Espresso vs coffee – this is one discussion you must have heard at one time or the other, especially if you frequent coffee bars. The debate seems to be non-ending. But who can blame anyone? We all have our individual preferences.
However, what’s not okay is people not being able to tell the difference when discussing coffee vs espresso topics. Is espresso different from coffee? What is espresso? These basic questions and more, we’ll answer in this short read.
Is espresso different from coffee?
The debate of coffee vs espresso is more or less like debating if a baby is a human. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating here. But you get the point – they are the same things.
Espresso is coffee. Coffee is a type of beverage just like we have tea and soda drinks which are also beverages. And just as there are different types of tea and soda drinks, there are also different types of coffee drinks.
Of course, if you’ve been to a Barista’s shop, you already know the different shades of coffee there are. And yes, espresso is one of them.
In fact, there’s no type of coffee that owns the name “coffee.” The type most people designate coffee should instead be called drip coffee. We also have french coffee, turkish coffee, and stylish ones like cappucino, latte, americano, macchiato, and many others.
Now that we’ve got the different versions of coffee out there, let’s check out how espresso stands out.
What is espresso?
Espresso is a type of coffee drink made from fine coffee grounds under high pressure steam. This method of making coffee is native to Italy.
As far back as the early 19th century, Italians had developed a method of brewing coffee to give the special espresso drink (1). This style became so popular that if you ask for a coffee drink today in Italy, you’d most likely get a shot of espresso.
Today, espresso machines are available all over the world and the drink can be made at the press of a button. Thanks to the work of Luigi Bezzera and Desiderio Pavoni. If you want to get any of the top-rated Italian espresso machines, they are hand-made based on the work of the two pioneers..
A shot of espresso comes out in stages. The thicker coffee extract comes out first and sits at the bottom, a lighter extract follows, and then it’s topped by the foamy crema.
As a tradition, espresso shots are usually taken with frothed milk. Some espresso machines have automatic milk frothers. But most Baristas prefer to do the milk frothing manually to give the drink a stylish finish.
What is coffee?
Coffee in this context would refer to any type of coffee made by passing water through coffee grounds without using pressure.
Now, there are quite a handful of coffee types made at normal atmospheric pressure. We have pour over, drip coffee, french coffee, turkish coffee, cold brew, and a few other styles. All of these also have their differences but none is made with steam pressure like espresso.
The most common type of coffee is drip coffee. Although it’s very similar to pour over and cold brew. But then, drip coffee makers are more common than every other type. Hence, when people want to make the coffee vs espresso comparison, they are mostly referring to drip coffee.
If you want to enjoy some of the best drip coffee you can get, check out our list of plastic-free coffee makers. They’re both healthy and top-quality.
Espresso vs coffee: Which is better?
So, here’s the main deal; comparing espresso to coffee. How do they stack up against each other? What are the myths? And what are the facts? We’ll settle all of these.
Here are the differences – coffee vs espresso:
- Coffee beans/roast type
There’s a popular misconception that espresso is made from special coffee beans. Some makers even go as far as branding certain products as espresso beans. While that’s not all wrong, it isn’t entirely honest as well.
First off, let’s clear up the coffee bean aspect. Coffee beans are gotten from coffee trees which majorly exist in two species; robusta and arabica.
Robusta beans are more common – they have a “peanut-y” scent when unroasted and a nutty flavor when roasted. Whereas Arabica which are less common come with a tangy flavor when unroasted and have strong floral scents when freshly roasted.
Both coffee bean types can be used for any type of coffee drink and would most likely produce the same result. So, you shouldn’t be too bothered about which bean type you use for your coffee. What often makes a difference is the roast type.
Coffee beans originally come in a fresh green color. However, the brown-black color we know comes after they’ve been roasted. Depending on the duration spent in the oven and the temperature, coffee beans come out as either light roast or dark roast.
Dark roasts are more dry and often produce more caffeine concentration as they weigh less than light roast. Dark roasts are best for making espresso. When ground, they have the capacity to withstand more pressure during brewing. And they also produce a drink with low acidity which is best when drinking with milk.
Most coffee beans are roasted commercially on a large scale. However, for meticulous coffee lovers, they prefer to go with producers who roast on a small scale. This would save you from mistaking charred coffee beans which give a bitter taste for dark roast.
2. Grind size
The major difference of espresso from regular coffee is in the brewing process (we’ll get to that after this). But before you brew, you need to carefully prepare the coffee ground to use.
Espresso is prepared using fine coffee grounds while regular coffee is prepared from coarse grounds. Oftentimes, you need a burr grinder to get the fine particles needed for brewing espresso. Some espresso machines also come with grinders but it makes them more expensive.
3. Brewing method
Now to the crux of our discussion – the brewing method that differentiates espresso from regular coffee.
Espresso is brewed by passing pressured steam through fine coffee bean grounds for 20 – 30 seconds. Yes! The process for making espresso is shorter than any other coffee making process. And yet, it extracts way more coffee content owing to the pressure applied.
Brewing drip coffee only takes hot water and requires more time. You have to allow time for the water extract the bean content. The longer the time used, the more content is extracted. Once the brewing is done, you then have to use a coffee filter to remove the used up grounds. It’s believed by many that the filtering process alters the taste of regular coffee.
The pressure required for brewing espresso is about 9 bars. That’s like more than eight times the normal atmospheric pressure. So, you see why preparing a shot of espresso requires a machine. There’s a lot of engineering involved in the process.
Although there are some coffee Baristas that can pull of using very hot water in an aeropress to make a shot of espresso. But it’s usually not as strong as the machine-produced ones.
4. Serving size
The serving size for espresso and regular coffee is one of the most obvious differences. A lot of people might think it’s mere aesthetics, but the serving size is commiserate with how much of each coffee type should be taken.
Espresso is commonly served in shots. These are mini-cups that have a volume capacity of about 2 oz. So, depending on the ratio of coffee to crema, espresso shots range between 1 – 2 oz of coffee.
Regular coffee is usually served in larger coffee cups. These have a standard size of 8 oz. And because these coffee types have more consistency, the coffee content lies within this same range.
5. Caffeine concentration
There’s always a debate around which contains more caffeine – espresso or coffee? And the best answer usually is “Depending on how much you take.”
If you’re a stickler for the regular serving sizes, then that means you’ll be comparing a larger portion of coffee with a smaller portion of espresso.
In this case, a shot of espresso (~1.5 oz) contains between 40 – 75 mg of caffeine. Whereas a cup of coffee (8 oz) contains between 85 – 185 mg of caffeine, often depending on the brewing method.
So, if you’re looking at caffeine concentration, espresso has got more. That means if you increase the serving size, you’ll have way more caffeine than regular coffee.
Is espresso sweeter than coffee?
Espresso has a rich, intense, and creamy taste which can be taken as sweeter than regular coffee which often come off with a smooth and rounded taste. When good coffee beans are used for espresso, you will get a creamy thickness with sugary notes.
Is espresso healthier than drip coffee?
Espresso is said to be healthier than drip coffee because it contains more natural oils and mineral extracts. This is due to the high pressure used in brewing and also as no coffee filter is used.
When it comes down to espresso vs coffee stand-off, I don’t have a winning side. All I ever is to enjoy a good caffeine boost to start my day; sometimes that’s a shot of espresso and other times it’s a cup of coffee, or maybe both. Hahaha!
But I know a lot of coffee lovers out there have a favorite. Which do you prefer, coffee or espresso? Kindly share your reason in the comment. I’ll be on the look out.
- Stamp, J. (2012, June 19). The Long History of the Espresso Machine. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-long-history-of-the-espresso-machine-126012814/
My name is Yurii Brown. I am a passionate coffee geek and, concurrently, a certified coffee specialist.
I’ve been learning about coffee for a long time, testing various devices and practicing in home coffee brewing. I like to share my experience and insights with fellow coffee lovers so that my readers could enjoy the real taste of quality-brewed beverages.