Coffee Vs Espresso: What’s the Difference?

More than 50% of US people buy ready coffee according to Statista. If you are one of them, you must have come across different types of drinks apart from the coffee you already know, so you wonder what is the difference between coffee and espresso?

Generally, espresso is stronger and is extracted differently, so can we say it’s a more concentrated type of coffee? Or are there other things that differentiate the two?

Coffee and Espresso are the two popular types of terms you will never miss in any coffee shop you walk into everywhere in this world.

On the espresso list, you will likely see other drinks such as cappuccinos, lattes, mochas, etc. but all these are made from coffee beans.

Well, even though they are made from coffee beans, there are many things that set them apart from the machines used to brew, to the extraction and time, etc.

So what exactly is the difference between espresso and coffee?

In this article, we are going to take a closer look at each type of beverage (coffee and espresso) to enable you to know what makes them two separate drinks.

What Is Espresso?

difference between espresso and coffee

Many a time we tend to classify espresso or ess-PRESS-oh as a type of coffee. Well, basically, the process of brewing is what is called espresso but it’s also a type of coffee.

Ideally, espresso isn’t a type of coffee but a method of brewing coffee where an espresso machine is used. Water is then pushed through fine grinds of coffee under high pressure. Usually, espresso machines are made with grinders in them to grind powder-like grinds. Well, you can also grind the beans separately but you need to grind the coffee finely. That’s why brewed espresso is concentrated with flavor and is stronger which is why it’s the favorite coffee drink for coffee aficionados.

From espresso, one can make many different coffee beverages such as lattes, cappuccinos, etc.

A brewed espresso has crema-  a foam that looks reddish-brown that collects at the top when air bubbles mix with the soluble oils of the finely ground coffee beans.

The crema is a sign of properly brewed espresso with good coffee grounds and brewed by a professional barista.

What is an Espresso Shot?

Since espresso brewing involves water pushed through finely-ground coffee beans under high pressure, the resulting drink is just a shot that goes into a demitasse- a small cup of coffee. You can order a single or double espresso shot where a single shot holds 30ml of coffee whereas a double shot holds 60 ml.

You must have started to notice the difference between coffee and espresso. But we are not done distinguishing the two.

Read on to learn more.

A Brief History of Espresso

Where was espresso first brewed?

It is believed that the first espresso machine was made in Italy in the early 1900s by a man called Desidero Pavoni.

That’s when the coffee game started changing. The introduction of the first espresso machine led to the manufacture of better coffee machines and grinders to boost the pressure needed to brew espresso. This evolution also gave birth to ‘crema’ in the early 1940s. As mentioned above, ‘crema’ is a layer of foam that forms on top of the drink after brewing that adds rich flavors and aromas to the overall coffee drink.

This is also another difference between coffee and espresso.

 Types of Espresso

We mentioned earlier that you can order a single or double shot of espresso.

Usually, the two factors that affect the type of espresso are size and length.

When it comes to the size, you can get a single shot, double shot or triple shot. Based on ground coffee, a single shot may hold 7 grams, a double shot could be 14 grams of coffee and a triple shot my contain 21 grams of coffee.

In terms of the sizes, you will hear names like solo, doppio, and triplo. Don’t feel confused; these are Italian names given that the brew method was first invented in Italy.

On the length factor: This is the amount of water added to the drink during brewing. The length can be short, normal or long which the Italians call ristretto, normale, or lungo.

Structure/Anatomy of an Espresso Shot

We mentioned earlier that when brewed properly, espresso shot will form a layer on the top of the drink.

Ideally, an espresso shot will have three layers: The Crema, Body, and Heart.

These are three distinct layers that when you don’t see them in your brewed espresso, then you haven’t gotten it right.

The Crema

The ‘crema’ is the top layer in an espresso shot. It is usually thin and golden-brown or reddish-brown. When you see this layer, you’ve extracted a proper shot of espresso. The ‘crema’ adds the finest tastes, aroma, and flavors to the espresso shot.

The ‘crema’ contains sugars, proteins, and rich oils.

The Body

This is the middle layer of an espresso shot. It forms right under the ‘crema’ and has a caramel brown color.

The Heart

This is the bottom layer underneath the body of an espresso shot and is always deep, rich brown. This layer also holds the bitter elements which balance out the sweetness and the aromas of the espresso shot.

Generally, espresso takes only 30 seconds to brew. However, the resulting brew contains more volatile and aromatic oils your regular cup of coffee can only dream about.

Common Espresso Drinks

The popular espresso drinks are:

Cappuccino: Made with bubbled milk with a single shot of espresso.

Café latte: A combination of steamy milk and a double shot of espresso. You can also add flavors by adding syrups.

Caffe Americano: An espresso shot with water added at the top usually served in a 6-ounce cup. You can drink this as an alternative to drip coffee.

Red eye: Usually a double espresso shot added to a cup of regular coffee.

How much caffeine does a shot of espresso hold?

Due to its strength, many people think that espresso has more caffeine than coffee. This could be wrong or right.

Generally, a shot of espresso contains about 60 mg of caffeine. On the other hand, 8 oz of coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine.

As you can see, because your regular cup of coffee is much larger than a shot of espresso, you may think that it contains more caffeine but the fact is that an espresso shot is more concentrated and that means it contains more caffeine. Too much caffeine is harmful to your health. You, therefore, need to observe how your body reacts after drinking your favorite cup of joe.

How to Brew Espresso

Having known what espresso and what a shot of espresso is, let’s take a look at how to brew the perfect cup of espresso.

Remember that when it comes to brewing the perfect espresso, there are many approaches to take and many things to consider.

Use these tips to brew that perfect cup that leaves every coffee drinker yearning for another one.

  • Grind coffee beans immediately before brewing. Usually, coffee beans start to lose their aroma and taste a few minutes after grinding because they are exposed to oxygen which causes some chemical reactions.
  • Use the recommended water. Tap water will add an unpleasant taste to your cup of espresso because it contains some minerals. Use fresh water instead.
  • Brew with a clean espresso maker. As you brew espresso, coffee oils will stick to the inside of your coffee maker. The next time you brew another shot of espresso; these oils will be infused in your coffee making it taste strange. Always keep your equipment clean.
  • Serve it right after brewing. When coffee sits on the brewer for a while, it will lose some of its flavors and tastes. Serve it immediately after brewing.

 How to Drink Espresso

If you order an espresso at your local coffee shop, you will likely be served a single or double shot in a ceramic demitasse cup. Some shops will ask you what you want. If you want to enjoy your favorite drink, order a double shot.

Usually, a double espresso shot contains two shots (the Italians call it Doppios). You must be served with water for cleansing your pallet.

Now since an espresso shot contains the ‘crema’ (the layer on top of the drink) some people choose to skim it off since it has acidic flavors. You can stir it before drinking.

Don’t drink espresso the same way you would take a shot of alcohol. Take one sip after another.

The Main Difference between Coffee and Espresso

The difference between coffee and espresso boils down to how each one prepared. Other brewing methods take time since they involve the filtering of hot water through coffee grounds. This means it will take some time before you enjoy your cup of coffee.

As mentioned above, espresso is brewed by pushing water through finely ground beans in an espresso machine hence allowing you to enjoy a shot of coffee packed with aromas and rich flavors within 30 seconds. We’ve also written an article about how to make espresso without an espresso machine. You can read it and learn the steps involved and what to use instead.

With that being said, let’s take a look at the big difference between espresso and coffee which is in the preparation.

The pressure

An espresso machine is built with a lever that drives water through the coffee grounds under high pressure. Well, the pressure isn’t meant to speed up brewing but it also helps in the formation of the ‘crema’ and the scattering of the rich coffee oil of rich coffee oils contained in the final espresso shot.

On the other hand, coffee relies on gravity where the water goes through coffee grounds.

In fact, if you are brewing coffee using a Moka pot or French press, then the pressure that drives the water through the grounds is trivial given that the default pressure of many espresso machines is nine bars which means you have to dive about 300 feet deep in the ocean to experience the ideal espresso pressure. This huge amount of pressure is what makes espresso stronger and in a short time.

Coffee grind size

The size of the coffee grounds is also another differentiating factor between espresso and coffee.

To brew coffee with a drip filter or percolator, it is recommended to use fresh, medium coffee grounds.

For espresso, finely coffee grounds are used.

Coffee Vs Espresso: Frequently Asked Questions

Is Espresso stronger than coffee?

An espresso shot contains approximately 80 mg of caffeine while a cup of drip coffee may contain 80 to 120 mg of caffeine. An average espresso shot is two ounces while a standard cup of coffee is 12 ounces which means a single serve of coffee has more caffeine than a single espresso shot.

Does espresso taste better than coffee?

Espresso coffee contains full-bodied flavors and tastes bolder than coffee. Some coffee baristas also say that the paper filter used for brewing regular coffee may take away some of the required coffee flavors hence affecting its taste.

How much caffeine is in espresso vs coffee?

If expressed in numbers, a drip cup of coffee contains more caffeine.  A single-serve of espresso shot contains 80 mg of caffeine while a single-serve of brewed coffee contains approximately 120 mg of caffeine.

Is dark coffee healthy?

Dark coffee contains useful antioxidants and Vitamin B2, B3, B5 and other essential compounds such as magnesium, manganese, and potassium. Dark coffee is also said to reduce the risk of diabetes.

What are the 3 layers of a shot of espresso called?

A shot of espresso contains three layers: The ’crema’ or top layer which is reddish-brown, the body or middle layer, and the heart or the bottom layer which is dark brown.

How much water is in an espresso shot?

An espresso should contain 1 oz so once your double espresso shot reaches 2 oz, stop the shot. Ideally, it should take you between 20 to 30 seconds to brew espresso.

Is Espresso healthier than regular coffee?

To make espresso, you don’t need a coffee filter. This means the natural oils and other essential minerals will get into your coffee. However, unfiltered coffee may raise your blood cholesterol levels so drink espresso with moderation.

Why Is caffeine bad for you?

Caffeine is both good and bad for your health. Experts suggest that taking more than 600 mg of caffeine each day may cause irritability, stomach upset, insomnia, restlessness, even muscle tremors, and other caffeine-related illnesses.

What’s the difference between coffee and espresso- The Verdict

Brewing coffee and espresso involve the use of the same types of coffee beans. However, coffee is brewed with medium-coarse grind and takes time. Espresso, on the other hand, is brewed with finely ground coffee where water is pushed through the grinds under high pressure using an espresso maker. Espresso takes around 20-30 seconds to brew.

If you had been wondering what’s the difference between espresso and coffee, we hope this article answers your question.

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Sophia Green
Sophia is a long time coffee enthusiast and blogger, so the project started naturally five years ago. You can find useful information about coffee types, plantations, equipment and even tips and tricks or fun facts.

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