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Espresso Vs Coffee: What Are the Main Differences?

Are coffee and espresso the same? It’s can be easy to confuse one with the other, especially if you’re not really paying attention to how they’re made. Also, there are always those who believe espresso is better than coffee and vice versa. So, which is the better caffeine drink for you and how is espresso different from coffee? 

To get a better grasp of their uniqueness, let’s check out the main differences between espresso vs coffee. This way, we can gauge the good and the bad qualities side by side. 

Let’s start by getting an overview of each of the two coffee-related terms to eliminate any mix-up.

What Is Espresso?

epresso picture and machine

Espresso is a process of making an exclusive kind of coffee drink. The drink has an intensely strong flavor. Thus, it is normally served in very small proportions that look a lot like the vodka or whiskey shots. Some of the popular espresso drinks in the market include Cappuccino, Latte, Americano, Mochaccino, Piccolo, Flat White, and Cortado.

You can only prepare these types of drinks using an espresso machine. This machine works by subjecting your ingredients to extremely high pressure and speed to form a creamed kind of coffee drink. So, an espresso drink simply comes from a unique blend of hot water and coffee grounds, with a very appealing crema layer on top. 

Espresso, like drip coffee, uses regular ingredients: coffee grounds and hot water. Thus, these two rivals mostly differ in their preparation procedures.

What Is Coffee?

coffee in a cup with roasted beans

Coffee is a caffeinated drink obtained from brewing roasted, ground coffee beans with hot water. Coffee beans are merely the seeds of coffee plant berries cultivated in various countries around the world.

Often, processors and vendors classify coffee based on roast intensity. Different roast intensities bring diverse tastes and sensations for consumers. Other than roast qualities, these vendors market coffee drinks and related products using the two broad types of coffee plants: Arabica coffee and Robusta coffee. 

Even so, coffee processors have found ways to appeal to our varying preferences. That is why the global demand for coffee products is forever steady. Common types of coffee drinks in the market include drip, cold brew, AeroPress, Freeze-dried, Nitro Brew, and filter. 

Now, let’s look at the main differences between espresso and coffee. 

Major Differences Between Espresso Vs Coffee 

pouring espresso in a cup roasted beans image
  • Espresso is prepared using a complex brewing method, whereas drip coffee goes through the simple process of mixing and heating to produce a preferred coffee drink. 
  • A single espresso serving has a higher concentration of caffeine compared to the same amount of regular coffee.
  • Espresso is bold in flavor and slightly thicker than your ordinary coffee drink. This is from the intense brewing of finely-ground beans with a high coffee-to-water ratio.
  • Espresso beans are subjected to a prolonged roasting process, whereas drip coffee beans are moderately roasted to maintain a welcoming taste. 
  • Espresso is normally served in very small sizes, normally 1.5 ounces, whereas drip coffee is served in larger quantities of up to 8 ounces.
  • An instant shot of espresso comes from swift blending—between 20 to 30 seconds—of coffee grounds and hot water in a high-pressure environment, whereas drip coffee uses gravity to drive water down the ground coffee to make your drink.

Brewing Method

espresso machine brewing coffee and cup

Espresso is brewed using a specialized espresso machine, which is designed to process your coffee ingredients speedily and in a high-pressure environment. 

The two conditions, i.e., instant and intense pressure, give authentic espresso sensations to the drink. So, whether you are a DIY coffee lover or a popular vendor in the market, you must have access to an espresso machine to be able to prepare any proportion of these shots.

Regular coffee drinks, on the other hand, use straightforward brewing techniques. These brewing methods are popular in nearly every household since the current generation has ritualized homemade coffee drinks. Therefore, other than the olden drip procedure, you can use a French Press or a percolator to brew your coffee.

Caffeine Concentration

A well-prepared espresso drink should have between 30 to 51 milligrams of caffeine per ounce. This is equivalent to a water to coffee ratio of 1:2. This means that a typical espresso shot (normally 2 ounces) has a caffeine concentration of between 60 to 102 milligrams. Because of this fairly high caffeine concentration, health experts recommend that you do not take more than five espresso shots in a day.

By contrast, an ounce of your regular drip coffee contains between 8 to 15 milligrams of caffeine—equivalent to a water to coffee ratio of 1:15. So, an ordinary cup of coffee (usually 8 ounces) accumulates between 65 to 120 milligrams of caffeine concentration.

Flavor and Grind

Espresso is known for its bold flavor, which complements other qualities to satisfy even the remotest form of coffee craving. You achieve such boldness as a result of high pressure and instantaneous processing of ingredients within the espresso machine. What’s more, the use of fine coffee grounds makes it easy to blend the primary ingredients.

On the other hand, Coffee has a fruity, acidic taste, which is the number one turn-off for a majority of coffee consumers around the globe. This is due to the use of coarsely ground and moderately roasted coffee grounds as the primary ingredient. 

Coffee Beans Roast Level

Darker roasts are among the essential requirements in making espresso drinks. Other than hardening the coffee grains to withstand the intense brewing pressure, extended roasting burns off the acidity and enhances the solubility of the key ingredients in coffee beans. As a result, you get optimal coffee flavors per one espresso serving.

This differs from light to moderate roasts used in drip coffee and other pour-overs. Inadequate roasting enhances the sharper, fruitier flavors in coffee beans. Also, with the minimal heating procedure, you fail to get rid of acidic elements on your coffee beans. All of these shortcomings associated with light or moderate roasts bundle together to weaken the overall quality of pour-overs. 

Brewing Pressure 

High-pressure brewing is mandatory in preparing espresso to push the water through compact layers of finely ground coffee. That is why the manufacturers of older espresso machines didn’t offer anything below 9 bars. 

Even so, the presence of “turbo shots” in modern brewing equipment has enhanced efficiency to the point where even a 6-bar espresso machine is applicable in some of the elite coffee shops.

This contrasts with how regular coffee is brewed. Instead of high pressure, you can apply one of these two techniques to force water through compacted grounds of coffee: infusion and immersion. Infusion relies on gravity to get the water moving through the coffee grounds. Immersion, on its side, uses physical force and movement to blend ingredients, i.e., coffee grounds and hot water. 

Espresso Vs Coffee: Last Word

Between espresso vs coffee, which would you prefer?In the end, it all boils down to your taste and preference, and heck, you can definitely enjoy both drinks—a full-bodied espresso shot for a quick caffeine fix or a much lighter cup of coffee that you can sip while relaxing. But, if you’re up to the task of making espresso, you can upgrade it to a specialty espresso drink like a cappuccino, flat white, or macchiato. 

Krista Haws

Known among her friends as 'the caffeine fiend', Krista loves all things coffee. From an extremely short, strong espresso to a 3 day cold brew, Krista loves them all.

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