Gareth Batty finished with career-best figures of eight for 68 as Surrey bowled Essex out for 228 on day one of their County Championship Division Two encounter at Chelmsford.
The visitors' excellent fielding performance was dimmed somewhat by a shaky batting display that saw them close on 55 for three.
That did nothing to diminish the display of Batty, who ripped into the Essex line-up and exposed his opponents' ongoing struggles against spin.
It took a while for the off-breaker to take his first scalp as Tom Westley (95) played an attractive innings to lead his side to 71 without loss.
Tom Westley made 95 for Essex
It was fellow opener Jaik Mickleburgh who was the first man out, however, as he hit Batty into the grateful hands of Jason Roy and three balls later, Greg Smith (four) was gone too, lbw.
Batty was now in full flow as he saw off Jesse Ryder (11), Mark Pettini (12) and then claimed the vital scalp of Westley, who edged behind to Gary Wilson five short of his century.
James Foster took to the crease hoping to further his claim as a solution to England's wicketkeeping problems, but he too fell victim to Batty and was out for a duck.
Two balls later things went from bad to worse as Batty removed Tanveer Sikandar for nought to leave Essex in deep trouble at 172 for seven.
Amid the chaos, Ben Foakes (55) was showing his team-mates the way forward but there was little resistance lower down the order as only Matt Salisbury (15) could buy his partner any significant time.
When Salisbury picked out the hands of Roy, again off Batty, it was left to Zafar Ansar to wrap things up as he bowled Monty Panesar for a duck and then saw Foakes caught by Roy.
Defending 228, Essex were in for an uphill task but the hosts pulled themselves back into the contest with three morale-boosting wickets before the close of play.
Rory Burns (16) was caught lbw by Moore (one for 20), Hashim Amla (11) was clean bowled by Tanveer Sikanda (one for eight) before nighwatchman Chris Tremlett was snared lbw by Panesar for a duck.
That left opener Arun Harinath (21) and Ansari (five) both unbeaten at the close of a compelling day's play.
Essex debutant Tom Moore shows his frustration