unpleasant and harsh aftertaste.

It’s important to note that the impact on taste can vary depending on factors such as the specific coffee beans used, the degree of roasting and individual palate preferences. In addition, the skill of the barista and the quality of the brewing equipment play a role in mitigating the negative effects of a dead espresso shot.

To fully appreciate the flavours of an espresso shot, it is advisable to consume it as soon as possible after extraction. This allows you to enjoy the optimal balance of sweetness, acidity, body and complexity that a freshly made shot offers.

Practical considerations

  1. Optimum consumption time: To fully appreciate the flavours of an espresso shot, it is generally recommended to consume it immediately after extraction. This ensures that the shot is enjoyed at its peak of freshness and flavour.
  2. Temperature: It’s important to note that temperature affects our perception of flavour. Extremely hot or cold espresso shots can mask or dull certain flavours. Allowing the shot to cool slightly before consumption can enhance the sensory experience and reveal a wider range of flavours.
  3. Quality and preparation: The quality of the coffee beans, the skill of the barista and the precision of the brewing process all contribute to the overall flavour and longevity of an espresso shot. A well-prepared shot, using good quality beans, will generally retain its pleasing characteristics for a longer period of time.


While the notion of dead espresso shots may be debated, it is clear that the taste and quality of an espresso can change over time. Factors such as crema breakdown, oxidation and the passage of time all affect the flavour profile of a shot. However, by carefully considering the optimum serving time, temperature and use of quality ingredients, it is possible to enjoy a delightful espresso experience even after some time has passed since extraction.

By understanding the factors at play and making informed choices, coffee lovers and baristas can increase their appreciation and enjoyment of espresso and ensure that each shot is enjoyed to the full.


What is a dead shot?

A dead espresso shot is a freshly made espresso that is left to sit for more than 60 seconds before consumption. During this time, the shot undergoes changes in taste and quality that affect the overall flavour profile.

Why does an espresso shot “die” when left to stand?

Several factors contribute to the deterioration of an espresso shot over time. Degradation of the crema, oxidation of oils and fats, and chemical reactions within the shot all play a role in changing the taste and quality of the shot.

What is the difference between a dead espresso shot and a fresh one?

A dead espresso shot tends to show increased bitterness and possible changes in acidity. The complexity of the flavour may be reduced and the body and mouthfeel may be thinner. In addition, astringency and off-flavours may develop, resulting in an overall less enjoyable taste experience.

Can a dead espresso shot be consumed?

A dead espresso shot may not be as enjoyable as a freshly made one, but it can still be consumed. However, it’s important to note that the taste and quality may be compromised and the shot may not show the full range of flavours that were present when it was freshly extracted.

How can I prevent my espresso shots from going “dead”?

To maintain the quality of your espresso shots, it’s best to consume them immediately after extraction. If you anticipate a delay, consider strategies such as adjusting the grind size, using fresher coffee beans and storing the beans properly to minimise oxidation. In addition, controlling the brewing parameters and serving the shot at an appropriate temperature can help preserve the flavours for longer.