What's the Difference Between Coffee and Espresso?
How lucky we are nowadays there’s the Internet, and you can quietly find answers to questions that may be embarrassing to ask. Like, what’s the difference between espresso and coffee beans? What makes those two drinks what they are and what would you need to prepare either of them on your own? Well, there’s really nothing embarrassing about wanting to learn something you weren’t aware of previously. It’s just that some people may react to your questions that way, especially if they are really avid of anything coffee-related.
So, say you enjoy espresso quite often but haven’t given much thought to what it really is. Confessing that to a coffee connoisseur may be taken as an insult to their religion. Think twice before you do that, but with this all-encompassing guide of ours you won’t have to do that at all. Let’s begin at the basics and eventually cover all the related questions one might have.
What is Coffee?
Since espresso is also technically a coffee drink, it’s essential to define what’s meant by coffee here and further on. Both drinks are made using coffee beans that are roasted, then ground, and finally brewed with hot water. So, the general description of the process is the same, but it’s the details of a breakdown that result in a wide variety of coffee drinks.
And when we say coffee, we mean your regular pour-over or maybe drip coffee, or what you get by using such tools as stovetop percolator.
What is Espresso?
Espresso is defined by the short time it takes between the start of the brewing process and you getting a cup with that sweet crema on top. It is only about 30 seconds, while you would have to wait between 3 to 5 minutes for a cup of coffee. Not mentioning cold brewing where the count goes into hours, that would be the exact opposite of your small hot cup of espresso received in half a minute.
So, if you’ve been paying attention, it should be clear by now that there is not really an espresso beans vs coffee beans situation. It’s all about how you use those beans to get the end product. The two most widespread types of coffee beans are Arabica and Robusta, and both can be used to make either of the two drinks, as well as other variations.
Espresso will also require a much finer grind, and an espresso machine. Yes, those cost more than a simple electrical drip coffee maker, but they can be used to make a good deal more coffee drinks. Or you can keep getting it at your local coffee place until you decide it’s time to take matters into your own hands. Why add the time you have to walk or drive elsewhere from your home to those 30 seconds it takes to get the elixir?
What Differentiates Espresso from Regular Coffee
Just saying that the difference between coffee and espresso lies in the preparation method somehow doesn’t feel enough, wouldn’t you agree? Let’s go through more details concerning both preparation and the end result.
This is exactly what you need the machine for and why it’s possible to prepare this delicious drink in such a short time. With coffee, it’s gravity that does the work. And still, no matter how long you let the hot water run through the ground beans, you won’t achieve the same result as with espresso. The thing is, pressure is also the reason for the crema that is a sign of a successfully-made espresso. Besides, it helps to drive rich coffee oils into the cup, something you couldn’t achieve otherwise.
There are, of course, ways of making espresso with some simpler appliances, but you can imagine they are hardly a match to just about 130 pounds of pressure applied to a square inch by a machine. If you’re wondering how much that is, imagine diving to the depth of 300 feet. Yep, that’s where you get the pressure that would be just about right.
It was Italians who came up with the idea of using steam powered machines to forcefully rinse water through the grains and save time while also getting a so-much needed shot of energy. Hence, the name of the drink that means exactly that, pressure.
Taste and Flavor
So, with all that fuss to get a small shot, how is espresso different from coffee taste-wise? It must be, right?
Well, yes, obviously, there’s a difference, and the best way to find it out is by tasting yourself. If you haven’t ever tried espresso yet, you should expect a rich and solid flavor that is much more prominent than what you would get with coffee. That is, of course, the result of the method through which the drink is acquired.
Another thing that may undoubtedly affect the taste is the type of beans used for it. Some packages will tell you that they hold espresso beans inside them. No, once again, those are not some special beans, they simply have been processed in a way that is believed to produce a more expressive espresso, sorry for this mouthful. Experienced coffee lovers, however, may even ignore those recommendations and use their own knowledge to adjust the process and get the best results with different raw materials.
So, can you make espresso with regular coffee beans? Definitely, and practice makes everything better, especially espresso.
Cup Size and Proportions
In most cases, you don’t have to taste anything to know you’re not being served espresso, especially if you’re given a cup of coffee instead. The explanation is simple enough as an espresso shot is equal to approximately 1.6 oz (or 50 ml) due to its higher concentration. It is ideally served in a small china cup, while a coffee is given away by a comparatively large 8-12 oz cup. Obviously, the latter contains more water and is not as caffeine packed. Or is it? We’re about to find that out.
Is Coffee Stronger Than Espresso?
- An espresso shot contains 40 to 60 mg of caffeine
- An 8oz cup of coffee has 85 to 120 mg of it
- A maximum safe daily dose of caffeine is no more 250 mg
- It should be safe to have 3-4 shots of espresso per day
- A recommended amount of coffee is no more than 20 oz
As you can see, despite espresso having a higher concentration, when equal parts of two drinks are compared, it’s not like an average espresso lover would consume more caffeine on a daily basis than a person who drinks a couple of regular-sized cups during their day. That’s the basic math. It all depends on how much you drink. Although if you’re going for a quick energy boost rather than slowly sipping a drink from a large cup while letting it cool slowly, espresso would be your option.
What’s a Proper Way to Drink Espresso to Enjoy It?
Remember, not only do you not want to embarrass yourself by breaking some basic rules of drinking espresso in front of people who appreciate this divine aroma-filled drink, you also want to enjoy it (and get your money’s worth). Therefore, you need to learn what to do with it once you order it.
First of all, most baristas will ask you whether you want a single or a double shot. It may happen that they don’t and just give you a doppio, which means double. So, if not asked, feel free to ask yourself. Maybe you don’t want that much caffeine at once and would rather get another single shot later that day.
Either way, you will probably get a small ceramic cup if things are done properly at the place. It should also come with some water served separately so that you can set your taste receptors to default. If you observe no water next to the cup, you know what to do. Demand it! Okay, calmly and politely though.
Don’t linger for too long, espresso is meant to be drunk almost immediately after being served. If you were hoping to sit there and relax while holding a warm cup, you’re confusing coffee with espresso. But don’t gulp it either or drink it like a shot of some spirit drink. First of all, because it may still be hot. Secondly, because that’s not how this is done. And thirdly, because there’s a crema to consider first.
Some people tend to remove it as much as they can to get rid of its strong acidic taste. Another option is to preserve it by stirring and mixing with the liquid part of the drink. If it’s your first time, go with one. And if you have made up your mind about skimming it off, stir the drink regardless. That will provide a better balance with the syrupy components going down while the lighter flavors are brought to the top, and everything is redistributed more evenly. No need for harsh stirring, just some smooth movements.
Now you should be ready to drink! Remember, do it in small sips and simply trying to enjoy it, noticing as many things as you can. Taste it, smell it, savor it.
The Shapes Espresso Shots Come In
The great thing about this culture is the range of options a knowledgeable barista can offer you. That way, if you’re always seeking something new, even if you have already found your perfect drink, you are presented with more variations to try.
You already know that one, that’s a double portion of espresso equal to 2 oz or 60 ml. This is the most common way to serve it in espresso shops (hopefully, you can find those close enough to your home).
This shot is both similar to and different from doppio. Just like that one, it’s made of 2 oz, but it’s stronger than your default double shot of espresso.
Those triple Ts are quite misleading, and if you wanted to suggest that’s a triple shot, hold your horses. No, this is a high-concentration dose of espresso that is less than 1 oz (or 30 ml).
This one may sound familiar, but no, this is not a large serving of espresso. It’s the same 2oz cup you’ll be getting, only this time it will have a splash of foamed milk.
This drink combines 2 oz of espresso and a whole 1 oz of steamed milk. A very lovely combination that has a noticeable effect on the flavor.
Drinks Within the Espresso Family
Did you think that was a lot of options? You just wait for these other drinks inspired by espresso and taking more liberties with its golden formula. See who else joins the espresso vs coffee battle for your heart!
So, we take our familiar 2 oz of espresso and put the equal amount of steamed milk on top of that. And then put two more ounces of milk, this time steamed, on top of all that. Boom! Capuccino.
Take regular capuccino, remove the steamed milk, you get a dry one. Actually, no, don’t remove anything. Just don’t put it there in the first place for this one. We don’t want to give you a wrong idea of how it’s done, considering some actions may seem strange when it comes to drinks and cocktails and recipes.
We don’t know why anyone would want to ruin espresso when they could just order a regular coffee, but here goes. After all, it will have a different flavor from either of those, and it’s not nice to judge people for their tastes. Only we kind of did. Ok, let’s skip over that part and go to the definition.
This is usually a double shot of espresso with anything from 1 to 15 oz (30 to 450 ml) of hot water. There you have it.
Double your espresso, triple your half & half, and that’s your creamy tasty breve, bruv! Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Let’s take things a little higher. When you pour 4 oz of steamed milk on top of half as little espresso, it’s sure to lose some of its strength. That’s in case you want it not to taste so stark.
Forget about what we said about elevating things, this one takes it to the stratosphere. How would you like the same 2 oz of espresso poured with 10 oz of steamed milk? You would? Okay, take that and a thinnest addition of foamed milk at the very top.
This is not what you choose to get a boost of energy but to get some sweet sensations. It’s 2 oz of espresso joined by 3 oz of vanilla ice cream. You can guess the result from those proportions.
Did you think nothing could top affogato? Well, you were wrongfully ignorant! It’s 2 oz of espresso, nearly as much of chocolate, and 1 oz of steamed milk. Sweet heavens! Is espresso bad for you after something like that? Oh, come on, it’s not like you’ll be getting this several times a day. It’s a great treat, but you should order and consume it responsibly.
Not as dazzling as the previous mix, but 2 oz of espresso with 3 oz of whipped cream still don’t fail to impress.
Café Con Hielo
People like all kinds of stuff, we already said it. This one is a double espresso with ice put on top of it.
That’s an esspressive list (see what we did there?) if you’re really new to this world. The good news is it's far from complete. You may even find some drinks in some espresso shops that other baristas aren’t aware of. And that’s the charm of it all.
How to Be a Healthy Espresso Aficionado
One thing we haven’t quite answered yet is what the score is with espresso vs coffee health-wise. Well, with both of them it depends on how well you follow your daily limit of caffeine intake. That being said, espresso has been proven to have a number of health benefits, like improving concentration abilities and memory functions, as well as reducing the risk of diabetes and even strokes. It obviously helps to boost your energy levels and cheer you up, that’s something you can tell yourself without any statements from medical doctors.
Some serious harm can be done to your heart if you abuse caffeine-rich drinks, of course. However, in general, there’s no reason to quit drinking it as long as you do it responsibly. And if you want to become a real expert in espresso, there’s no better way than just tasting it. Even better, brewing it yourself, even without an expensive machine. By becoming more involved in the process you can learn all the little tricks that add up to making your perfect cup of espresso.
And then you can go on trying other variations of the beloved drink, and asking tips from baristas at your local shops. It helps to make friends with those guys as well, but if you’re shy to do that, you always have us and the whole Internet to help you nurture your love for this wonderful coffee drink.
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- Helmenstine, A. M. (2017, December 29). Why Adding Salt Makes Coffee Taste Less Bitter. Retrieved from