SUMMARY: People are often confused when comparing espresso vs. coffee, wondering whether they are fundamentally different. Another huge concern is how the caffeine content differs. So, what is the difference between espresso and coffee? In short, espresso is a specific method of brewing coffee. So, all espresso is coffee, but not all coffee is espresso. And, while espresso’s caffeine levels may be higher, the small serving size puts it on a similar footing to standard drip coffee.
When I was first diving into the specialty coffee rabbit hole, the concept of espresso and all of its various drinks confused me. So, the aim of this article is to learn all about espresso and how it differs from brewed coffee (filter, drip, French press, etc.) I’ll also cover how to calculate the caffeine differences between espresso and coffee.
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Is Espresso the Same as Coffee?
Are espresso and coffee the same? It turns out that the answer is yes and no: all espresso is coffee, but not all coffee is espresso. This ambiguous answer is not a cop-out, because it depends on the context of how you are asking the question. Since espresso is a specific method of making coffee, it is the same in that sense. However, if by coffee you mean a typical brewed coffee like drip or French Press, then espresso is not the same as coffee.
What Are The Basic Differences Between Espresso and Coffee?
In one sense, you can think of espresso as a method of brewing coffee—the style of drink that comes out of an espresso machine. But the truth is that people mean quite different things when they talk about the flavor of coffee vs that of espresso. In this sense, espresso is more than just a different brewing process.
So what is the difference between espresso and coffee? The answer turns out to be more complicated than it seems. And before digging into the details, I’ll settle the question in a simplistic way. Following that will be a more detailed comparison of the two coffee brewing methods and the types of drinks you can make with them.
Categorization of Espresso vs Regular Coffee
Is espresso coffee? The answer is yes, espresso is a type of coffee beverage. All espresso drinks come from the same beans you would use to make regular coffee in a drip machine. The difference between espresso and coffee is that not all coffee is espresso. Espresso requires a specific brewing method.
Espresso uses finely ground coffee compressed into a puck to create an intense and concentrated beverage that has a syrupy texture. An espresso machine forces water through the puck of grounds at high pressure, producing as little as one ounce of liquid. Often the intensity of espresso is balanced by adding milk.
Is Espresso Stronger than Coffee?
One of the primary differences between coffee and espresso is that espresso is stronger, aka more concentrated. For example, an ounce of espresso uses the same dose of coffee as eight ounces of drip coffee. So similar to how cold brew is more concentrated than iced coffee, espresso is a more concentrated version of black coffee.
Many people enjoy the intensity of an espresso shot, but it is common to add steamed milk or water to espresso to make it more palatable. Adding hot water to espresso to dilute it is the basic idea behind the Caffé Americano.
Are Espresso Beans the Same as Coffee Beans?
In the comparison of coffee beans vs espresso beans, it is easy to imagine that the two categories are fundamentally different. Is there such a thing as an espresso bean? And if so, what is the difference between espresso and coffee beans?
The main difference is not between the beans themselves, but between the ground coffee beans and the way you brew them. Since all espresso is coffee, the coffee bean for an espresso drink is fundamentally the same used for drip coffee or any other brewing method. The difference is that grinding the bean to a fine powder and brewing under high pressure extracts a unique flavor.
But one real difference between drip coffee and espresso is often the degree of roast, which is usually darker and more developed for beans intended for espresso. A specialty coffee shop might not roast any darker than a medium roast to preserve delicate flavors. But many standard brewing methods use a dark roast for their espresso coffee recipes—the logic being that darker roasts balance nicely with milk.
Lastly, there is the issue of robusta beans vs arabica beans. There is no firm rule as to which type of bean you are getting with espresso, but dark roasts from standard coffee shops are more likely to use robusta. And specialty coffee shops tend to use the arabica bean because of its superior flavor.
More Detailed Differences
Besides the simple explanation that espresso comes from an espresso machine, there are specific differences to help you understand why all espresso is coffee but not all coffee is espresso. This section will dive into differences in caffeine content, taste, and generally why people prefer one drink over the other.
Espresso vs Brewed Coffee
When you brew coffee on a coffee machine, you usually use a ratio of 1:16 or one part coffee to 16 parts water. A standard drip coffee recipe at this ratio uses approximately one tablespoon of coffee grounds for every four ounces of water. But the ratio for espresso is 1:2. This tight ratio means that ten grams of coffee beans produce one fluid ounce of espresso. So the main difference between espresso vs drip coffee is the concentration.
Because espresso is so strong, a coffee drink like a latte or cappuccino uses steamed milk to create a balanced flavor. Another notable difference between standard coffee and espresso is the fine grind size. Ground coffee for most brewing methods has a coarse size, especially for methods like French press and Chemex. The fine powder in an espresso puck is part of what produces the unique intensity of flavor and syrupy texture.
Espresso also has a layer of emulsified oils at the top called crema. The crema adds to the mouthfeel and aroma of an espresso shot.
Espresso vs Coffee Taste
Fundamentally, the flavor of both drinks has similarities since they both come from coffee beans. But the flavor of espresso is intense and concentrated. Many people do not like to drink espresso by itself. It can be similar in intensity and amount to drinking a shot of liquor (without the heat of the alcohol, of course.)
Adding milk or sugar to coffee and espresso alters the taste to be more palatable for many people. Assuming you are comparing it with black coffee, straight espresso will have a thick mouthfeel and strong flavor. The lack of a filter means that compared to drip methods, you will also taste the oils and fine particles that contribute to the texture and taste of espresso. Some of those emulsified oils make the small layer on top called crema.
Caffeine in Coffee vs Espresso
Does espresso or coffee have more caffeine? This question is so common because differences in concentration make it difficult to answer. Additionally, various brewing recipes and coffee types can vary in their caffeine content.
In terms of a general comparison between the respective caffeine levels in espresso and coffee, the following chart is helpful:
|Espresso Shot||Fluid Ounces||Caffeine Content|
|Single||1 oz.||63 mg|
|Double||2 oz.||130 mg|
|Triple||3 oz.||180 mg|
So while one ounce of espresso has over 60 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of drip coffee only has 16 milligrams.
You should be aware that specialty cafes often use different standards than a one-ounce shot. Often their espresso shots and milk drinks contain two ounces of espresso and therefore have twice the dose of caffeine.
Espresso Grounds vs Coffee Grounds
The ground coffee you usually buy at a grocery store has a grind size intended for drip coffee machines. This grind size resembles table salt or sand, and the particles are large enough for water to fall through naturally. But espresso uses finely ground coffee beans that are basically a powder. These grounds tend to be at the limit of what most coffee grinders will produce.
If you tend to have your coffee ground at the store and want to make espresso at home, be sure to grind it extra fine or invest in a coffee grinder for your home.
Espresso Shot vs Coffee
The primary difference between an espresso shot and brewed coffee is the concentration. You can roughly understand the difference by imagining the difference between beer and liquor. A 12-ounce beer contains roughly the same alcohol content as two ounces of liquor. And similar to liquor, the taste of espresso is much more direct and intense than coffee.
And as shown in the chart above, 1-2 ounces of espresso contains the same caffeine content as an average eight-ounce cup of brewed coffee. But for flavor, espresso is much stronger. Similar to how cold brew coffee is intense before you dilute it, espresso by itself has a bold and concentrated flavor.
Is Espresso Less Acidic than Coffee?
While there is no firm rule on this (much depends on specific beans and roast level,) espresso does tend to be less acidic than coffee. Espresso roasts tend to be darker and more developed than beans intended for brewed coffee. The longer roast time results in less acidity in the final cup, despite how intense espresso can taste.
Espresso vs Filter Coffee
In most cases, filter and drip coffee are synonymous terms. But sometimes people use the term filter to refer to a manual pour over brew. Manual pour over coffee tends to be more intense than the standard drip method, but it is similar in comparison to espresso. Ground coffee for filter methods has a coarse texture so that water can flow through. The resulting taste is subtle and has a wider ratio.
Since the grind size for espresso is fine and the pump force water through the tightly-packed puck, espresso has a concentrated, syrupy, and intense flavor. People tend to drink 1-2 ounces of espresso at a time or dilute it with hot water to make Americano coffee.
Can You Make Espresso with Regular Coffee?
You can make espresso with regular coffee since the comparison of espresso beans vs coffee beans is usually a matter of roast level. Remember that all espresso is coffee, but not all coffee is espresso. Espresso drinks refer to a specific brewing method.
The only caveat is the grind size. If you have pre-ground coffee meant for a drip method, it will be difficult to make espresso with that coffee. The fine particles in an espresso grind create resistance that slows down the flow of water. Trying to make espresso with a coarse grind will result in over-extracted espresso that tastes bitter and drying.
Common Questions About Coffee and Espresso
Now that you understand the fundamental differences between these two coffee beverages, let’s answer some of the most common questions people have about espresso.
What is the difference between coffee and espresso?
All espresso is a specific brewing method of coffee involving an espresso machine, a fine grind, and a tight ratio. Brewed coffee from methods like a drip machine, pour over, or French press is less concentrated than espresso.
Why do people drink espresso instead of coffee?
Many people prefer the intensity of drinking a concentrated shot (1-2 ounces) of espresso, which has the same caffeine content as 8 ounces of coffee. Additionally, the intensity of espresso blends well with milk to create delicious cappuccinos and lattes.
Are espresso beans and coffee beans the same?
In comparing coffee beans vs espresso beans, the answer is that they are fundamentally the same. The primary difference is that espresso beans tend to have a darker roast. Also, you grind espresso beans into a fine powder before pulling a shot.
Can you make espresso with regular coffee beans?
Espresso beans usually refer to a style of roast and not a specific type of coffee bean different from usual beans. So yes, you can make espresso with regular coffee beans. The only exception is if the coffee is pre-ground for a different brewing method.
Does espresso have more caffeine than coffee?
Even though espresso is much stronger/more concentrated than coffee, the caffeine content between the two is similar because you only drink 1-2 ounces of espresso at a time.
Is espresso the same as coffee? Hopefully, you now understand why the answer is both yes and no. Espresso refers to a specific brewing method of preparing a coffee drink. The darker roast, small grind, and high-pressure result in a thick, intense, and syrupy beverage. All espresso is coffee, but not all coffee is espresso.
And in terms of caffeine, the drug will enter your system faster than with brewed coffee. But in total, you are not consuming more caffeine unless you add multiple shots.
Drinking espresso straight is not for everyone as many people find it too intense. But if you have never had an espresso drink, consider ordering a cappuccino or latte next time you are at a coffee shop.
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